Yoshimura Suzuki: A Legacy Of AMA Superbike Success

Name the one team that has raced AMA Superbike through thick and thin, in good times and bad, for richer or poorer, suffering losses and celebrating wins with equal poise. If that kind of commitment to racing in America sounds like wedding vows, you need only to look in the record books to see that Yoshimura’s 40-plus-year relationship with AMA Superbike has been one of the most successful marriages in all of motorsports. In fact, Yoshimura Suzuki is the winningest team in the history of the series, with 13 national championships with riders such as Wes Cooley, Jamie James, Mat Mladin, and Ben Spies.

A Family Garage
It all began when Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura opened a garage in Japan during the rebuilding years after World War II. Everybody in the family pitched in, and Yoshimura quickly earned a reputation for his ability to work on anything with an engine. Motorcycles, however, were his passion. By the 1960s, he was one of the go-to builders in Japan’s racing community. While Pops could and did work on two-strokes, he was much happier with camshafts and valves. He became best known for hot-rodding Honda four-strokes like the ubiquitous CB350 and 450.

Coming To America
With the introduction of the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki Z1, Yoshimura saw an opportunity and began exporting hop-up parts to America. That part of his business became so successful that Pops and son Fujio moved to America (where big-bore bikes sold in greater numbers) and opened a tiny shop in North Hollywood, California. Yoshimura America was born.

Yoshimura Suzuki Wes Cooley

Wes Cooley won back-to-back AMA Superbike titles in 1979 and ’80 on Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000s.

Yoshimura’s reputation as a builder of fast, reliable race bikes grew quickly. The company’s first foray into AMA national road racing actually came in the AMA Lightweight class, where national-ranked racer Dick Hammer shocked established Yamaha two-stroke racers with a podium finish on a Yoshimura Honda at Seattle International Raceway in July 1971. Hammer’s podium was a breakthrough for Yoshimura, and news of the success spread far and wide.

The Kawasaki Years
In March 1973, Yoshimura prepared an early Kawasaki Z1 for an FIM speed-record attempt with Yvon Duhamel at Daytona. The four-cylinder machine reached 160.214 mph, setting an unlimited closed-course record. In all, Kawasaki smashed nine records that day, and the success helped break Yoshimura out of its Honda-only mold and solidify a connection with Kawasaki.

Yoshimura’s blossoming relationship with Kawasaki coincided with the advent of AMA Superbike. At first, Superbike Production races were held as an exhibition class at select AMA nationals. By 1976, the class became a full-fledged national series, and Yoshimura was a big part of the dawn of a new era in American road racing.

Yoshimura Suzuki: Born With Victory
Suzuki was the last of the Japanese big-bore two-stroke holdouts. When the company launched a line of four-strokes in 1977, the revolutionary GS750 was generally regarded as the first big Japanese streetbike with stable handling from the factory. Yoshimura saw the bike’s potential and quietly began developing a GS750-based Superbike. That September, Steve McLaughlin piloted the new machine to victory at Laguna Seca Raceway—a first for both Yoshimura and Suzuki and the beginning of a lasting relationship.

Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey race start 1987

Kevin Schwantz (34) took top honors in five of nine 1987 AMA Superbike nationals on a Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750. Wayne Rainey (6) won the title by nine points.

A year later the GS1000 was introduced, and Pop’s dream of winning Daytona went to another a level. In 1979, Yoshimura Suzuki finished one, two, and three in the Superbike race with Ron Pierce, Wes Cooley, and David Emde. That success marked the first time in history a single manufacturer (much less a team) swept an AMA Superbike podium. Cooley went on to win the championship, repeating in 1980 after a grand battle with Kawasaki’s Eddie Lawson and Honda’s Freddie Spencer.

In 1981, having accomplished his goals, Pops returned to his home country to focus on Yoshimura Japan and left the reins in America to Fujio. Growth continued, and Yoshimura moved to a larger facility in Chino, California, where it is located today.

Revvin’ Kevin, The Gixxer, And The Ragin’ Cajun
After Cooley’s 1980 title, Yoshimura Suzuki went through a drought. The economic recession of that period hit the company especially hard, and at times, the team ran only West Coast rounds. Fortunes changed dramatically, however, when Yoshimura hired a lanky, young club racer out of Texas named Kevin Schwantz. Schwantz imme­diately breathed new life into the team, now headed by Suehiro Watanabe, better known as “Nabe.”

Schwantz gave the old GS its final victories in 1985. With the launch of the game-changing GSX-R750, Yoshimura had a modern racing platform. Schwantz won a slew of races aboard the GSX-R but came up just short of archrival Wayne Rainey in their celebrated 1987 battle for the AMA Superbike title. After Schwantz left for Europe, Doug Polen continued the winning tradition for Suzuki, but it wasn’t until 1989, when friendly Louisianan Jamie James won the AMA Superbike title over his Yoshimura teammate, Scott Russell, that the potential of the GSX-R was fully realized.

