Saison '82. A small review
A note: I wrote this chapter and later turned it into a magazine story for AR in the long winter of 1994. I haven't looked at it since then and now with a quick glance I see immedietly things that I would now change. I won't.
David Wore Green
I noticed him immediately. He circled my bike slowly, taking a long look at the decal on the tank and its vibrant, some say nauseating green paint. Twenty-something with a flashy Schwantz Arai helmet hung onto the mirror of his newer GSXR; he and some friends were examining my 1982 Kawasaki Lawson Replica. When we were within conversation distance, I greeted them with a “Great day for a ride, huh?” He answered back in the affirmative and then said, “I didn’t know Eddie Lawson rode for Kawasaki.”
Goddamned Generation Xers. I cut him off. “Eddie Lawson never rode Superbikes for Honda, he rode for Kawasaki. He was never teamed with Spencer, ever. Lawson’s number was twenty-one, Spencer’s nineteen. Never Honda, never Spencer. ”
I spent much of the afternoon in the garage paging thru my scrapbook of the seasons Eddie spent at Kawasaki. It startled me to learn that it has been nearly fifteen years since Ed began his roadracing career at Kawasaki; the youngsters I had been talking to were in kindergarten then. Punks. The real tragedy wasn’t the young man’s misconception that Lawson rode for Honda but that an entire season, arguably the most fervent season of Superbike racing ever, has fallen by the wayside.
Therefor, to combat this, gather around people, it’s time for a story. The story of the 1982 Kawasaki Superbike team. Gather round you little snot nosed bastar …
Ah, where to start? This legend can be launched from several places: in 1958 when Lawson was born or in 1980 when Rob Muzzy decided to answer an ad in Cycle News for a crewchief position. Eddie Lawson began riding for Kawasaki in 1980 after testing a Racecrafters sponsored Pierre DeRoches Kawasaki 1000 in practice at Ontario Motor Speedway and winning a slew of AFM 250 races; Lawson replaced the injured Mike Baldwin who had broken his leg at Loudon.
Lawson’s three year relationship with Kawasaki and professional racing career almost didn’t happen. Riding one of Shell Thuett’s Superbikers machines at Carlsbad in 1979, Lawson crashed hard, highsiding over the top of the machine and tumbling to a halt with these fairly neat crunching noises coming from his abdomen. Once he’d caught his breath and made sure everything worked, he got up, spit the dirt out of his mouth and walked ever so slowly back to Shell’s motorhome, collapsing on the fold out bed.
A soft knock came from the door and Eddie’s father answered it, announcing a man by the name of Gary Mathers wanted to speak with his son. Mathers, the newly hired roadracing coordinator for Kawasaki and had been watching Eddie Lawson ride dirt track and 250s from a distance for some time. He liked what he saw and came to the Shell Thuett motorhome that day with a basic contract to offer the lad. Mathers, now the Racing Manager for American Honda, came to the point of his visit immediately, “We want you to ride our Superbike Eddie, I’ve brought a contract ... and .. say, are you all right?” Mathers noticed the curious position Lawson lay in on the couch, the way he took in air like a rabbit, in small little huffs and the pained grimace on his face.
Lawson, in less than three seconds, went from being elated at a factory Superbike ride offered him, to complete horror, realizing his current health condition may scare the offer away. He grabbed a big piece of his cheek with his molars, bit down hard and jumped up, ignoring the best he could the waves of nausea and shooting pain from the broken ribs and bruised organs in his abdomen. “No, I’m fine.” He steadied himself against the table and sat down across from Mathers. Mathers took a long look at Lawson and slid the contract across the coffee stained table. “Have your manager look at this and then have your accountant look it over and when you’re satisfied with it, have ...” He stopped talking as Lawson took a pen and found the last page of the contract where his signature was required. He signed and pushed the contract back to Mathers, never bothering to read it. Eddie remembers, “ I knew that if I rode for a factory, everything would be paid. That’s all I cared about. I just wanted to race, nothing else mattered.”
