When Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing’s Cameron Beaubier crossed the finish line at Barber Motorsports Park on the final day of the 2019 MotoAmerica EBC Brakes Superbike season, it increased Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. (YMUS)’s all-time Superbike Championship tally to a nice, round 10 titles.
For long-time YMUS Racing employees Tom Halverson and Rick Hobbs, Superbike Championship number 10 had to be a monumental accomplishment, especially given the way Beaubier and the team came from behind in the point standings, overcame long odds, and clinched the title by just five points.
For team manager Halverson, the five points reminded him of the one that got away, while exclaiming, “The pain is almost gone now!” Crew chief Hobbs responded, “Nope, not gone yet! Still stings all these years later.”
“All these years later,” indeed. It’s been 25 years—a quarter of a century—since the 1994 AMA Superbike season, but it still sticks in Halverson’s and Hobbs’ craws.
The 1994 Vance & Hines Yamaha Superbike team consisted of steely veteran Jamie James, who had won the 1989 AMA Superbike Championship aboard a Yoshimura Suzuki, and young upstart Colin Edwards, whose three Superbike wins in 1994 vaulted him to the World Superbike ranks and launched his international stardom.
Aboard the brand-new-for-1994 Yamaha YZF750R-SP, James battled it out all season long with Fast by Ferracci Ducati rider Troy Corser. The Championship came down to the final round of the season at Road Atlanta, with James leading the rankings by just three points going into the round.
In Sunday’s race, as the laps were winding down, James was dicing with a large group of riders who were all vying for second place when, suddenly, James’ Yamaha started to lose power. However, despite the technical issue that shuffled James back to seventh place, he was still in position to win the Championship if Corser finished fifth. As the leaders started down the back straight on the final lap, fellow Ducati rider David Sadowski seemingly allowed Corser to pass him for fourth, which enabled Corser to win the Championship by a single point over James.
1994 AMA Superbike Championship
1. Troy Corser – Ducati – 273
2. Jamie James – Yamaha – 272
3. Takahiro Sohwa – Kawasaki – 251
4. Pascal Picotte – Ducati – 245
5. Colin Edwards II – Yamaha – 239
It was a gut-wrenching result for James and the team, but as Halverson and Hobbs will readily attest, that’s not why Yamaha lost the 1994 AMA Superbike Championship. They will tell you that what transpired at Road America in June, three months prior to the season-ending round at Road Atlanta, is why Yamaha lost the 1994 AMA Superbike Championship.
Round five of the 1994 AMA Superbike Championship at Road America was one of the most controversial race finishes in the history of AMA Superbike racing. Halverson, Hobbs, and James, along with a lot of other people who remember what transpired, cite the outcome of that race as the real reason why James and Yamaha didn’t win the 1994 AMA Superbike Championship.
With just a few laps to go in the 16-lap Superbike race on that fateful June 14th day, the battle for the win came down to the two Yamahas of James and Edwards versus the two Ducatis of Pascal Picotte and Corser. James’ teammate Edwards crashed unhurt on the outside of turn 14. On the next lap, the yellow caution flag was waved by the cornerworker who was standing on the inside of turn 14. But, because of where the cornerworker was standing, James never saw the waving yellow, and he passed Picotte on the run up the hill. Since, by rule, no passing is allowed under a waving yellow flag, AMA officials ruled that James’ pass was voided, and he was also relegated to 17th place in the final results. Halverson and Vance & Hines Yamaha tried to protest the result, but AMA officials said the ruling was not reviewable or subject to appeal. It was a devastating blow to the team, made even more devastating three months later after the final race of the season at Road Atlanta.
Steve Rounds, who has been Garrett Gerloff’s chassis technician over the past couple of years, once told me that, in racing, the tough moments never seem to go away. Rounds recalls a lot of the good times, but it’s the soul-crushing moments that he remembers the most.
Hobbs agrees, and said, “Unfortunately for whatever reason, human beings definitely remember the bad times with utmost clarity while memories of success are fleeting. Or maybe it’s just the racer mentality. Whatever it is, I’m still pissed off about 1994.”
Halverson added, “The tough times, if you learn from them, are what make you stronger, smarter, and a better person. I try to not dwell on the tough times too much, but I remember the lessons they gave me.
“The 1994 Road America debacle, though, was so unjust. I’ll never shake it. Jamie James deserved that Championship. One bad call by race direction—that we couldn’t even appeal—took it away from him.”
With 10 Superbike Championships under their belts and 25 years gone by since that fateful 1994 season, Halverson and Hobbs are still clearly haunted by the one that got away.