27-year-old rider wants to leave Daytona Bike Week with AFT points

DAYTONA BEACH — After going dark for one day, Bike Week at Daytona International Speedway will go back to thunderous, green-flag racing with the American Flat Track Daytona TT on Thursday.

The stadium gates open at 1 p.m. for practice and qualifying, but the meat of the program begins with the opening ceremonies scheduled for 6 p.m.

The course will be both wider and faster than the inaugural course used in 2017.

The track includes a 150-foot jump section — at six feet, the tallest jump American Flat Track riders will see all season.

The Daytona TT is two races in one. Two classes of motorcycles will compete — the Singles and Twins — for Daytona bragging rights while getting a leg up on season-long points.

Shayna Texter arrived here with high hopes in 2017 and left in deep disappointment. She was not one of the 48 fastest qualifiers and had to load up and go before the heat races and Main Event.

From that low, she won five times on AFT Singles Series and led the championship most of the season, before sinking back to a third-place points finish.

The 27-year-old rider from Willow Tree, Pennsylvania, is on a mission to make the final 48 and leave Daytona with championship points.

“Even though we didn’t win the championship, it was still a career-turning year for me,” she said. “It was incredible.”

She arrives this year with a freshly inked deal with Husqvarna and took possession of a new 2018 bike made for Supercross, but modified for dirt-track racing.

“Since our deal came together so late, my bike will be basically stock,” Texter said. “I felt great testing it. Husqvarna has put a great product on the market and I feel 100 percent on it.”

The Daytona TT is a one-day show. The teams arrive, practice, qualify and race on Thursday only.

“Compared to car racing, we only get one day,” she said. “You get a total of 12 qualifying laps to make the night show. If you qualify, you get into the heat races. If you survive that, then you get to the Main Event.”

Texter said winning the Daytona TT would be great, but she has one goal in mind.

“I’ve had car racers and motorcycle racers tell me the same thing — Daytona is like bonus points,” she said. “If you leave here with any points, you are in a great spot.”

There are several Daytona TT story lines, including several road racers returning to their dirt-tracking roots, including British Superbike Champion James Rispoli.

The AMA Pro SuperSport champion will ride a Richie Morris Racing Honda in the Twins competition.

“It’s going to be amazing to be back in the flat track paddock at Daytona,” said Rispoli. “I can’t thank my sponsors and Richie enough for the opportunity. It’s going to be sweet.”

Road racer JD Beach, who is considered the odds-on favorite to secure another MotoAmerica Supersport title in 2018, will be looking to add to his career AFT wins.

Beach showed up for the AFT Twins season finale and earned a podium finish.

Beach will be joined at Daytona by fellow Kentucky residents and MotoAmerica race winners Jake Lewis and Nick McFadden.

Like Beach, MotoAmerica Superbike rider Lewis is a multi-time MotoAmerica champion.

And many expect up-and-comer McFadden to assemble a similar resume of his own in the years ahead after establishing himself a race winner and title contender in 2017.

As for their flat track credentials, Lewis and McFadden boast nearly 30 dirt track amateur national titles between them.

The night of racing will kick off with one, big jump.

Bubba Blackwell will attempt to jump 14 pickup trucks lined up side by side as part of the opening ceremonies.

Blackwell’s stunt will take place on pit road, in perfect view of the stadium seating.

Blackwell first gained worldwide attention for breaking a series of world records previously set by Evel Knievel. He officially retired from the stunt game back in 2015.

“It’s been a long, cold winter, and I’ve been on the couch and off the bike for a bit,” said Blackwell.

After completing the stunt, Blackwell will assume the role of AFT series flagger in 2018.

The event will be streamed live by FansChoice.TV.