And so the story begins. Lawson, after a short hazing period gelled quickly into the team. Steve Johnson initially found Eddie too small to ride the Kawasaki Superbike and voiced that opinion clearly to Lawson, also asking him if he thought he could get close to ex-Kawasaki rider Mike Baldwin’s times at Willow Springs. Lawson initially was not at all confident of his abilities to ride a superbike and answered, “Yeah, I don’t know. I think so.” Johnson capitalized, “ Oh you THINK so, that’s relieving!” Among the many things one should never do, giving away a blank signed check, keeping condoms in your mother’s sewing cabinet or spitting into a gust of wind, one should refrain from taunting Eddie Lawson. Lawson quietly mounted the bike and within a handful of laps at Willow, bettered Baldwin’s record by a second and a half. “I was very impressed with the power of the Superbike, the way it would smoke the tire at almost any speed.”
And with a devilish grin Lawson adds, “ I liked that a lot.”
Rob Muzzy came to the team shortly after Lawson and he faced a somewhat difficult initiation process. Lawson remebers, “He was a consultant at first and we knew he was a great dirtrack tuner, but roadrace? C’mon? We go to Sears Point and I'm thinkin’ Oh man I know he’s a good engine builder but what does he really know about roadracing?' I was doing the same thing to him that Steve Johnson had done to me. He set the suspension up like he thought it should be and did a motor for it and I went out and rode it around. That bike just flew! I came in and I went up to him and said,” Lawson clasps his hands in front of him and bows his head, “Mr. Muzzy. Sir ... We are going to get along just fine.” Lawson still to this day considers Muzzy a cut above the crowd, “There are only a few guys I've worked with like that: Erv Kanemoto, Steve Johnson and Rob Muzzy. Those guys are in a different league.”
Championship success did not come immediately, although Eddie quickly became recognized as a player in Superbike racing. In 1980, his first full year on a Superbike, Eddie lost the series championship to Wes Cooley and the Yoshimura Suzuki team. The championship was not lost on the racetrack, but behind the closed doors of the AMA hierarchy as politics and politicians declared Cooley the winner. Rookie Lawson held a points lead coming into the last event and in the final practice session his Superbike dropped a valve and destructed the top end of the engine leaving them with no time to swap engines. So they just swapped number plates, from Kawasaki teammate David Aldana’s bike to Eddie’s and sent Eddie out. Yoshimura discovered this fact and protested Lawson post race and from there it ended up in court with Lawson coming out on the losing end.
The 1980 season solidified in Eddie’s mind that he could indeed run with the best on a Superbike, because truth be known, he did not then have the confidence then that he has since become renown. “That first year took out a lot of doubts that I had, ‘boy can I do this? I hope that I can run with these guys.’ After a full season of racing, I knew I could do it.” Irate over relinquishing the championship in court after he had won it on the track, Lawson stormed back in 1981, beating Spencer and Cooley for the Superbike crown. Just to assure everyone he was no longer messing around, Eddie won the 250 championship as well, riding Kawasaki’s KR250.
And so, in 1982 only deep-pocketed American Honda seriously threatened Lawson and Kawasaki in superbike racing. In a quest for the championship, Big Red armed themselves with a win or spend more philosophy and a troop of technicians all marching in step toward victory. Honda appropriated more resources for the 1982 Superbike team than ever before or since, an amount that would fund a modern GP team for half a season. The budgets of the two respective teams defined the David versus Goliath philosophy more than any other detail: some insiders say that Honda had no budget for the 1982 season, they simply spent with no regard for anything but winning; salaries alone for the team ran in the millions of dollars. Kawasaki had a budget for the entire effort of only seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. “Honda pulled out all the stops,” Lawson recalls. “Every bit of ammunition they could muster, they used; their budget for advertising was like ten times what our race budget was. So when we won, nobody even knew about it, they would just bombard all the magazines with ads.”
Honda had struggled with crashing riders and grenading engines in 1981, however they had gotten those aspects of their team handled and would come out swinging for 82. The main players in the 1982 Superbike season were on three different factory supported teams. The aforementioned takin’ names and kicking ass Lawson had as his teammate the twenty-one year old Wayne Rainey; Rainey had a season of racing under his belt and Kawasaki decided to give him a full trial as Lawson’s apprentice. Long time horsepower procurement chief Rob Muzzy was the Kawasaki team’s crewchief, working with him were Sparky Edmonson, Chris Armstrong and Ken Funkhouser. Steve Johnson worked exclusively on the KR500 Grand Prix machine Lawson rode in the Formula One class and Gary Mathers managed Team Kawasaki.
