Where It All Began 45 Years Ago: Superbike Racing At The Dry Lagoon

Yvon Duhamel and Steve McLaughlin do battle in the early days of Superbike racing.

Next month marks the 45th anniversary of something that is especially near and dear to the hearts of everyone at MotoAmerica: Superbike racing… and it all started at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on July 28, 1973.

In those days, when America’s motorcycle road racing circuits were dominated by Yamaha TA, TD, TR, and TZ purpose-built production two-stroke racers, Southern California became a hotbed for larger-displacement, four-stroke streetbikes like the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki Z1. It was only a matter of time before those big-bore streetbikes started being hopped-up, modded, and taken to the racetrack. Several SoCal-based companies, like Kerker, Bassani, Racecrafters, Yoshimura Racing R&D of America, and many others sprang up as a result of the new four-stroke streetbikes that were growing in popularity not only in Southern California but all across America.

Club racing thrives on production motorcycles and fans enjoy watching road races where riders are aboard motorcycles that are similar to the ones that they own themselves. It is the very definition of the old adage “Race on Sunday. Sell on Monday.”

McLaughlin (83), Duhamel (17) and Reg Pridmore (63) exit what was once turn eight and head into what was turn nine in 1973.

So, in late July of 1973, during the AMA National at Laguna Seca Raceway, Superbike Production road racing debuted with riders that included beIN Sports motorcycle road racing commentator Jason Pridmore’s father Reg Pridmore; AMA motorcycle road racing legend Miguel Duhamel’s equally legendary father Yvon Duhamel; and the man who is considered to be the father of World Superbike, Steve McLaughlin.

Aboard his Kawasaki Z1 with number plates displaying the #17 that would become iconic because he and then his son used them throughout each of their careers, Duhamel dominated the race from start to finish.

It took a couple of more years before the word “Superbike” was used by the AMA for the official name of this new production-based, large-displacement, four-stroke race class. In 1976, Superbikes were featured at all of the AMA Road Race Nationals.

Pridmore won the very first AMA Superbike Championship that year aboard a BMW R90S that was sponsored by Butler & Smith, the official BMW importer in the U.S. at that time. He went on to win a second AMA Superbike Championship in 1977 aboard a Racecrafters-sponsored Kawasaki KZ1000 and, in 1978, Pridmore “threepeated” when he raced his Craig Vetter-sponsored Kawasaki KZ1000 to a third consecutive AMA Superbike title.

So, when you’re at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca next weekend for the MotoAmerica Championship of Monterey during the World Superbike Weekend, remember what took place four-and-a-half decades ago at this very same location. It’s where Superbike racing all began.