by Dean Adams
Eddie Lawson is regarded by many
as the greatest rider of the modern era, four world championships and
thirty-one grand prix victories attest to that. Devout fans flooded the
gates at Daytona and Suzuka this season to watch the master ride again,
half a year after retiring from the GP game.
He said before stepping out that
he was through racing motorcycles and wanted to move on, to the next step
in his plan, racing cars. Nobody seriously questioned his motivations when
he appeared on a Vance and Hines Yamaha at Daytona, we were all just very
happy to see the old boy racing stateside again.
His win at Daytona was of epic proportions,
and solidified the sentiment that two seasons developing the Cagiva had
not slowed Lawson down a minuscule amount.
He found himself bombarded with questions
after Daytona, when will you race again? His answers were intentionally
vague because even he wasn't sure that he would again race a motorcycle.
He planned an idyllic summer on his ultra expensive carbon fiber racing
boat on the Colorado River with a bikini clad companion, when not learning
the insides of the cockpit of an Indy Lites racing car he purchased.
Then stepped in Erv Kanemoto with
the proposal to do some GP racing on a factory Honda if the sponsorship
could be found. Lawson, always a great admirer of the Japanese- American
Kanemoto from their days together winning the world championship in 1989,
was game. Finances kept the pair from teaming up again. The sponsor was
reportedly Japanese and with their economy very fragile, money was tight.
As an alternative Kanemoto convinced
Lawson to race the prestigious Suzuka eight hour with him. Convinced is
probably too strong a word, for if Kanemoto called wanting to race garden
tractors, Lawson would come running, no persuasion needed. The bond between
them is that strong and the mutual respect very deep. A crash kept them
from winning the event and in the post race photographs one can see that
Lawson was very unhappy in second. Typical.
I arranged an interview while Lawson
was testing the Leading Edge Indy Lites race car at Mid Ohio.
With Eddie there is no flowery dialogue
or obvious PR quotes, he is a racer through and through, his answers are
concise and succinct. He doesn't suffer idiots very well and this has gotten
him removed from several GP correspondents Christmas card lists for being
so abrasive. I inquired his opinion of the press and he informed me that
he doesn't believe anything he reads in the enthusiast papers.
A friend relates a story about Lawson
that is fairly characteristic of him and perhaps gives some insight into
Eddie Lawson: the man. The two raced a Japanese endurance race in back
in the early 1980s, Lawson aboard a Kawasaki then. He finished a respectable
second in the race after crashing, scenes of the future.
Flying out of Japan, in the airport
the two of them carried their bags of clothes and gear, Lawson very bogged
down not only with bags but with his second place trophy too, it stood
almost as tall as he. They stopped a number of times, Lawson switching
the gear and trophy around to ease his burden. Finally, with the plane
in sight, Lawson stopped, said, 'To hell with this' and abandoned the trophy
leaving it on the floor of the crowded airport. Lawson strode to the plane,
never looking back at the majestic reward for his ride.
You see, it was slowing him down.
And that cannot be tolerated.
Q. How did your Suzuka ride evolve?
A. It was a little easier this year
than ever before, just because of my not doing the GP series there really
was no schedule to worry about. In the past the Eight hour kind of conflicted
and I was in the running for the championship. Of course when I rode for
Cagiva I didn't compete in the eight hour.
This year the eight hour was just
much easier to do and of course with Honda being involved I was very interested.
I knew the bike would be very competitive, it's really the best bike out
there. The Erv connection too was very important. Oh yeah, with Erv the
communication was much better and getting the bike set up the way I wanted
it was pretty easy, I knew it would be going in. It worked out real well
Qualifying went very well too, we
were third quickest and then in the rain we were the fastest. Tsujimoto
was fastest in the rain too. We were a strong team and as far as the equipment
we certainly had the quickest bike. For sure even out of the factory Honda's
I felt like our bike was the quickest.
Q. I realize they're two completely
different bikes but can you compare the Yamaha you rode at Daytona and
the Suzuka RVF?
A. They're two different motorcycles,
the weight is much lighter in the Honda and it's a lot smaller a motorcycle.
It's a GP bike with a four stroke motor in it. Really you can't compare
the two, you could say they're four strokes but that is about as far as
it goes. I really enjoyed riding the Honda because it was really very easy
to flick around. The V-four engine is a bit nicer to ride, tractable.