American Honda team manager Udo Geitl put polished East Coast rider Mike Baldwin, a rider with the iciest yet most professional nature on point position to defeat Lawson with Honda motocrosser turned roadracer (now evangelist) Steve Wise and support-rider Roberto Peitri for back-up. Former champion Wes Cooley Jr on the Yoshimura Suzuki and a pack of eager privateers such as present day Suzuki photo model Thad Wolff, Rhys Howard and Rich “The Voice” Chambers, most mounted on Kawasaki customer Superbikes, rounded out the contenders.
Just as important as the riders was the machinery. In retrospect, the only way one could describe the Superbikes of the day would be dinosauric. All factors that defined the bikes were huge: engines, wheels, brakes and horsepower numbers. The victor would have similarly huge bragging rights. Wayne Rainey commented that these motorcycles were the most frightening he had ever ridden. The two valve per cylinder Kawasaki Superbike’s strong point being it’s incredible horsepower; Rob Muzzy saw dyno readings as high as 149 horsepower from the big Kaw on KMC’s Schenkeddie dynamometers during their strongest part of the season. Lawson, at times, had all he could do to keep the front wheel of the 1015cc Kaw on the pavement and pointed in the right direction. It handled horribly though, shaking violently on any track with a straight.
As Daytona loomed in the in the early spring of 1982, Kawasaki team members became, shall we say, concerned, as they had not received the Superbike engines or chassis from Kawasaki Japan. Exporting out of Japan in the early 1980s was a major hassle and it was not uncommon for parts or actual bikes to take months to arrive. Just three short weeks before Daytona the KZ1000 S-1s arrived in California, engines a week or so later. The crew tackled the project with ferocity, exhaust systems had to be fabricated, rear sets and handlebars measured to fit the riders and then manufactured, suspensions set up and frames strengthened. Honda had been preparing for this event for at least five months. As the time remaining ran down before they must load the trailer and leave for Daytona, the core members of the Kawasaki team pulled an uninterrupted sixty hour work period.
Even so, the Superbikes were still not in complete readiness, simply because of a lack of time. In evidence of this, just before leaving Kawasaki decided to take photos of the team and the machinery. The photos depict a very exhausted personnel, with all faces quite haggard. Even the equipment showed unpreparedness, with mock engines without exhaust systems installed. Lawson’s photo too told a story; on the surface he looked like any other young man. A teenage haircut framed his face and he shone a “what me worry?” smile to the camera. Looking in his eyes you saw origins of the unadulterated glare for which he would become world renown. Scrutinize still photos from his last seasons as a GP rider, his face matured into a stoic viciousness. The “what me worry?” smile surfaces very seldom now.
Kawasaki’s back was against the wall. All in the Kawasaki Superbike team knew that Daytona would be hard, although they had grown accustomed to misfortune. Kawasaki had an awful re-occurring string of bad luck at Daytona in the eighties. As it is now, Daytona was a horsepower track and the Kawasaki team was short on power because of the relative production specs of their machines (racebike production as opposed to streetbike production), not a favorable predicament.
The 900F’s had power in spades and Honda flexed their muscle at Daytona. It was there that the striking physical contrast between the two teams became apparent. A team Kawasaki member explains, “I remember looking around at one point during Daytona and just being amazed at the sheer number of personnel and machinery Honda had at their disposal. I was just dumbstruck by the show of force they had there. It seemed you couldn’t turn around in the pits without seeing a guy in Honda garb walking into their eighteen wheeler or bumping into one of their bikes.” Kawasaki, counting the one Japanese engineer they had on the project, had a total of nine people on their team. Honda had at least triple that, including a team therapist. Down on power and unquestionably out-budgeted it was easy to believe that Kawasaki had no chance at winning at Daytona.
Yet, all was not lost: Kawasaki had an edge for the Bell Helmets sponsored Superbike race, that being their engine was quite fuel efficient, mileage being second in importance to horsepower at Daytona. In its undeveloped form the KZ1000 could record numbers as high as eighteen or nineteen miles per gallon in a racing situation, marginally better than the 900F Honda.
Lawson, who rarely rode outside the limits of his riding talent even then, rode like a fiend at Daytona, cutting, slashing and drafting to stay on the same lap as the Hondas. The 900Fs didn’t bother to draft him, they just pulled out and passed the Kawasaki Superbikes at will! In the later stages of the race, the Hondas of Baldwin, Wise and Spencer pitted for fuel. Eddie satyed out and was then leading and the laps were running down, Mathers hung the chalk board out signaling Lawson to come in for a splash. Then Steve Johnson held the board out signaling him to pit - twice. Eddie shook his head and on the next lap Johnson held the sign out with Gas! underlined.
