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Interview Eddie Lawson 
by Dean Adams (1993)

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 for us. 

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 at all? 
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 working. 

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 Suzuka like?

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 laps?

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 comparisons?

A. The only difference I could tell was that the Michelin stuck to the ground real hard, lots of traction. (Laughs)

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 are slim. 

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 thing. 
If everyone was getting no money then I would, but if Kevin or Mick were getting paid and I wasn't, ah, no. 

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 guts. 

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 them. 
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 to business. 

Q. The press, do you believe anything you read?

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 or anything. 

If I went back I wouldn't do anything to circumvent IRTA membership, I'd just hide in the motor home, race and leave. END

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, dangerous. "END


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