Q. Describe the crash that cost
your team the win.
A. I hit some oil and lost the front
end and that put me straight and I ran onto the gravel trap. As soon as
I hit the gravel the bike did a big swap and stuck me in the hay bales
or the foam barrier.
I smacked my head real hard, snapped my neck and gave
me a little bit of a concussion. So I had to ride for the next three hours
with a real bad migraine, it was very hard to see, I had to keep blinking
on the straightaway to focus. I was a little bit sick to my stomach so
those three hours were pretty miserable.
Up to that point, the bike was
really working well. There were a lot of teams that went real fast in qualifying,
obviously they were using tires and maybe even a motor (to do that well
they used qualifying tires or a short fuse qualifying motor) but come to
the race we would just blow by all the guys that were so fast in qualifying.
Q. You went there intent on winning,
you must have been very disappointed.
A. I was very disappointed. We lost
four minutes in the pits and in the end we were two minutes behind, finishing
second. Finishing that way is always very frustrating.
Q. Do you follow the 1993 GP season
A. I've been so busy with my car
I haven't really followed it too close, only what I hear from friends.
I hear it is pretty exciting for sure.
Q. Rainey is experiencing some
problems with Yamaha, he feels they aren't supporting him adequately. Any
insight on that?
A. The only information I've gotten
is that they're building him what he wants and that doesn't seem to be
Q. How much motorcycle racing
do you think you're going to do in the future
A. It's really hard to say. I'm
still open for a few races here and there it all depends on the situation,
the team, the equipment. Riding for Honda was .. man it was fantastic!
I really enjoyed it, it was so professional, the equipment was so first
class so it was just real nice being back to that. If that presented itself
again, I'd have to look at it.
Q. Hypothetically, could someone
talk you into doing an entire GP season again?
A. I guess if it was on a Honda
and had the right kind of backing, the right people, probably Erv and we
had a sponsor. But that is a lot of if's. The chances of that are pretty
slim, I don't really get my hopes up.
Q. How about an entire season
of AMA Superbike racing?
A. No thank you.
Q. Your enthusiasm level is pretty
high for this car racing thing ?
A. The Indy Lites thing is a whole
new thing to me. It's racing as I know it but what I feel is so opposite
of anything that I've done. It's got a totally different feel than I thought
it would be ... actually cars.. I thought it would be a pretty easy thing
but it is pretty difficult. The feel is very different, the seat of the
pants feelings you get on a motorcycle are not there in a car. I can't
seem to relate a whole lot of things from bike racing to car racing. even
the lines are different, the high/low lines. I keep wanting to take the
low lines and that doesn't seem to be working very well, so I have to try
some new stuff. We're progressing though, we're eighth fastest today in
a field of thirty?.
Where do I want to go with it, car
racing, well, first I'd like to learn how to drive the car before I made
a decision like that, but if things went my way, Indy Cars. But hey, I'm
realistic about it. And the number one thing that is different about
car and bike racing is a driver cannot carry a car like a motorcycle rider
can carry a under-horsepowered motorcycle. The sense of acceleration is
different, it's slower than a motorcycle but the cornering speed and braking
are much greater. My neck gets real sore driving it. (Laughs)
The money is a big factor in car
racing, the more money you have, the quicker you go. The parts on an Indy
Lites car are intensely expensive. The nose section on the car is twelve
thousand dollars. I knocked a rear wing off and that was ten grand, I got
two wheels off the track and came right back on at Willow one day and banged
up the undertray of the car, another ten grand. That's a difference.
I need a sponsor. It's a big change
for me to go from being paid to race, to paying to race, it's different.
If I don't have a sponsor by next year then probably I won't be doing it.
Q. Did you find yourself with
a very large hole in your life once you stopped racing motorcycles?
A. No. Didn't miss it a bit. I take
that back ... I really enjoy riding the bike. I love that part of it, that
part hasn't gone because the eight hour, riding that bike was a lot of
fun. I really enjoyed it but sitting on airplanes and doing the same old
thing, I've been doing it for ten years and boy, it was quite a grind.
I think what made it worse was ..
the Cagiva team they're great people, and Claudio is a fantastic guy and
I only have good things to say.