Throughout his racing career Lawson found himself branded with names like Fast Eddie or Steady Eddie, this time the only fitting name would be Lucky Lawson. Lawson had lapped up to sixth place before running out of fuel and that was the finishing position he was credited. Freddie Spencer, just beginning the era in which he could do no wrong, won Daytona.
Post race Lawson received some criticism from the team for his gamble. He quietly explained to them his reasoning behind what he’d done and left. Walking across the track to his rental car, Lawson saw Kawasaki mechanic Mark Johnson driving towards the tunnel., Lawson still in leathers, flagged him down and jumped in the passenger seat. He closed the door and turned to Johnson, with that what me worry smile shining said, “Well, we had em’ scared for a while didn’t we?”
Okay, its been more than a decade, time for The Truth as to Why Eddie Didn’t Pit.
“I can honestly say that was the only time we bent the rules. After that, I can tell you, we never cheated. Honda made their own frames and had some special parts in their engine, not legal parts either, and Yoshimura wasn’t even close to the rulebook. We cheated that one race because our bike was so slow. Rob fixed that though because we went to Talladega and kicked their ass!”
With the less than spectacular results at Daytona and the striking speed of the Honda, it was quite apparent that Kawasaki Superbike needed more power - now. A major engine building session would have to take place before the next round of the superbike series a week later at Talledega Raceway in Alabama. The team stopped at the Kawasaki distribution center in Atlanta and Rob Muzzy whipped out a porting tool and went to work on the KZ1000. Results of Muzzy’s sweat were apparent to Lawson the first time he rode the Kawasaki at Talledega, the Muzzy engine made big, linear-horsepower. Lawson, addicted to horsepower like the worst skid row junkie, had Muzzy as his pusher. Muzz mainlined horsepower into Lawson’s system, thru the twist grip. Lawson performed flawlessly, winning Talledega and making the bad memories of Daytona, just that, memories. In the Talladega Superbike race Steve Wise finished just behind Lawson while Rainey showed that he had promise too by placing third, his first superbike podium. Baldwin crashed.
The ensuing tracks on the Superbike schedule were dominated by rider talent. Riverside and Road America required nerve, guts and a colossal hit of riding finesse for a prospective rider to succeed. Lawson did just that, winning both, making it three in a row for Kawasaki. Baldwin was a close second in the points after those three races. Road America was the scene of the first in a series of catastrophes that would test the team’s mettle. In the Sunday morning heat race Lawson crashed spectacularly in the final corner going onto the front straight. Although he was largely unharmed, the bike was demolished and due to the semi-wet conditions, packed with mud. The Superbike race was to be run in just a few short hours and the crew had quite a job in front of them. It required that Lawson’s KZ1000 be dismantled down to the frame and cleaned, wheels and controls replaced and replacement of the engine as well. With Muzzy supervising, the crew made the big, green Kawasaki ready as best they could, given the time restraint. From the back row of the grid, Lawson, sore from his crash and on a strange handling motorcycle, put his head down and powered up through the scads of riders and won the wet superbike race at Road America.
Swapping the engine from one chassis to another the eve before raceday was nothing new for Team Kawasaki. In fact, thanks to Lawson, they became quite proficient at it. The scene would be Saturday afternoon at any racetrack. Muzzy would pressure Lawson for a set-up he wanted to race the next day, his selection limited to his two Superbikes. “Well, which one’s it gonna be?” Rob would ask. Lawson would contemplate for a moment and then invariably would point to one bike and say, “I like the engine in that one,” then he would turn and point to the other Superbike and say, “but, I like the chassis from that one. Can you switch them?” The crew would quietly sigh in unison, knowing dinner was going to be eaten late again. Muzzy would roll his eyes at hearing Lawson’s request, “Well, okay ...”
“I realized he was quite serious in his quest for a better handling motorcycle, I told him that I’d do anything he wanted me to do, try anything he wanted to try.”
