A Photographic Essay by Garth Milan

" Broc Hepler has been having an incredible rookie SX season thus far. Hepler has gotten his feet wet quickly, entering Daytona as the second-place guy to class dominator James Stewart. Unfortunately, bad luck and bad crashes in his qualifiers kept the Pennsylvania native from even making it onto the main event in Florida. This obviously didn’t help Broc’s advancement in the series points chase, and by scoring 0 points Hepler left Daytona in third place instead of second where he entered. Don’t feel too bad for Broc, though; he’s only a couple of points behind Eric Sorby in the series, so using his previous success as an indicator, count on him to pull back into second and redeem his dismal Daytona day within the coming weeks. Here Hepler negotiates a deep Florida rut during practice.

" For the first time this year, Chad Reed entered a race as the underdog in many people’s minds when he pulled up to the line in his new hometown state of Florida. Since Reed is thought of as more a technical Supercross rider and less a rough, outdoor specialist, most believed Kevin Windham to have the advantage on the sandy and brutal Daytona turf. But even after a crash on lap 14 of the main that left Reed’s ribs in pain and his Yamaha’s radiator smoking like a chimney, Chad salvaged the race win thanks to a huge lead early on. Reed was able to cross the finish line over 8 seconds ahead of runner-up K-Dub. This marked Reed’s first Daytona win and also made him the first Australian to ever win the fabled event.

" Michael Byrne faired well in the Daytona sand, finishing a consistent sixth place in the 250cc class. Byrne was the 1 and only green rider on the line, and the sole Kawasaki pilot recovered from some nasty bar banging in the first turn that nearly left him on the ground to maintain a top-five spot until the final lap, when Nick Wey squeaked by and relegated Byrne to fifth. Still, Michael is slowly but surely proving that he’s figuring out the 250 and should begin to crank his speed up soon to realize his true potential on the bigger bike.

" Davi Millsaps had to be a little nervous before the start of Daytona. With pressure coming from every direction (most notably from his mother), Davi Millsaps had yet to realize his true potential thus far in the series. One of the most heralded mini riders to come about in years, Millsaps has had nothing but trouble and bad luck in 2004. Everything turned around for Davi in Daytona, however, and it looks like 3 is his lucky number. This is the precise number of races it took Millsaps to warm up to professional racing, as Davi finally showed the rest of the world (not just the mechanics at the Suzuki test track) why his reputation is so mighty by finishing second only to Bubba.

" Though the Daytona Supercross has become a staple event of the series, it is by far the most non-traditional race on the circuit. With longer lap times, rough and chopped-out sand, and the most “natural conditions of any track on the circuit, Daytona is more like a National than an SX. The Gary Bailey-designed course brings in roughly 162 truckloads of local Florida sand and dirt that sits atop the beautiful, emerald-green infield grass of Daytona International Speedway. When it’s all over with, this perfectly-manicured stretch of grass looks more like a chewed-up Unadilla straightaway than the golf course it resembles here.

" It’s no longer even a question: Bubba is the most watched, loved, and photographed rider at the races, period. On the track or in the pits, all eyes are on #259’s every move. Daytona marked Bubba’s first time to ever race Supercross in front of his hometown fans due to his West Coast title chase-down last year, and of course James didn’t let his people down as he proceeded to win the race with an over 35-second lead. Here Bubba gets the stare-down from some admiring fans just before taking to the track for practice.

" Daytona means something different to every rider, but for Mike LaRocco it meant another record for the books. When Mike lined his works CR250R up at the famous grass-start gate, he was lining up for his 200th career Supercross main event. The monumental occasion makes LaRocco the record holder for the most SX starts in history. How did the 33-year-old celebrate? The Rock recovered from a seventh-place start to charge up to third, his fifth podium spot in six weeks. If anything, it looks like LaRocco is getting faster with age!

" Kevin Windham thought he was going to win Daytona. The fans thought Kevin Windham was going to win Daytona. So what happened? A bad start (ninth place, to be exact) kept K-Dub from the battle out front and allowed Chad Reed to quietly sneak out an enormous lead, stretching to 25 seconds at one point in the race but shrinking to around eight by the end. Most people thought that the rough Daytona circuit could have been Windham’s jumpstart at making up points on Reed, but unfortunately Kevin left 29 points behind Chad, in second position.

" Florida treated Nick Wey well. Wey proved that he is indeed in shape, as he piloted his Factory Suzuki RM250 to a strong top-five showing in the sand. What was more impressive than his placing, however, is how he got there. Nick got off to a terrible start in Daytona, rounding the first turn in 19th place. Twenty laps later saw Wey just getting by Michael Byrne for the fifth spot, meaning that Wey passed 14 of the 20 riders in the field that evening. Charges like that are what earned Wey his factory status back.

" It may not sound like much, but .367 is a very significant number for James Stewart and his confidence level going into next year. That number is the exact difference between Bubba’s best lap time and 250cc-winner Chad Reed’s best time, with Stewart having the better of the two. That means that on the roughest course on the circuit James was close to a half-second faster on his 125 than Reed was on his 250!

" 2004 marked the 34th running of the Daytona Supercross, and for the 34th year straight it was the roughest, gnarliest, and most rutted-out race in the series. Ruts like the one pictured here are the norm in most corners, and some of the deeper ones this year reached down 13 into the Daytona sand.