MO Interview: Eddie Lawson
Eddie Lawson is a four-time 500cc Grand Prix World Champion. In 1983, Eddie became Kenny Roberts’ teammate on Yamaha’s GP team and won his first 500cc title in 1984. Steady Eddie went on to win two more 500cc GP world titles for Yamaha, in 1986 and 1988, and since this interview took place at a Yamaha event, we’ll downplay his ’89 Championship on the Honda. In 1990, he teamed up with Tadahiko Taira to win the Suzuka 8 Hours on a Yamaha FZR750RR OW01. Lawson also won the Daytona 200 in 1986, and came out of retirement to win it again in 1993. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
EL’s notorious for not suffering journalistic fools gladly, but Yamaha got him to spend 10 minutes with us anyway. He seems like a super nice guy, really, but there’s also more than a little Dirty Harry behind those high-res blue eyes.
JB for MO: Can you look back and pick one day that was the best time you ever had on a motorcycle?
Eddie Lawson: Wow, that’s really hard. To pick one day? Still, to this day, every time I get on a bike – we go out and ride at Milestone (MX Park) once a week and we just have a blast. I have a [YZ]250F. Every Thursday we go out there and ride and I just, I started riding when I was seven, and here I am, 57, and still grinnin’ and gigglin’ and having a blast, yeah, I still love motorcycles. Yeah, that, that is a hard question… to think back and think one day? I can’t really do it. You know, Laguna, winning at home at the Grand Prix in ’88, that was a pretty good one.
JB: Ha! I was there.
EL: Yeah I can’t really answer that, but that’s a damn good question.
JB: The flip side is what’s the worst day you ever had on a motorcycle?
EL: Yeah, maybeeee, I did have one. I had one, where I thought this is it, this is my last day. It was also at Laguna and a guy came over, we were coming out of the Corkscrew, I was on a 500, he was on a Superbike – it was one of those things Kenny (Roberts) put on, an exhibition type race. He wanted to go left before you turn right, and he bumped me off into the dirt. There was no run-off room and I went straight and I remember thinking ‘this is it. I’m dead. I’m done’ – and I just went straight, straight into the tire wall. I remember looking up, I couldn’t stop, there was no run-off but I hit the brakes and I was going close to 100, close to it, and I hit that thing straight on and it just helicoptered me. It broke my collarbone, but I couldn’t believe I survived it. I remember waking up on the ground and just going ‘Wow, I’m still here!’ That was a scary one.
JB: Then there was the day at Laguna your brake pads fell out.
EL: That wasn’t so bad; I just hit the rear brake and laid it on the ground and slid. Those are the times you just kind of, you know, those are racing things.
JB: I’m sure people have asked you what you would’ve done if you hadn’t been a motorcycle racer?
EL: I would’ve raced cars. I really love doing that.
JB: You were doing karts for a long time?
EL: Well now, I’m racing vintage Formula 1 cars. I really enjoy that, but I’d’ve loved to have driven them before they were vintage.
JB: Never aspired to be a schoolteacher or butcher or anything?
EL: Yeah, not smart enough, I never had the attention span. All the time I was in school, I was just thinking about going out and riding. I just didn’t have time for it. Now I look back and, I love history and science, and all those things I couldn’t spend two seconds in school – I didn’t want any part of it. Now, I’m on the Science Channel, I’m on the History Channel – I love it.
JB: Speaking of history, things have changed a lot from the ’60s and ’70s when you grew up in California, huh? Seems like it was kind of a golden time? Did you have places to ride close by?
EL: Sure. Oh yeah, we opened the garage door and off we went. You could almost race seven nights a week. That’s how many tracks we had, dirt tracks, in Southern California, and I mean a different track every night. Today I don’t know how they do it, and the cost as well. These bikes … well, maybe not the bikes, just the cost in fuel and time to get around isn’t what it used to be. It’s a different time for sure. I think I grew up at the right time. I enjoyed it. Yeah, it was fun.
JB: Do you still enjoy getting to the GPs? We don’t really see you in Europe hobnobbing with Valentino and Marquez much?
EL: Yeah, ahhh, I follow it on TV, but I traveled for 10 years and got my fill of traveling, so yeah, I like hanging out at home. If I can stay at home I will.
JB: Last time I saw you was at the Pomona Half-Mile last fall.
EL: Yeah, that’s about 10 minutes from my house. That’s about as far as I like to travel.
JB: Do you still fit on your old bike behind us here?
EL: Not comfortably. I weighed 135 pounds when I raced that bike. Now more like 150, 155. That bike would be moanin’ and groanin’ a little bit.
JB: And how would you ever get along without traction control?
EL: As much as I like technology, and I love all that stuff, I think it takes something away, I just think it should be about the rider. I don’t like it. I think if they didn’t have wheelie control and traction control and all these computers on the bike it would be better for the show. And less cost.
JB: When I look at the super slow-mo shots of Marquez cornering it looks like he’d just crash without TC.
EL: He wouldn’t crash. He’d just have to slow down a bit and control it with the throttle. Lean angle wouldn’t be quite as much, the slide would be a little more exaggerated, and they’d just have to control it themselves. Yeah, they would have to ride the bike. Them, they would have to ride the bike, not the committee. Instead of just cranking it on the side and whackin’ the throttle open. That’s all.
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