Rainey won the first Superbike race of his career at Loudon, on June 19th 1982, Lawson trailed him across the line with tire problems. Eddie had been using the eighteen inch Dymag wheel exclusively in 1982, until sixteen inch tires from the Grand Prixs made their way to the States. Lawson made the huge (but rare) mistake of using the new sixteen inch tire in the Loudon race. “It worked well in practice and I thought it would be the hot set-up.” The sixteen had a tendency to heat up and go away relatively quickly, especially when given the weight of the Kawasaki. This effectively did Lawson in and he had to click into finishing mode.
The Kawasaki wasn’t perfect. Specifically, Lawson wanted more power from it, though he was never satisfied with the power output of any motorcycle he rode. Gary Mathers explains, “He just wanted more horsepower and more motorcycle and he was able to take whatever you gave him and on a given day and run with it. If it was a third place bike, he’d run third. If it was able to run up front he’d do that. That really impressed me, normally a young rider like Eddie was then would have to crash a bunch of times to learn that. Sometimes they never learn it.”
Honda could not believe that they were being slowly plucked apart by nothing more than what was a well funded privateer team. Ugly rumors swarmed the pits, Kawasaki was using a cylinder head from the Canadian KZ1000 and that the Honda frames were hand made from 4130 chrome moly. Believing the Kawasakis illegal, Honda personnel began to wait at the end of the tech inspection line for the Kawasaki to be scrutinized. As the technical crew from the sanctioning body looked the machines over, many times there would be Honda personnel just behind them with a rulebook in hand searching the machines for some form of piracy. Nothing was ever found to be less than legal, although now it can be told that both of the above allegations were true.
Post Loudon, things went downhill in a big way. In fact, Kawasaki’s truck and trailer literally went down hill. On a rainy Pennsylvania highway the truck and trailer plunged off the side of the road and struck a tree. Funkhouser faintly remembers Edmonson dragging him from the smashed vehicle to the opposite side of the road and turning around just as the truck burst into flames! One hundred gallons of racing fuel had been kept in a custom made fuel tank in the box of the truck and the loose trailer pierced the barrel and started the truck ablaze.
The next race was at Laguna Seca in two weeks time. Steve Johnson, Mark Johnson and Al Nowocinski joined the team in repairing the Superbikes at Kawasaki’s race shop for the Laguna Seca National. They robbed frames and cosmetics from production KZ1000 shelves and essentially built new bikes from the ground up. The team had never been spares rich and as a result of the Pennsylvania incident would be very short on bits for the remainder of the season. Sparky Edmonson left the team, as would Armstrong. Mathers didn’t tell either rider what had happened and only after seeing Ken Funkhouser at Laguna did Eddie realize that something quite bad had happened.
The Laguna Seca National was the high and low point of the 1982 season. Everything back to normal - short of getting a complete stock of spares - the Kawasaki team went into Laguna Seca only marginally affected by almost having been destroyed. Lawson had never lost any confidence and easily bested Mike Baldwin and Wes Cooley in the Superbike race. His domination of the race was total, he became favored to win his second superbike championship. Just as everyone started to get used to the idea that Lawson and Kawasaki might win their second championship in a row - disaster struck.
Lawson raced the only Grand Prix spec 500 Kawasaki ever produced, the KR500 in the Formula One race at Laguna, a day after his Superbike win. The bike, although technically advanced, was never really competitive with the OW61 Yamaha of Roberts or Mamola’s Suzuki RG500, the chassis too long and the engine underpowered; Fast Eddie had to ride like a psychopath to keep them in sight. Outside of Laguna’s old turn two, the Kawasaki shredded a front tire and spit him off. Eddie collided with a bank of earth, snapping his seventh vertebrae in two and shoving a piece of vertebrae into his spinal cord, momentarily paralyzing him. “I was laying there and thought, 'Well, now you did it.”
“And then a few moments later the swelling went away and my movement came back. For about a month after that I could move my head down and my feet would just vibrate, like electrical shocks.”
Local medical personnel did not find the broken vertebra in x-rays and told Lawson to go home, reasoning he was only badly beat up. Eddie went home, carried both his bags of luggage into his mom’s house and collapsed. After a day or so of intense pain and a burning sensation from between his shoulder blades, Lawson’s mother took him to a specialist.
