The 1980s: Stemming The Tide At Yamaha Beach
by staff
Monday, December 16, 2013

A sampling of three different Yamahas that competed in the 1982 Daytona 200. Top to bottom: Kenny Roberts' Yamaha YZR500 OW60 Square Four GP bike, Christian Sarron's Sonauto Yamaha production TZ750 OW31, and Dale Singleton's privateer Yamaha TZ750 OW31.
image by kenny clark
For virtually the entire decade of the 1970s, the Daytona 200 could have rightfully been renamed the "Yamaha 200" because the tuning-forks brand won every Daytona 200 race from Don Emde's breakthrough victory in 1972 till privateer Dale Singleton's epic win in 1979.

So, as the sun rose on Yamaha Beach, er, DAYTONA Beach during Bike Week in March 1980, a new set of rules also dawned for the Daytona 200. In an effort to bring more parity to the race and put an end to Yamaha's two-stoke domination, the AMA allowed three distinctive types of motorcycles to compete in the 200.

The fire-breathing 750cc two-strokes--of which the Yamaha TZ750 was the undisputed cock of the walk--were allowed to continue competing in the Daytona 200, but some of their fire was quelled. The new rules stated that the bikes had to run restrictor plates in their carburetors. Additionally, smaller two-strokes could also race in the 200, and without restrictor plates. Also new in 1980, four-stroke bikes of up to 1,025cc--like those featured in world endurance motorcycle races like the Bol d'Or and the 24 Hours of LeMans--were allowed to compete.

The cacophony of engine sounds emanating from the 1980 Daytona 200 provided an auditory clue to the disparate assortment of machinery on track for the event. Riders like Wes Cooley aboard a 1,025cc Yoshimura Suzuki battled it out against the still-copious hordes of TZ750s ridden by Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, defending 200 winner Dale Singleton, and others, including Formula 750 World Champion Patrick Pons, who won the race.

Despite rules put in place to try to put a stop to the Yamaha winning streak, the Yamahas just kept on keeping on.
In 1981, there was an increase in four-stroke bikes competing in the Daytona 200, and three riders--Wes Cooley, Freddie Spencer, and New Zealander Graeme Crosby all qualified on the front row for the race. However, despite, the four-stroke onslaught, Kenny Roberts once again won the pole--for the fifth time in seven years--aboard his hella-powerful Yamaha TZ750 OW31. Unfortunately, Roberts DNFed for the second 200 in a row, but there were more than enough TZ750s left on track to take up the charge. Dale Singleton, for the second time in three years, won the race on a TZ750 as Cooley, Spencer, and Crosby all suffered mechanical issues of one type or another with their liter-class four-strokes.

Despite rules put in place to try to put a stop to the Yamaha winning streak, the Yamahas just kept on keeping on. The very long-in-the-tooth TZ750 was starting to fall out of favor, but not before Graeme Crosby notched one more win on an ex-Kenny Roberts Yamaha OW31 in the 1982 Daytona 200. After that, Yamaha's powerful YZR500 OW69 square-four, two-stroke GP bike--increased in displacement to 680cc--took up the cause against the invading four-strokes, with Kenny Roberts winning back to back in 1983 and 1984.

The AMA's "Plan A" to quell the Yamaha domination didn't work. The four-stroke liter bikes proved to be no match for either the Yamaha TZ750 or YZR500, and the string of Yamaha victories played out for 13 years straight. It took Kenny Roberts' retirement to stop the reign...that and "Plan B" from the AMA.

In 1985, four-stroke 750cc Superbikes were ushered in for the Daytona 200, which put an end to the two stroke 750s, the 500cc GP bikes, and the four-stroke liter bikes. The 1985 Daytona 200 was won by Freddie Spencer aboard a Honda VF750F Interceptor. Plan B worked. The Yamaha streak was finally stopped.

Until 1986 when Yamaha returned to the beach with an FZ750 and one Eddie Lawson.


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