Old Blue: The Daytona-Winning Ducati

The story of Cook Neilson, Phil Schilling and their epic 1977 Daytona 200-winning Ducati, nicknamed Old Blue.

| July/August 2017

Forty summers ago, a home-brewed Ducati created a legend in racing. This is the inside story.

Daytona International Speedway, March 11, 1977. The moment of truth. Cook Neilson is sitting on the front row of the grid for the 13-lap Superbike race. Around him are more than 30 bikes, including Steve McLaughlin and Reg Pridmore’s winning BMWs of the previous year, highly tuned Kawasaki fours, Laverda triples, several Ducatis and a Honda.

The first three rows of the grid are packed with America’s top riders on factory-supported machinery. Cook has earned his place on the front row. All week his Ducati has held a two-second advantage over the field. But now the rider, who came third in 1976, has mixed feelings as he looks around at his rivals.

“It seemed that the day ought to belong to us,” Cook recalls 40 years later of the giant-killing efforts he and tuner and friend Phil Schilling had achieved that practice week. “But that brings its own sense of dread: We better not screw this up.”

Riding with Cook were 500,000 followers. They weren’t on Facebook. They were the readers who had paid out hard cash for recent issues of Cycle magazine featuring in-depth reports on the building and racing progress of Cook and Phil’s Ducati, Old Blue, aka The California Hot Rod.

Phil and Cook were fully prepared for this showdown. Their good-luck charm, a photo of Ducati’s legendary engineer Dr. Fabio Taglioni, was securely taped to their toolbox. They were wearing their lucky T-shirts, a wacky logo by Phil that featured Ducati’s industrial engine on the front. (“It’s the only division at Ducati that’s making any money, so we should honor that,” Phil had said when designing them). The St. Christopher pendant was screwed tightly to Old Blue’s fairing so that even the Protector of Travelers was along for the ride.

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