Low-angle view of some of the participants in the Daytona 200 motorcycle race as they sit astride their bikes, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
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Not published in LIFE. Riders ready to race, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.Joseph Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Low-angle view of some of the participants in the Daytona 200 motorcycle race as they sit astride their bikes, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
Number 161 Norman Teleford streamlines himself during a motorcycle race at Daytona Beach, March 1948.
Spectators stand on the beach to watch the Daytona Beach Motorcycle Races in March 1948.
Two members of the South Florida Vagabonds motorcycle club drive on the beach during the Daytona 200 motorcycle race, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
Spectators on the sidelines during the Daytona 200 in Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948. One man holds up a sign reading 'Babe Gas'.
Low on their bikes, two racers speed neck and neck across the sand during the Daytona 200, Daytona Beach, Florida, in March 1948.
A racer and his bike violently part company in Daytona 200, 1948
Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948
Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948
A young boy adjusts his helmet while seated astride a miniature Indian motorbike, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948
Racers line up at the celebrated Daytona 200 motorcycle race in April 1948.
A sand crab's eye view of fans watching the races at Daytona.
Daytona Beach, March 1948
His leg outstretched for balance, a racer (number 168) steers his motorcycle across the sand during the Daytona 200 motorcycle race, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
The checkered flag waves as Floyd Emde wins the 1948 Daytona 200.
Floyd Emde rests on his Indian motorcycle after winning the 1948 running of the Daytona 200.
On matching full-size and miniature Indian motorcycles, a man and a boy ride along the beach, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
Two members of a motorcycle club drive on a cycle on the beach during the Daytona 200 motorcycle race, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
Not published in LIFE. Riders ready to race, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 1948.
Joseph Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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LIFE at Daytona: Motorcycle Madness on the Florida Sands

Jan 21, 2014

For years, from its inception in 1937 until the early '60s, the prestigious Daytona 200 motorcycle race wasn't merely run at Daytona Beach. Along with other high-speed, high-risk clashes, the 200 was run on Daytona Beach.

In 1948, LIFE magazine covered the races, both amateur and pro, at Daytona (the Road Course opened in 1936) and reported, in its April 19 issue, that "for four days last month the resort city of Daytona Beach could hardly have been noisier—or in more danger—if it had been under bombardment."

Here, seven decades later, LIFE.com opens a window on that long, loud weekend—a weekend that thrilled racing fans; slightly scandalized one very popular weekly magazine's editors; and, as if proof was needed that the young sport was still in the hands of rebels and scofflaws, saw two people killed and 30 more injured in the midst of all the high-octane fun.

The 1948 event, which attracted "375 helmeted daredevils and plenty of non-racing hell-raisers," was marred not only by deaths and injuries but, as LIFE duly noted, by classic knuckleheadism. "Because the antics of an unruly minority reflect on the dignity of motorcycling," the magazine observed, "the American Motorcycle Association may hire special police at future races. One duty will be to restrain sophomoric cyclists who amused themselves this year by tossing firecrackers into the crowd."

Ultimately, as LIFE tersely reported, "155 motorcycles started, only 45 finished. Winning rider, Floyd Emde, averaged 84 mph, got $2,000." What LIFE failed to mention is that Emde (who was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998) won by the sliver-thin margin of 12 seconds; 1948 was the first time a rider led the race from flag to flag; and it was the last time an Indian Motorcycle won the 200.

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