Unfortunately the reality of it all is
there was really no results and that brings you down. So I didn't want
to continue that way.
I know for sure that I can run with
Kevin and Wayne and Mick and anyone else, it's not a question of that in
my mind. But when you're riding in the back, everybody sees that and the
next thing you know you're done and you're all washed up. So, that was
no fun as well. It was time to stop. It's like now I could say what confirms
it is that all of a sudden Alex is a fantastic rider and Doug is not? Not
the case. The facts are it's the equipment, unfortunately that's racing.
That's the way it is.
Q. Your first experience working
with Erv was in 1989, had you even spoke with him before that? And why
is it you two work so well together?
A. We'd talk, sure. And I always
had a ton of respect for him. Not lengthy conversations but we sure talked.
I think we work so well together because of our temperament. The way we
go about racing and the way we think about things is very much the same.
He doesn't ever get worked up he just tries to analyze the problem and
go forward with that. I really like the way he goes about racing, I listen
to him even more than I do .. I just relay to him what I feel and instead
of trying to fix the bike I just let him deal with it. It just works.
Q. What was your first ride at
A. That was in 1980 on a Kawasaki,
it was a lot of fun. It was my first time to Japan and everything was all
new and exciting.
It was my first factory ride and when you're at that
stage it's all brand new and exciting. I have a lot of great memories from
my Kawasaki days, they really treated me well the three years that I was
there, fantastic really.
We finished second that year. a
guy on a Suzuki crashed in front of me and I hit him, launching me into
the barrier. The bike was stuck in the barrier and I couldn't get it out
and by the time I did the leaders, Wes Cooley and Graham Crosby went by
and we ended up second.
Q. At Suzuka the Honda garage
was divided into two separate areas, Erv and yourself on one side, Doohan,
Beattie and their squad on the other. You didn't seem to spend too much
time talking to the Australians, some animosity perhaps?
A. No none at all, we talked quite
a bit. I talked to Mick a bunch of times but you know, he's busy and I'm
busy, we're all doing our thing. I have no problem over there. We talked
about the Honda NSR and stuff like that and he told me that he was having
some problems with braking on his foot. So, they swapped the brakes so the
rear is on the handlebars but that was about it.
Q. Were you surprised at the serious
limp Doohan has one year after breaking his leg?
A. Yeah, it's not my place to say,
but it is just unfortunate that he didn't fly back to the States to get
that fixed. There is an unreal surgeon in San Francisco named Art Ting,
he put my ankle back together after it was blown apart and I think if Doohan
had went and seen him I don't think he would have had any problems at all.
That is not to say that it was a bad move on Mick's part, decisions like
those have to be made relatively quickly.
Q. Your dry qualifying times were
a bit slower than Doohan's, what do you attribute that to ?
A. I don't think anything was too
different between the two bikes, it was just that Mick went for it.
I think he was just on it that lap. I think twelve's were possible, we
could have run them but at the same time we knew the race was going to
be run in the fifteen's, so it really didn't matter anyway. We weren't
that far off.
Q. Your qualifying times in the
rain were the fastest. The pole was obviously unattainable, why the fast
A. I just went out and rode
around, everything was working and it didn't really feel like I was pushing
that hard and when I came I they told me that I was fastest. It's one of
those things, it always seems to work that way when you're not trying.
It also says a lot for the motorcycle, because that thing was really working
well in the wet. The tires were incredible.
Q. How did your wet weather set
up differ from the set up you ran when the track was dry?
A. It wasn't a big difference, we
softened everything up, a click on the rebound, compression and the spring
rates are a little bit different but nothing too drastic.
Q. You hit your head pretty hard,
what did you do after the race?
A. (laughs) I got an ambulance ride
back to the hotel and a Doctor came to the room and checked me out. I had
a real bad migraine and I wanted to throw up, so I was a little bit concerned
that I wasn't bleeding or anything on the inside of my head.
Q. The Michelins worked well obviously,
had they thrown together a new tire for you?
A. The Michelin's were as awesome
as always. I could go in and just throttle that bike and it would give
me a nice predictable slide every time. Again I can't say enough about
the Michelins, they worked great.
Q. You were on Dunlop's at Daytona
while riding the Yamaha. Again two different motorcycles, two different
racetracks and probably two different style tires but can you make any
A. The only difference I could tell
was that the Michelin stuck to the ground real hard, lots of traction.