Yoshimura Suzuki Ben Spies and Mat Mladin

Combined, Ben Spies (1) and Mat Mladin (6) won 10 AMA Superbike titles for Yoshimura Suzuki.

The Aussie Sensation And Elbowz
During the decade between 1999 and 2009, in the face of all-time-high factory participation, Yoshimura Suzuki dominated AMA Superbike in unprecedented ways. This supremacy was due in part to being on the leading edge of the new electronic age but primarily for hiring an aggressive Australian named Mat Mladin and later a talented Texan with an elbows-out cornering style named Ben Spies.

The 2007 and ’08 seasons were the peak of Yoshimura power. The team won every AMA Superbike round, an astounding 38 victories. During this period, Suzuki moved to the top of the all-time manufacturer championship and race-win list for the class. Mladin’s long run pushed him to number one in nearly every individual category.

Despite being teammates, Spies and Mladin had one of the fiercest rivalries in the history of the series. Mladin took the first round in 2005, but then Spies hit his stride and won three championships in a row before capturing the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship and enjoying further success in MotoGP.

Yoshimura Today
This season, Yoshimura Suzuki will once again enjoy a good mix of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm. Roger Hayden is in his second season with the squad and 14th as a pro. Second overall in 2014, Hayden is out to win his first AMA Super­bike title, just as his older brother, Nicky, did in 2002. Hayden is teamed with class rookie Jake Lewis, 19, one of the series’ top prospects. With hard work and good fortune, the pair will build on the legacy of success and follow in the footsteps of icons Cooley, Schwantz, James, Mladin, and Spies.

This story was originally published in the 2015 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship season guide. Produced by the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, the 56-page guide is available for purchase at all MotoAmerica events.

Name the one team that has raced AMA Superbike through thick and thin, in good times and bad, for richer or poorer, suffering losses and celebrating wins with equal poise. If that kind of commitment to racing in America sounds like wedding vows, you need only to look in the record books to see that Yoshimura’s 40-plus-year relationship with AMA Superbike has been one of the most successful marriages in all of motorsports. In fact, Yoshimura Suzuki is the winningest team in the history of the series, with 13 national championships with riders such as Wes Cooley, Jamie James, Mat Mladin, and Ben Spies.

A Family Garage
It all began when Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura opened a garage in Japan during the rebuilding years after World War II. Everybody in the family pitched in, and Yoshimura quickly earned a reputation for his ability to work on anything with an engine. Motorcycles, however, were his passion. By the 1960s, he was one of the go-to builders in Japan’s racing community. While Pops could and did work on two-strokes, he was much happier with camshafts and valves. He became best known for hot-rodding Honda four-strokes like the ubiquitous CB350 and 450.

Coming To America
With the introduction of the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki Z1, Yoshimura saw an opportunity and began exporting hop-up parts to America. That part of his business became so successful that Pops and son Fujio moved to America (where big-bore bikes sold in greater numbers) and opened a tiny shop in North Hollywood, California. Yoshimura America was born.

Yoshimura Suzuki Wes Cooley

Wes Cooley won back-to-back AMA Superbike titles in 1979 and ’80 on Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000s.

Yoshimura’s reputation as a builder of fast, reliable race bikes grew quickly. The company’s first foray into AMA national road racing actually came in the AMA Lightweight class, where national-ranked racer Dick Hammer shocked established Yamaha two-stroke racers with a podium finish on a Yoshimura Honda at Seattle International Raceway in July 1971. Hammer’s podium was a breakthrough for Yoshimura, and news of the success spread far and wide.

The Kawasaki Years
In March 1973, Yoshimura prepared an early Kawasaki Z1 for an FIM speed-record attempt with Yvon Duhamel at Daytona. The four-cylinder machine reached 160.214 mph, setting an unlimited closed-course record. In all, Kawasaki smashed nine records that day, and the success helped break Yoshimura out of its Honda-only mold and solidify a connection with Kawasaki.

Yoshimura’s blossoming relationship with Kawasaki coincided with the advent of AMA Superbike. At first, Superbike Production races were held as an exhibition class at select AMA nationals. By 1976, the class became a full-fledged national series, and Yoshimura was a big part of the dawn of a new era in American road racing.

Yoshimura Suzuki: Born With Victory
Suzuki was the last of the Japanese big-bore two-stroke holdouts. When the company launched a line of four-strokes in 1977, the revolutionary GS750 was generally regarded as the first big Japanese streetbike with stable handling from the factory. Yoshimura saw the bike’s potential and quietly began developing a GS750-based Superbike. That September, Steve McLaughlin piloted the new machine to victory at Laguna Seca Raceway—a first for both Yoshimura and Suzuki and the beginning of a lasting relationship.

Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey race start 1987

Kevin Schwantz (34) took top honors in five of nine 1987 AMA Superbike nationals on a Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750. Wayne Rainey (6) won the title by nine points.

