Yamaha Media Day

Big Blue opens its doors

We were surrounded by moto celebrities when we visited Yamaha’s Southern California headquarters last week. Yamaha Motor Corp, USA’s media day is an annual event to introduce the racers who will represent the tuning-fork brand during the upcoming season.

In terms of domination and star status on the American off-road scene, multi-time supercross/motocross champion James Stewart is a star among stars. He’s now left his long-term home at Kawasaki in favor of riding a Yamaha for Team L&M/San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Following “Bubba’s” unbeaten motorcross season, he’s been comfortable on the YZ450F and has already scored victories at the U.S. Open supercross and the international SX in Bercy, France, so he obviously likes his new bike.

Yamaha’s Cypress, California, headquarters was turned into a multi-faceted display area for the day.
AMA Superbike champ Ben Spies made big news in the roadracing world when he left longtime employers Suzuki in favor of a Yamaha for the 2009 World Superbike season.
Yamaha’s American roadracing team, from left to right: Josh Hayes, Tommy Aquino, Josh Herrin and Ben Bostrom.
Yamaha’s formidable motocross lineup. Bike #8 is Grant Langston’s championship-winning YZ450F.

Vying for the event’s top billing was three-time AMA Superbike champ Ben Spies, recently signed to race the new R1 in World Superbike competition. Earlier expectations were for the 23-year-old’s departure to the lofty ranks of MotoGP, so it’s a bit of a coup for Yamaha to lure him to the SBK series on the Yamaha Motor Italy team.

“It’s been a long while since I’ve ridden something else (than a Suzuki GSX-R1000),” Spies told the assembled media. “I’m jumping into the deep end with no floaties!” The personable roadracer added that he thinks the new R1 is “definitely going to be the bike to be on” and that he’s looking forward to racing at the world level next year. 

Yamaha’s U.S. arm also had some interesting news on the roadracing side. The Superbike riders in 2008 have either retired (Eric Bostrom) or been released (Jason DiSalvo), clearing the room for a new pair. Yamaha’s Supersport champion, Ben Bostrom, moves back up to the Superbike class to ride the new R1. The 1999 Superbike champ said he had formerly considered retirement, but the environment at Yamaha kept him inspired and motivated. Meanwhile, longtime Honda rider Josh Hayes has finally been given the factory Superbike ride he’s always wanted, riding the R1 alongside Bostrom.

“I’ve wanted my shot (at Superbike legend Mat Mladin) for years,” said Hayes, a champion in the AMA’s Formula Xtreme and Superstock classes. “I’m ready to go racing now!”

In the Daytona Sportbike class (600s), Josh Herrin will continue to ride the Yamaha R6 for the Graves Motorsports team. Joining him will be 2008 AMA Road Race Rookie of the Year, Tommy Aquino, a fast 16-year-old who I once mini-roadraced against. All four riders will compete in the 2009 Daytona 200 on the R6.

“From top talent to up-and-comers, these riders have proven that they have what it takes to compete at the highest levels,” said Keith McCarty, Yamaha’s Racing Division Manager. “Yamaha is a leader in racing technology and innovation, and we’re proud to support these riders and have them represent our brand.”

The most heart-warming moment of the presentation was when injured racer Grant Langston was given the YZ450F on which he won the 2007 AMA Motocross championship. “I’m going to hang it in my house from the ceiling,” said the South African. “It’s the prettiest lampshade I’ve seen in my life!” Langston is still hoping to recover from the cancer that is affecting his eyesight. His medical condition legally releases him from his contract, but Yamaha has graciously offered to keep him employed as an advisor to the team.

After the presentation (which included many more race team announcements you can read about here), we had the opportunity to check out team displays, activities and demonstrations.

The most dramatic display was when Yamaha-sponsored freestyle riders launched their bikes over a massive gap while performing unthinkable stunts. Freestyle OG Tommy “Tomcat” Clowers and Jeff Tilton were impressive, but Nate Adams definitely stole the show with his insane combination of stunts that had the crowd gasping in amazement. Yamaha reps were proud to boast they were involved in freestyle sponsorship “before it became fashionable.”

Freestyle legend Nate Adams jumping a huge gap while doing a no-handed backflip at the annual Yamaha Media Day.

The media was invited to participate in a couple of entertaining activities. First up was a reaction-time challenge at a drag-strip-style Christmas tree. But instead of the delicate dance of fancy clutch-work off the line with a bike, the motojournalists were tested on a Yamaha FX Nytro snowmobile!

Duke has done a lot of unusual things in his career, but piloting a 130-horsepower snowmobile on a paved parking lot was a first.

Keeping a tie with the two-wheel world, the Nytro is powered by a 4-stroke engine based loosely on the motor from the FJR1300 sport-touring bike (same stroke; bigger bore). It was a novel experience feeling the 1049cc three-cylinder power instead of the typical 2-stroke snowmobile output, and even more unique was steering it via wheels mounted on the skis! The tricky part was anticipating how much of a delay in launching due to the rubber track spinning on the pavement and how quick the centrifugal clutch engaged when applying throttle. It was a fun exercise that only whetted my appetite for experiencing the powerful sled in the snow where it belongs.

Yamaha’s race team demonstrates the proper way to do a pit stop for roadracing star Ben Bostrom.
The two guys holding the plaques were the runner-up finishers in the pit-stop competition. The other guys have real talent. Left to right: Chris Jonnum, Ben Bostrom, Kevin Duke, Josh Herrin, and Chuck Graves.

Even more exciting than the snomo drags was a Daytona-style pit-stop competition. Journalists were arranged into teams of two and tasked with changing rear wheels. Roadracing stars Ben Bostrom and Josh Herrin zoomed into improvised pit areas where journos raised the rear wheel with a stand, removed the rear axle, detached the wheel and replaced it with a new one, then re-inserted the axle and sent the factory racers blasting out of the pits.

I was teamed up with Roadracer X’s Chris Jonnum. I’d use the air wrench to remove the axle, and CJ would swap the wheels. The addition of quick-change components made swapping wheels a simple process. Then I’d air-ratchet the axle back in and send the racer out of the pit stall. Although there was nothing especially complicated about the procedure, the fact that you’re spinning wrenches for a Superbike champion while racing against other teams really amped up the adrenaline!

Jonnum and I did well for ourselves, swapping rubber for Bostrom several times with enough speed to send us to the final round. Even though we switched pit stalls to work on Herrin’s bike, we were reasonably confident we could pull off a quicker stop than the other team. Disappointingly, we failed to notice the new rear tire was turned in the opposite direction, which caused us all kinds of grief when trying to pop it in place! That sealed our fate, and we had to console ourselves with runner-up honors. Still, it was a very exciting experience and a unique treat – not everyone can say they did a pit stop for Ben Bostrom!

In the end, it was a great day playing in Yamaha’s sandbox. It was cool to see the plethora of machines in the Yamaha toy chest. We saw everything from roadracing, motocross, ATVs, snowmobiles, supermoto – and even musical instruments. We’re anxious for our next play date!

Yamaha’s logo is a trio of tuning forks, reminding us that the company has a long history in making musical instruments like these DTX electronic drums. They sound amazing!

More information on the entire 2009 Yamaha Factory Race Team is available at:

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