There will be significant changes at this year's Daytona Supercross when, for the first time in the 33-year history of the esteemed event, it will be held under lights on Friday evening, March 5, on the grueling Gary Bailey-designed circuit.
Among other changes this year is the fact that four-time and defending Daytona winner Ricky Carmichael (top pic) will not be in the field. The three-time AMA Supercross Series champ had knee surgery this winter and is sitting out the entire Supercross season.
While Carmichael is out, rising Supercross star James Stewart will make his much anticipated debut at Daytona in the 125 East race - and fans' favourite Travis Pastrana may make his series comeback in the 250cc class.
Holding the Daytona Supercross without Ricky Carmichael is like having the Masters Golf Tournament without Tiger Woods. The absence of Carmichael presents a fantastic opportunity for the other riders in the 250 field.
With Carmichael expected to return to Daytona next year and the addition of James Stewart to 250 class in 2005 as well, many think this will be the best opportunity for a new rider to win the Daytona Supercross for many years to come.
Yamaha's Chad Reed comes into this year's race the favorite. Daytona marked a turning point for Reed last year. After being trounced by Carmichael in the race last year, Reed rededicated himself to a tougher training regimen.
The results were spectacular. The Aussie went on to close out the second half of 2003 with six-straight AMA Supercross wins and pushed Carmichael in the series points chase to the final round. That momentum has carried over to this season. He comes into Daytona with six wins in the nine previous rounds of the 16-race series and has built a 26-point lead over Factory Connection Honda's Kevin Windham.
Reed is taking nothing for granted: "I need to get a streak going here," said the 2003 Daytona Supercross runner-up. "I know I have a decent points lead, but you can never have enough."
Reed is hoping to give Yamaha its first win in the Daytona Supercross since the legendary Jeremy McGrath won on a Yamaha in 1999.