Q. You are a four time world champion.
Is number five a goal? Do you think you could throw one great season together?
A. I could get up for it if everything
was right. If, like I said before, Erv put something together and everything
was right. But everything would have to be right and the chances of that
Q. Well, lets say someone put
together a great package but couldn't afford to pay you the big numbers,
would you do it? Would you race for free?
A. I'd want market value. If someone
else is getting that, then I'd want that too. But you know I wouldn't go
to Suzuka thinking that I'd get top five and be happy with that, no way.
I would never go to Suzuka or any race for that matter, with that in mind.
I go there thinking, I'm going there to win and it wouldn't matter to me
if it was for one dollar or a million dollars, winning is the most important
If everyone was getting no money
then I would, but if Kevin or Mick were getting paid and I wasn't, ah,
Q. Which GP victory stands out
in your mind as the best one of your career?
A. Definitely the USGP in 1988, there
is nothing like winning a race in front of your home crowd. The win at
Hungary was some pretty special circumstances and it meant a lot to me
to be the first to win on a Cagiva, I can always say that I was the first
and that is pretty special, but I'm not as proud of that win as I am of
others. But hey, winning a GP, no matter how you win it is nice.
Q. You won the world championship
for Rothmans in 1989, did their drop out from the sport surprise you? Did
you have prior knowledge of their intention?
A. Ah not really. It's my understanding,
and I don't know how much money they were exactly putting in the program,
but I don't believe it was that much money. I didn't know before hand,
I found out when everyone else found out.
Q. When looking back at all you've
accomplished, from your 250 national championships to Superbikes championships
to the four world titles, are you content?
A. Sure, heck yeah. I am very grateful,
very lucky, very fortunate to have accomplished that and to have worked
with the people I have, that have put those things together with me.
I look at it this way, when I first
started out racing I could go to any one of ten racetracks and go racing
every night. And that went away right behind me, there aren't a whole lot
of tracks left in California. Then I went Superbike racing and rode that
crest as well, we had quite a few dates on the schedule in those days,
Carlsbad, Ontario, Sears Point, Laguna, Road Atlanta, you name it, we raced
there. We could race every weekend somewhere different and Superbike racing
kind of went down after that for a time. I've been very lucky, I hit everything
at the right time, met the right people. I never looked at it that, hey,
I alone accomplished all of this. I had some great help, some great influences.
A lot of people helped me get here, a lot of people.
Q. Who were the biggest influences
on your career?
A. Definitely Shell Thuett (a Southern
California Dirt track tuner who supported both Lawson and Rainey as teenagers),
Pete Pistoni helped me out quite a bit in my first year dirt tracking.
There are so many people, so many guys. I hate questions like this because
I always forget someone who really did do me great favors and they don't
get mentioned. Kel Carruthers, Erv, Steve Johnson, Rob Muzzy guys like
that. If it wasn't for Rob we wouldn't have won those Superbike championships,
wouldn't have happened. I appreciate everything those guys ever did for
me, I couldn't have done it without them.
Q. The mention of Kel's name brings
the obvious question..
A. Well, we had some problems
but that doesn't mean that the guy doesn't know his stuff. You can ask
Erv about Kel and Erv will tell you that he has a great deal of respect
for Kel. So do I as far as setting up and developing a motorcycle, he's
one of the very best. He's very innovative and the factories realize that
and he's someone they'll want to hang on to. As far as that goes I have
a great deal of respect for Kel, we didn't see eye to eye about some things
in racing and the running of a team.
Q. You've seen a lot of guys come
and go in your career, what's your opinion as to why they didn't make it.
Mike Baldwin, Rob Mclena, the brothers Sarron, Mamola...
A. You know there is a lot of guys
who didn't make the cut, you wonder why. Unlucky, bad breaks, injuries
or for whatever reason, sponsorship wasn't there. a lot of those guys were
clearly talented but things just didn't go their way. Tragic in some cases,
deserved in others.
