One of the most epic wins at the Daytona International Speedway happened twenty years ago this month when Yamaha's Eddie Lawson won the 1993 Daytona 200. Lawson rode a Yamaha FZR750RR OW01 Superbike in what can now be termed a dark horse victory at the famed Florida racetrack.
Twenty years ago, qualifying and two Twin 50 lap qualifying races determined grid placing for the 200. Lawson, then a four-time world champion retired from Grand Prix racing, did not qualify on the pole after suffering machine problems in qualifying and thus would have to race one of the Twin 50s in order qualify for the race. In his Twin 50 heat race, Lawson, amazingly, started dead last after a turn one tussle and passed 32 bikes to lead the race. He pitted for a new rear tire and still finished third. It was a dramatic entry to the race weekend. The actual 200 mile event would prove even more spectacular.
"It was kind of scary," Lawson said then of his heat race win. "We went into turn one and everybody stopped. I didn't know what happened. But it worked out; I made it."
The OW01 Superbike that Eddie Lawson rode that weekend was fairly trick piece of machinery. It featured a 750cc four cylinder engine, five-valve per cylinder cylinder head, beefy aluminum frame and Dunlop tires. It was a full generation advanced from the FZ750-based bike that Lawson used to win his first Daytona 200 in 1986.
Lawson's OW01 is known even today as one of the fastest machines to ever take to the banking at Daytona. Lawson joked in 1993 he was passing so many bikes while on it, that he felt like waving as he went past them.
Q When you think back now, what's your first memory from the 1993 Daytona 200?
A. It's funny, I guess, kind of like most people, you think back and it seems like it's 100 years ago. Then there's certain things that seem like it happened yesterday. Really vivid, some things.
It just seems like it was so long ago, which it was, but there is certain things that just really seem like it's so vivid.
Q. When your Yamaha ran well that week at Daytona it was a missile.
A. I was really surprised, because Yamaha's not normally known for having big, big horsepower. Yamaha went there, the Vance & Hines guys had big power. We showed up and we had the fastest bike, and that was really a surprise to me, because normally, it's either Muzzy or it's the Honda or somebody always has big power, and it's not usually Yamaha.
We usually always have a good chassis, and we don't usually have the power. I was really surprised, pleasantly surprised when we went through the speed trap and saw the numbers. When I got out there with Scott and with some of the other guys on the Honda, and I was just going by people on the straightaway, and I was just so jazzed. But then we started popping motors.
Q You don't get to be a four-time World Champion without being demanding of the people that you work with. And the thing was, you were so calm, for that entire week. That bike tried hard to hurt you.
A Yeah, well, they were making it pretty easy, because I had really good people and a good bike, and I was retired, and so I felt pretty relaxed. But, yeah, every time we'd go out it would pop a freeze plug, or it would pop a motor. It filled my boot full of oil one time. So yeah, it was pretty exciting, that's for sure.
It was very exciting, every time I'd go out, something would happen. I do remember certain aspects of that race, like I was telling you, when you look back on things, you think, "Boy, I can barely remember it, so long ago," but then there's certain things I remember about that race like it happened an hour ago. I remember going into Turn 1 and having my boot filled with hot oil, and trying to straighten that thing up. That was like it happened yesterday.
Q At Daytona, an engine spraying oil past start finish stays with you.
A It really does stay with you. I remember that like it was an hour ago.
Q. Why did you decide to do the race? You had retired from Grand Prix the previous Fall.
A. I like Daytona, and it's a fun race, to be honest with you, but I wanted to make sure I have good equipment. We went to YMUS, and I said, "Look, you guys, I'll only do this if you promise me you're going to give me a good bike. Will the equipment be good?"
"Oh, no, we promise, this bike's going to be good."
I said, "Well, I've heard that before, now. You're going to give me good equipment." I kept stressing that. "Oh, this bike's going to be good." "Okay." And we negotiated a really good deal, and the money was good, and I said, "Okay, it sounds like everything's in place."
So going into the thing, I felt pretty good about everything. I was very relaxed about it all, and I knew there were good guys on the team.
I thought, "Well, this will help the Indy Lights (Lawson's then car race career) deal, and that's kind of how it all sort of happened.
Q. There was a great deal of drama before the race when the team were preparing for the race. You were waiting on the grid for the bike and they came running it down, pushing it, expecting you to be furious. But, instead, you were completely calm.
A. I just thought, "Well, it'll get here or it won't, one of the two." Nothing you can do.
I think, you know, when you've raced all those years, what do you do at that point? What do you say? Maybe it's because you've raced all those years, it's either the bike shows up and you race, or you don't. But I think if you were 18 or you're 20 or something, and you're all jacked up and ready to go, you'd just be out of your mind (waiting). But when you're retired, I think you kind of go, "Okay, the bike gets here and you race, or you don't."
Q. Those laps after the last pit stop were unbelievable.
A. The other thing that I remember about that race, like it was absolutely yesterday, is when we went into the chicane, when we got into that backmarker (Chuck Graves), and I went up to the wall, and Scott went down low, and him looking up at me, and I thought, "Well, I don't know that I've got this race won, that's for sure. I don't think I do. But I know that I've really put myself in a good position here," and him looking up, and he just kind of shook his head, like, "Oh, man." Because I knew he had to climb up to get behind me and get in the draft. Because normally you don't want to be in the lead, the last lap, going towards the checkered. But I thought, "Well, this is a good spot to be in."
And that is so clear. That is just like that happened an hour ago. That is still with me. I just remember looking down the bank and seeing Scott right there.