A year later the GS1000 was introduced, and Pop’s dream of winning Daytona went to another a level. In 1979, Yoshimura Suzuki finished one, two, and three in the Superbike race with Ron Pierce, Wes Cooley, and David Emde. That success marked the first time in history a single manufacturer (much less a team) swept an AMA Superbike podium. Cooley went on to win the championship, repeating in 1980 after a grand battle with Kawasaki’s Eddie Lawson and Honda’s Freddie Spencer.

In 1981, having accomplished his goals, Pops returned to his home country to focus on Yoshimura Japan and left the reins in America to Fujio. Growth continued, and Yoshimura moved to a larger facility in Chino, California, where it is located today.

Revvin’ Kevin, The Gixxer, And The Ragin’ Cajun
After Cooley’s 1980 title, Yoshimura Suzuki went through a drought. The economic recession of that period hit the company especially hard, and at times, the team ran only West Coast rounds. Fortunes changed dramatically, however, when Yoshimura hired a lanky, young club racer out of Texas named Kevin Schwantz. Schwantz imme­diately breathed new life into the team, now headed by Suehiro Watanabe, better known as “Nabe.”

Schwantz gave the old GS its final victories in 1985. With the launch of the game-changing GSX-R750, Yoshimura had a modern racing platform. Schwantz won a slew of races aboard the GSX-R but came up just short of archrival Wayne Rainey in their celebrated 1987 battle for the AMA Superbike title. After Schwantz left for Europe, Doug Polen continued the winning tradition for Suzuki, but it wasn’t until 1989, when friendly Louisianan Jamie James won the AMA Superbike title over his Yoshimura teammate, Scott Russell, that the potential of the GSX-R was fully realized.

Yoshimura Suzuki Ben Spies and Mat Mladin

Combined, Ben Spies (1) and Mat Mladin (6) won 10 AMA Superbike titles for Yoshimura Suzuki.

The Aussie Sensation And Elbowz
During the decade between 1999 and 2009, in the face of all-time-high factory participation, Yoshimura Suzuki dominated AMA Superbike in unprecedented ways. This supremacy was due in part to being on the leading edge of the new electronic age but primarily for hiring an aggressive Australian named Mat Mladin and later a talented Texan with an elbows-out cornering style named Ben Spies.

The 2007 and ’08 seasons were the peak of Yoshimura power. The team won every AMA Superbike round, an astounding 38 victories. During this period, Suzuki moved to the top of the all-time manufacturer championship and race-win list for the class. Mladin’s long run pushed him to number one in nearly every individual category.

Despite being teammates, Spies and Mladin had one of the fiercest rivalries in the history of the series. Mladin took the first round in 2005, but then Spies hit his stride and won three championships in a row before capturing the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship and enjoying further success in MotoGP.

Yoshimura Today
This season, Yoshimura Suzuki will once again enjoy a good mix of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm. Roger Hayden is in his second season with the squad and 14th as a pro. Second overall in 2014, Hayden is out to win his first AMA Super­bike title, just as his older brother, Nicky, did in 2002. Hayden is teamed with class rookie Jake Lewis, 19, one of the series’ top prospects. With hard work and good fortune, the pair will build on the legacy of success and follow in the footsteps of icons Cooley, Schwantz, James, Mladin, and Spies.

This story was originally published in the 2015 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship season guide. Produced by the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, the 56-page guide is available for purchase at all MotoAmerica events.

Yoshimura Suzuki Jamie James

Jamie James won the 1989 AMA Superbike title on a Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750.

Yoshimura Suzuki Wes Cooley

Wes Cooley won back-to-back AMA Superbike titles in 1979 and ’80 on Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000s.

Yoshimura Suzuki Doug Polen

Mr. GSX-R: Doug Polen enjoyed great success on Suzuki’s four-cylinder platform. In 1988, he won three AMA Superbike nationals and finished second overall in the championship.

Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey race start 1987

Kevin Schwantz (34) took top honors in five of nine 1987 AMA Superbike nationals on a Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750. Wayne Rainey (6) won the title by nine points.

Yoshimura Suzuki Ben Spies and Mat Mladin

Combined, Ben Spies (1) and Mat Mladin (6) won 10 AMA Superbike titles for Yoshimura Suzuki.

Yoshimura Suzuki Blake Young 2009

Blake Young raced to nine top-five finishes and sixth overall in 2009, his rookie season in AMA Superbike.

Yoshimura Suzuki Mat Mladin 7 AMA Superbike titles

Over a 13-year run, Mat Mladin won 82 AMA Superbike races, with most of those victories coming on Yoshimura Suzukis. The Australian retired at the end of the 2009 season with seven titles.

Yoshimura Suzuki Tommy Hayden 2008

Tommy Hayden earned five AMA Superbike victories on Yoshimura Suzuki equipment. All of those wins came during the 2010 season.

Yoshimura Suzuki Ben Spies 2008 Mid-Ohio

Texan Ben Spies scored three consecutive AMA Superbike titles on Yoshimura Suzuki-prepared GSX-R1000s, his first premier-class race win coming in 2005.

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