It's a familiar story for a rookie at Daytona: it's your first time to acclimate to the daunting banking, there are far too many distractions downtown when you should be sleeping and an instance or two of not paying attention to the rulebook all results in the fact that you're starting from the back of the grid on race day. And at Daytona, which starts two waves of riders, that means you probably won't even see the back of the top ten by the end of the race.
Unless you're Graeme Crosby of course.
New Zealander Crosby was one of the fastest men in the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was infamous as a big man with a talent and heart as large as his leathers. There are numerous entertaining stories in the Crosby file but his Daytona 1980 experience might top them all.
"Croz" was contracted to Suzuki for the 1980 racing season and had to race 3-4 different series for the Japanese manufacturer, with a focus on the 500cc Grand Prix championship where he was teamed with Randy Mamola. Crosby was also contracted for several one-off races with Suzuki including the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance event and also Daytona. He showed up alone in March of 1980, having never been to America before and never seen Daytona.
The very night he arrived in Florida, Crosby was out partying. After the local drinking establishments closed, he somehow parked his luxury rental car in the surf of the Atlantic ocean and was unable to extract it before the tide washed over
the open windows of the car. A series of tow trucks finally pulled the large American sedan out of the surf, but it was ruined. Undaunted, Crosby picked up his girlfriend at the Daytona airport with a borrowed car, and with no sleep went to the track.
Daytona for a rookie is like trying to learn to surf on the day that you're going to enter the Mavericks. 160 mph on the banking using period Superbikes mde them basically one third time bomb, two thirds motorcycle--tall, wobbling death missiles. Nearly every Superbikes race during this period was littered with mechanical DNFs as the teams struggled to make Superbikes go fast for more than ten laps. It was common, they say, to see failed engine cases
stacked like bales behind a Superbike team's garage at Daytona.
Crosby rode a year old Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000S--Wes Cooley's 1979 bike, although they were basically identical motorcycles. The engine was a Pops Yoshimura built Suzuki 1025cc two valve, one given the typical "Pops" treatment of big carbs, big ports, big valves and lots of compression; hot-rodding that resulted in mondo peak horsepower power. Crosby later said that the while the Yoshimura Superbikes in 1980 weren't polished show bikes gone racing by any means, they were incredibly fast, and well set up for Daytona, thanks to US Yoshimura's rider Wes Cooley.
Crosby recounts that his overwhelming emotion after his first practice session at Daytona was of being terrified. The massive banking was like nothing he had experienced before and he was left dizzy and lost trying to find the correct lines, and took to using distant track signage as braking markers. He had no throttle fear, though, and his strong wrist scattered a reported four Superbike engines by the time practice and the heat races were finished.
Terrified, lost, no sleep. Given all this, it's incredible that Crosby finished second to David Aldana in their heat race, but that accomplishment was marked moot when he, like Aldana, went straight in turn one after taking the checkers in order to do a plug chop. AMA rules stated that finishers needed to pass timing and scoring--much farther down the track--in order to be considered an official finisher of the race. Thus, even though they'd dominated their heat race, both Aldana and Crosby were put on the back row of the second wave of a starters for the race. Crosby started 48th.
The week at Daytona had a familiar pattern according to his then mechanics: Crosby would come to the track looking like he had spent the previous night enjoying Daytona Beach and the hotel's bar instead of sleeping, then he'd jump on the Superbike and lap faster than riders who had been racing at Daytona for a decade.
Infuriated by being uncredited for second place in his first ever heat race at Daytona because of a technicality, Crosby performed a starting line trick later known as "the Rainey". He aimed his bike for the last few inches of asphalt next to the grass on the side of the starting grid. When the second group were finally waved off by the starter, Crosby successfully threaded his way down that narrow inside strip, passing them all of the second wave riders by the exit of turn one.
Still well behind the lead wave of riders, Crosby began picking them off and looking for the leaders: Freddie Spencer, Ron Pierce, Gregg Hansford and his fellow Yoshimura rider Wes Cooley. In a short number of laps (he was in fourth place on the fourth lap) Crosby put them away or watched as they coasted to a stop with grisly DNFs. His grid-mate, Aldana, stopped with a tire failure.
Only Spencer proved to be a problem for Crosby and the New Zealander was able to power past the early American race leader and make a run for the finish. Crosby's lead was over three seconds in the end, leaving Spencer powerless to make a last lap draft pass.
Crosby won $12,000 for victory in just the Superbike race at Daytona in 1980. He later wrote in his book that upon seeing his picture on the cover of the Daytona newspaper the next morning while eating breakfast at McDonald's, he had to ask a counter person what the headline "A Virtuoso Performance" meant.
Crosby would race in America just a few times during his career (he won the Daytona 200 in 1982). He kept close counsel with Pops Yoshimura and the Yoshimura organization for years--he teamed with Cooley to win the Suzuka 8 Hours on a Yosh Suzuki later in the summer of '80.
Crosby left racing in a huff after the 1982 season, even though he'd finishing second in the 500cc world championship. He'd had enough of, among other things, his team owner Giacomo Agostin, rival Randy Mamola and petty racing politics in general. Yet, his relationship with Yoshimura endured. In 1985, Yoshimura and Suzuki asked him to pull on his leathers again to help them shepherd a young rider at the Suzuka 8 hours. Together the pair finished an impressive third on the then Euro-spec 1985 GSX-R750--with Crosby not having raced professionally in three years.
The young rider? American Kevin Schwantz.