Q. Freddie Spencer
A. I don't know, on top of the world
one day and then fell off the next. I don't know, I think Freddie was so
quick and so fast and he won by such a large margin that when we finally
caught up ... There were some circumstances that he wasn't able to deal
with. It was a bit easier for me, I was always struggling and playing catch-up
and once we did catch up Freddie was never on the pace after that. Now,
I have a lot of respect for what he did, I have a lot of respect for him
getting back out there again and riding Superbikes. It is really something
to see him riding in the back, from one extreme to the other. Maybe he
should have just kept it on an even keel back in 1986 or so. It's hard
for me to say, I don't like to analyze these guys. I've had enough problems
of my own and trying to deal with them.
Q. Wayne Gardner
A. He got away with a lot! His riding
was so aggressive, so consistently aggressive. Man, I give him a lot of
credit for being that kind of rider and he didn't stop riding that
way once he got hurt a few times, he continued. That's bravery. He would
go fast and sustain an injury and then come back and ride even faster.
Unbelievable really. Even injured he rode very aggressive and that takes
Q. You really don't have a problem
bouncing back from injuries do you?
A. No, not really. In 1990 my ankle
took a while because I blew that apart. that year was really a poor year
for us because I got run into at the first race and that broke my left
ankle and then I went to Laguna and shattered my right ankle. That was
right in the beginning of the season and everybody was telling me that
I should be riding, trying to push me back into something I couldn't do.
I was on crutches learning how to walk, I had a bone out of my hip that
they used to form what was left of my ankle with a bunch of screws. I was
doing therapy every day wondering if I was ever going to walk again and
I kept hearing these things that people were saying, that I was on vacation
and should be riding again. That was a tough time for me, hearing that.
That was the toughest time I ever had in a comeback from injury situation.
I came back and finished third at Assen so that was really satisfying.
Earlier than that I broke my neck
at Laguna Seca in the early 1980s and I came back, won my first race back.
It never really upsets me psychologically, I've never really thought about
it that way. I've never really went into a race thinking I was going to
get hurt, I'm always thinking about winning and how to get the bike working.
I guess if you're thinking about the chances of getting hurt it's time
to stop racing.
Q. What has the response been
like from your sponsors, are they eager to see you back in bike racing?
A. Well, the Bell Helmets thing came
about because they make a great car helmet and we're kind of tied in with
I have a great relationship with
Dainese. Way back in 1981 or 82 I went over and raced the Kawasaki 250
in Europe and Dainese gave me a set of leathers then. And then when I finally
went back to Europe in 1983 to ride the 500 I set up a sponsorship program
with them and rode with Dainese all throughout my career. Then in 1986
the Japanese were very heavy into sponsorship and they came to me and offered
to double, triple the money I was getting, just an astronomical fee. I
said no but I took that to Dainese and told them what they had offered.
I didn't try to get more money from them I just told them what I had done
so they would know, and I told them that I liked their product and their
support. Ever since then, whatever I want, even now, product or anything,
it's there. I don't have to worry about it and I know that if I came back
they'd be right there for me.
Q. When you're off the bike for
some time, for instance this past year when you didn't ride from the final
GP until a week before Daytona, does the sense of speed just astound you?
A. No not really, well, even in the
past, early on, if you've been off a bike and I don't care if you're Wayne
or Kevin or anyone, if you've been off a while it takes you part of a day
or a whole practice session to get your rhythm and timing back. I guess
the sense of speed hits you in a way, you're like, wow, I am really flying,
your first lap out you feel that, but after the first practice, it's down
Q. The press, do you believe anything
A. No. I absolutely refuse to open
a magazine. I'm sorry to tell you that but it is so bogus these days.
It's refreshing to read someone's stuff who is new and telling it like
it is. I have no problem with criticism or anything else but when writers
out and out lie, telling pure bullshit, I have a problem with that. If
someone prints an interview with me and they have never talked to
me before, I have a problem with that. And that was done a lot. It's very
frustrating. Because people read this stuff and they believe it, they see
it in print and that's it. It's the truth, it isn't always that way I can
assure you. I haven't read anything about GP racing recently but I know
that if I did it would be so far removed from what really happened.
Q. How close were you to racing
GPs this season?
