Yoshimura's Don Sakakura On Daytona Now & Then
by staff
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don Sakakura of the Yoshimura Suzuki team. Now a VP of Yoshimura, Sakakura started as a race mechanic and is still directly involved with all of Yoshimura's race efforts.
image by brian j nelson
Q. When did you start with Yoshimura, Don?

A I was hired on with Yoshimura January 1 of 1980. So the first year with the GS1000S was my first year with the team. Wes Cooley and I think Graeme Crosby were our riders.

Q Were you still wearing the customary Japanese mechanic white jumpsuits at that time?

A You know, honestly, back then, I don't think so .. that was later in my career. That was probably mid-'80s when we had the very uncomfortable white jumpsuits. In '80 I just remember we drove our little box van across the country with a U-Haul trailer behind it to Daytona. In fact, we did that for years. That was my first experience of Daytona Beach: Superbikes in a U-Haul.

Q Was that the first time you'd been across the country?

A It was. I'm a southern California boy. The process was pretty brutal for a mechanic back then. But it was just part of the normal procedure, right? You build your motorcycles, you maintain your motorcycles, and you jump in a box van with a trailer and head across the country and work the weekend and come back.

Q. Even in those days Daytona closed the paddock at night and if you wanted to work on bikes you did it elsewhere. The story is that Yoshimura in those days worked on bikes in parking lots, hotel rooms ...

A It's true, but everyone did back then. Back then, honestly, the motorcycles ... they didn't have the technology that we see now with durability factors in place. They'd have to come apart almost every night, honestly as they required some high maintenance. Especially at a place like Daytona, where your speeds are so great. But it was all a good learning experience for me and I think also for a lot of our other team members. We learned a lot: what you do, and what you don't do, really, with those older style motorcycles. It was the backbone of a racing education that serves you to this day.

Q Who would've been out here with you, then? Suehiro "Nabe" Watanabe?

A Yes. Nabe was actually the crew chief at that point in around 1980. Fujio, Pops's son, and of course Pops were here as well, and we had probably another three-four mechanics at that point, additionally. So, probably a total of about six of us to maintain the two riders.

They were, well, I guess you might say good times, but probably more than that it was a good experience, I think, for us all.

Q Yosh' is a now a high-tech company, large manufacturing, but back then it was not as advanced as it is today, right?

A The business was really young then. Almost everything we manufactured was hand-built. Our chassis, our swingarms, and all of our engine work was done by hand. Which again, for me, it was neat, because you learn skills, and the art of fabrication. Whether it's sheet fabrication or tubing, and the welding, bending of materials. To me, that's exciting. That's where my joy is in the technology end.

Q And the race shop would've been what "Yoshiphiles" call 'the old shop', then.

A [Laughing] Yes. That was in North Hollywood, actually. We worked there for about two years, then we moved to Chino in 1983.

Q. There's a lot of Yosh lore about the old "north hollywood days".

A That's right. I think we basically were working out of an old apartment house and a little garage in North Hollywood.

Q Does it seem the same, coming to Daytona, for you? Or, totally different?

A It's gone through quite a bit of change. I mean, obviously, in the early days in the early '80s, then it kind of went through a little downturn there in the mid to late '80s with the way the economy was and all. But after that point, this place was so big and popular. It had a lot of international flavor, and had huge, full grids of motorcycles. Back then, basically a lot of riders didn't even make the field.

It's always been a very unique place. It's always been this way: that you basically build a motorcycle, really, for this place, if you want to be competitive. But ... it's interesting, but honestly not my favorite place. I think we've had quite a few problems throughout the years, technically, and with some other issues on maintaining the equipment, because it's so hard on the equipment here. But again, there's a lot of history here. We started racing the old Daytona 100, we started off racing the Superbike races, which was the support race. But then we went to the 200 mile class, and again, it's very unique.

It's just hard on the crew, hard on the equipment and hard on the riders, so it's kind of a test of endurance, really.


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