After some thought, Lawson agreed to sit out the next two rounds. After all, he had a comfortable lead in the championship, all was not lost. Pocono, the next round of the series was in a month, Sears Point a month after that. Lawson, it was thought, would assuredly miss both of those round, maybe more. This was just the break Mike Baldwin and Honda needed. With Lawson out, a strong showing by Baldwin could turn the tides. The responsibility to hold Baldwin off fell on the shoulders of Wayne Rainey. Baldwin, and old hand at racing by this time, found himself surprised at how Rainey came on in Lawson’s absence. Rainey dogged him, showing traits he would become well known for later in his GP career. He’d grab onto Baldwin’s draft and wouldn’t let go. Every time he made a slight mistake or turned his head back, Baldwin would see that green Kawasaki of Rainey. Coming onto the start and finish at Pocono for the last time Rainey suffered a transmission failure and cruised to the flag in second place. He hadn’t help Lawson’s lead but Rainey had certainly proven himself as a opponent.
Lawson was still a question mark for the remainder of the season - in all eyes but his own as usual. Funkhouser noticed Lawson spectating the Carlsbad USGP motocross race; it was not an pleasant scene. The contraption that they had attached to Lawson’s head and neck looked more like a medieval torture instrument than anything to aid in his healing. Funkhouser remembers, “I saw him from a distance and I thought, Oh God, we’re finished, the championship is over. I went over to talk to him and he was his same old confident self. He nonchalantly said, yeah, don’t worry, I’ll be back. We’ll win this championship. That’s my strongest memory of Eddie that year, him standing there with a apparatus on his head, not even able to move his head, announcing that we were still going to win the championship!”
By mid season the Kawasaki had developed an incredible reputation as an undeniable handful to ride. Or just perpetuated the same reputation it had the season before. The big green Kawasaki that looked so menacing in the pits on a race stand transformed into a real on-track menace. Funkhouser braced everything on the S-1 chassis and that seemed to take the edge off the violent shake the bikes exhibited, yet the inherent unstableness remained. The Kawasaki’s linear powerband allowed them to use a softer rear tire; some theorized the gummy rubber may have made the handling problems worse. Funkhouser installed two steering dampers on Eddie’s bike, one on each fork leg, and cranked up the tension, so that the handlebars could hardly be moved while stationary. The shake would remain for the season. The handling problem wasn’t because of a fault within in the team or in the design of the motorcycle; the combination of big Muzzy horsepower numbers, tall wheels with wide slicks upset the geometry and balance of the motorcycle so severely there really wasn’t any fixing it. Muzzy adds, “We were doubling the horsepower from stock and the whole package was overstressed.” Brakes too were a problem.
Lawson, with some assistance from Dean Miller, returned to superbike racing at Seattle International Raceway on September twelfth, still with a small points lead. There would not be an on-track convalescing period, not that he wanted one. Even so, the points race required that he would have to be fast out of the gate.
Seattle in 1981 had some distinction for Lawson and Kawasaki. Eddie and Honda's Freddie Spencer fought a extraordinary battle in the 1981 Superbike race. Like two streetfighters bound together at the wrist, not more than a bike length separated them. On the final lap, Spencer had created a small advantage. As the pair rounded the last corner, Spencer held a tight line to protect his lead. No doubt adding up how much money he would make that season or engrossed in his victory speech, Fred had a habit of doing that on the final lap, he made the unfortunate mistake of leaving just a small piece of asphalt between his knee and the inside of the corner. Eddie put the Kawasaki into the dirt, fired that Muzzy horsepower into the rear tire, spraying Spencer with dirt as he passed him in the grass. Boom - instant victory! Mark Johnson remembers, “I still get a cold chill and the hair stands up on my neck when I think about that pass and the resulting win. The most emotional racing situation I have ever witnessed.”
A year later, Rainey, still suffering from his Sears Point injuries, was generally healthy by Seattle. Or just gritted his teeth a bit when his collarbone clicked in and out of place. He was there to force Baldwin back as far as he could. Lawson was at his focused best, when the green flag waved, he launched from the line getting an instant one hundred foot advantage, holding that to the checkers. Baldwin crashed dramatically in the wet conditions, leaving Cooley and Rainey following him home. Remarkably, Lawson had been gone for two months and once he hit the track it was business as usual. Bouncing back from severe injuries would become another trait he was well known for throughout his lengthy career.
