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Bikers jump-start season at Daytona International

Top U.S. and international riders will jockey for season-opening prestige and $400,000 in prize money when Motorcycle Week gets under way at the Daytona International Speedway this weekend.

The nine-day motorcycle raceathon, which features 45 races and close to 700 bikers, kicked off with the American Motorcycle Association/Championship Cup Series Solo/GTO Friday night. Organizers, however, expect the event to hit high gear next week when top bikers roll in for a shot at lofty purses.

The first segment of Speedweek runs through Sunday and features a series of sprint races and solo events between 25 and 50 miles. Amateur and semi-pro riders are expected to compete in the weekend's events.

The second segment, ushered in by a legends race on Monday, will showcase the premier bikers on the circuit.

Daytona director of publicity Gary Van Voorhis said $400,000 in prize money will be awarded in a series of events culminating in the week's granddaddy event _ the Daytona Supersport International Challenge on March 13.

"The Daytona event has always been looked at as the beginning of the biking season, kind of like the opening event of the year," Van Voorhis said. "It kicks off the year for most of the racers both locally and abroad.

"The 200-mile distance is a little longer than what most of the bikers have faced and will face and so winning the event has become quite prestigious," he said.

It's not all prestige. A hefty $20,000 first place purse, and $180,000 total prize earnings, help draw top motorcyclists to the race.

Eddie Lawson of Lake Havasu, Ariz., and Scott Russell of Fairburn, Ga., the 1992 and 1993 winners respectively, Norman Lastovila of Colorado Springs, Japan's Akira Yanagawa and Australia's Kevin Magee are among the leading competitors for the week's events and the grand finale.

Motorcycle Week

Today: Twelve 25-mile sprint races in varied classes, 12:30 p.m. start, infield admission $8, paddock/garage pass $6.

Sunday: Seven 25-mile sprint races. Two one-hour Team Challenge races, with pit stops and rider changes. First event 10:40 a.m., infield admission $14, paddock/garage pass $6.

Monday: Full program of sprint races for vintage motorcycles. BMW Battle of the Legends. Concours d'Elegance bike show. Noon start, infield admission $20, includes paddock/garage pass.

Tuesday: AMA practice only, 8 a.m. start, infield admission $6, paddock/garage pass $6.

Wednesday: AMA practice and qualifying, 8 a.m. start, infield admission $6, paddock/garage pass $6. Legends at Daytona Champion Spark Plug Legends Car National Championship Series _ qualifying at 6 p.m., racing at 7 p.m. at Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium. General admission $5 in advance, $8 at the gate.