A. It was never as close as it was
rumored to be, I wasn't home gathering up my leathers. I did get a call
early on from Erv saying that he was trying to put something together for
Suzuka and that was basically the end of it. You could say that he
was going to try and find some other types of sponsorship, that would be
true. But I was on my boat out on the Colorado River and someone came to
me and said the rumor was that weekend I was actually testing the bike
somewhere, that very day. I think for the first six or seven GPs I was
supposed to show up at each one of them, every week it was the rumor that
I was going to be racing the next GP, I was going to be at the next race.
I knew nothing about it.
Q. Do you feel a riders organization
will ever be clean enough while being influential enough to work?
A. It could, it could easily, but
it never will. If all the riders stuck together it would be the easiest
thing in the world, except that will never happen. somebody will have two
points up on somebody else and the sponsor will come to the rider and say,
you know if you don't ride then we don't know if we can help you again,
there is a lot of pressure from sponsors and team manager and everything
else. But if all the riders stuck together on this and said, look, we are
not going to run on this track until you fix this or whatever the situation
may be, it would be very easy but now I know it will never happen, I'm
convinced of it.
Push starts took forever to get
fixed. I was on a motorcycle that would not start, it would simply not
start, Kenny and I would be sitting on the grid and we would go back three
rows and tell the guys which side to go around us on or we would have gotten
killed. A guy would go by you on a three cylinder Honda at eighty or ninety
mile per hour in second gear! We'd still be standing on the side of our
bikes, it blew my mind that in that day in age to have a push start, it
absolutely blew my mind. It took a long time to get rid of push starts
too. the reason they would not change it over was because three cylinders
started instantly. Randy Mamola and Ron Haslam would not vote it in for
clutch starts because they got good starts on their three cylinder Hondas.
So this is why a riders organization will never work.
Q. What is your opinion of airbags?
A. They're great as long as you have
plenty of run off room as well. There is no substitute for run off room
in bike racing, if you don't hit anything , more than likely you could
break a bone bouncing across the track or folding the front end in, but
if you strike something, you're in trouble. You don't have to be a rocket
scientist to figure this stuff out. And in a lot of places it wouldn't
cost very much to pull up Armco and put it back further. but for whatever
amounts of money, they will not do that.
It's very unfortunate but IRTA doesn't
care any more because they're getting to race there and they're getting
paid and there is a lot of money involved and changing hands. It's unfortunate
for racing. There is a much greater amount of politics involved now. Sure
granted, the riders and teams are all getting money but I think it all
comes at a higher risk, a higher price.
Q. Well, if you do return to the
GPs will you become a member of IRTA?
A. Well, you have to. To get your
pass and your credentials and what not you have to.
They now control the prize money
and give it to the teams it does not go to the riders anymore. The team
decides how they split that up. I know now not to be a part of the riders
organization because it will never work because you have riders who are
more interested in championships and points than anything else, safety
If I went back I wouldn't do anything
to circumvent IRTA membership, I'd just hide in the motor home, race and
Top Ten Racetracks of the World
A professional racer from his late
teens, four time world champion and general fast guy Eddie Lawson has seen
his share of race tracks from around the globe. The following are his favorites,
in no real order after Assen.
1. Assen. This bikes only venue is
Eddie Lawson's all time favorite racetrack, "A very high speed track and
still very technical." Lawson last raced here in 1992 setting the pole
on the Cagiva only to be knocked out of the lead by Kevin Schwantz, or
vice versa depending on who's bending your ear.
2. Hockenhiem, Germany. Rumored to
have been built by the Nazi's, Hockenhiem has been the scene of many epic
battles in GP racing. "Again a high speed track known for it's long
run through the woods and phenomenal drafting."
3. The old Paul Ricard circuit in
France. "We don't race there anymore but I sure wish we did."
4. Donington, England. Sight of another
pole by Lawson in 1992. "Very technical, so set up is critical."
5." Daytona. "A very different type
of circuit, the only one like it in the world really."
6. Suzuka Japan. "Very fast,
very fun but again very dangerous. I really enjoy racing there." Lawson
finished second at Suzuka this past July in the ultra prestigious Suzuka
eight hour race on a factory Honda RVF tuned by Erv Kanemoto.
7. Road America. "Fun but don't make
any mistakes in certain sections."
8. Road Atlanta. "More fun."
9. Spa in Belgium. "Dangerous but
very, very fun.
10. Mid Ohio. "In my Indy Lites car
this is a phenomenal track but I wouldn't want to race a motorcycle here,
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