After the race, many of the personalities of the era assembled at an abandoned gravel pit near the track for another conflict: the dreaded Kent rental car races. Difficult to now surmise the winner as everyone involved claims outright dominating conquest, although it is known Lawson and Rainey punctured the oil pan of their renta-racer (allegedly jumping it after victory) and were forced to completely fill the crankcase with oil, so that oil ran from the top of the valve cover, and drive -very quickly - to the rental drop off point. Eddie stuck his head in the door claiming to be late for a flight and said, “Yeah, that car just started to leak oil about a block ago, I don’t know what’s wrong with it,” and bolted from the scene.
In retrospect, the number of things that are opposite in Superbike racing today as compared to the 1982 season are virtually uncountable. For one, the will to win was pure and absolute - especially at Kawasaki. The desire to win was so great within the Kawasaki team that manager Gary Mathers wouldn’t let a tire sponsorship program transpire. All teams, Goodyear, Dunlop and Michelin wanted an exclusive deal with the Kawasaki team but Mathers shunned this, something that would be unthinkable in 1990s racing. Kawasaki simply bought all the tires they needed, from whomever made the best tire for the track or conditions. Lawson ran Dunlop fronts with Goodyear rears or vice versa. This is even more astounding, indeed commendable, on Mathers part when you realize like modern racing, tires made up the biggest single part of the total superbike budget. Asked specifically about Kawasaki’s team manager Lawson comments, “Gary Mathers is the only team manager that went in there and fought to get me more money than I asked for. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
After a re-schedule of the final two races of the series Kawasaki returned to the sea shell covered banks of Daytona for the penultimate round in the series. Lawson perceived that the championship would be his, not that he ever doubted it, just felt it strongly now. Like a young colt, he desired to stretch his legs. Ken Funkhouser recalls that afternoon, “I had the normal mechanic existence at Daytona in the spring of 1982, I never saw anything of the track save the front straight and turn one. Eddie asked me if I would like to ride out to the infield to watch the riders go through there, Honda was there too, testing. He was in full leathers and a helmet, I was in shorts and a polo shirt, I thought if I was dressed this way I was probably safer than in leathers, he wouldn’t do anything crazy. I got on the Superbike and without footpegs or grab rail, I had to wrap my arms around him. I had never ridden one of these things before, it really had some acceleration! He took it fairly easy through the infield but once we got on the banking he cranked it up! I counted his shifts all the way to fifth and peeked over his shoulder at the tach, it read nine grand!” Funkhouser would later calculate their speed at over 140mph.
Deja Vu struck the Kawasaki team at Daytona as the horsepower struggle had shifted back into Honda’s favor. Baldwin and Wise’s 900Fs streaked past Lawson’s Kawasaki. Again, he was forced to hang it all out to keep pace, just as he had done that past March. The points situation was such that Lawson would have to out-rightly win the race at Daytona to triumph in the championship. Down on power, not even he could beat the superior in speed Honda of Mike Baldwin, Lawson finished second. Kawasaki’s diminished supply of parts had Muzzy robbing the production shelves at Kawasaki USA by the end of the season. Unmistakably, the engines were not up to par with the proddie parts installed.
Following Daytona, Lawson could finish mid-pack at West Palm Beach and retain the superbike championship. In order for Baldwin to win the championship, Lawson would have to DNF. Lawson put his Steady Eddie cap on and trolled along at West Palm Beach, counting down the laps. As the near stock engine droned along, Lawson crossed the finish line in fifth place, the championship was his and Kawasaki’s a second time. Just outside of the Honda transporter a deafening thud sounded, as if a giant had fallen.
Lawson had been the master of control for the entire season, not allowing emotion to force his hand, tunnel-vision towards the championship. Euphoria hit the team just after the race at West Palm Beach. Their sacrifices weren’t much of a thought as the victory dinner was held at the Palm Beach Holiday Inn. Tension eased and all began to let their guard down, Lawson allowed himself to drink alcohol, something he rarely does. Honda too had a team meal in the same dining room.
Hotel security personnel broke that fun up but team Kawasaki had warm blood in their veins. Evicted from the Jacuzzi later that night by even more security, they went on a good spirited maniacal spree; several persons threw the lawn furniture in the hotel pool and tore doors off rooms. An apologetic team manager paid the hotel for the damages the next morning, an exercise in creative expense account documentation no doubt.
© 1994 Dean Adams All Rights Reserved
Dean Adams would like to thank Eddie Lawson, Rob Muzzy, Ken Funkhouser, Mark Johnson, Steve Johnson, and Gary Hilliard for their help in compiling this story.
Word count 8242