Daytona 1993: Yamaha Meets Mr. Muzzy…

This is a chapter from a book I was once going to write in 2004. I was unable to find a publisher. –DFA

Nice watermark, eh? Welcome to our world. Raymond Roche and Eddie Lawson on the grid of the Daytona 200 in 1993.
Nice watermark, eh? Welcome to our world. Raymond Roche and Eddie Lawson on the grid of the Daytona 200 in 1993. Dean Adams

Dayona 1993: In retrospect, the turmoil that the Vance and Hines Yamaha team would endure for nearly half a month at Daytona in March of 1993 revealed itself early. The team assembled at the hotel in Daytona one morning, crawled inside team vehicles shortly after dawn broke and made the short drive to the track. After exiting the tunnel leading inside the Speedway and parking, they extracted themselves from the team transport vehicle and began walking towards garage number forty-five, Yamaha’s historical home at Daytona for years.

Tom Halverson was new in his position with Yamaha’s Roadrace effort but was not new to racing. An ex-motocross racer, taught to ride by none other than Steve McQueen himself, he understood racing, had worked for years in motocross as a mechanic and team coordinator. However, going racing without mud on the track was a new for him. And he was about to get a rough introduction to roadracing.

Halverson remembers, “As we walked to the garage that first morning, we walked along the area where the motorhomes were parked in the Daytona infield. And as we walked past one of the nicer ones, I heard someone say in my direction, “Can I see you a minute?”. I looked to see who was talking and who that request was being directed at, and was surprised to see Rob Muzzy standing outside his motorcoach. I was doubly surprised to learn that he was talking to me.”

Robert Muzzy, born in Michigan into an auto industry family, was raised in California by a single mother and then her second husband. You’d be hard pressed to find a man more inherently gearheaded in the motorcycle racing industry than Muzzy. His accomplishments with riders like Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Scott Russell and Doug Chandler defined him as an able and daunting tuner and team owner, but Muzzy was also gregarious, clever and he made good copy; the press loved him. But with Rob he was, and remains, a rider. He raced motorcycles all over the west coast in the 1950s and 1960s and has lost little of the blood-feud inspired fight that very good riders seem to have in their DNA. As a tuner, Muzzy was nearly as competitive as many of his riders, and that was key to understanding and working with riders successfully. He knew riders were special and the best of them … the normal rules can’t apply. He can recall once being on his boat at a dock in the early 1980s with Eddie Lawson. One afternoon Lawson dived into the ocean and swam out to sea, so far that others there were starting to panic and wondering that maybe they’d have to call not a life guard to rescue Lawson, but the Coast Guard, as he was just a speck on the horizon. WE’VE GOT TO SAVE HIM! HES DROWNING! WE NEED TO CALL FOR HELP! Muzzy kept his head, never panicked, said for everyone to calm down.  Lawson swam back to his boat, tired but unimpressed by the waves. “It wasn’t even that scary out there,” he told Muzzy.

It’s not well known but Muzzy is also nearly royal blood in the American hot rod scene. His father was one of the founders of the company that would become Federal Mogul—it began life as the Muzzy-Lyon. For Rob, spending some of his early childhood in Michigan must have been interesting, but getting him to talk about that period is almost impossible. Once, at his house, his late wife, Ruby brought out an old box of photographs. In sliding it across the kitchen table an old newspaper clipping fell out. It was a front page photo from the Detroit newspaper of Mrs. Henry Ford giving away presents to the underprivileged at Christmas, and at her knee, helping her, was family friend and tot: Robert Muzzy. Fast forward a few years and Muzzy and his mom were living in Southern California, a player in the two-wheeled arena from the 1960s on, first on his own bikes and then later as a dirt track tuner.

Halverson walked around, and stepped inside Muzzy’s nicely equipped motorhome where the two sat down across from each other over a small table. Halverson admits he was on his back foot even before the conversation really began.

“Muzzy is a really intimidating guy, but that probably had a lot to do with me. I was new and I just knew that the guy was a legend in racing and I was really just some guy at Yamaha. We sat down in his motorhome and Muzzy told me that he wasn’t going to beat around the bush, that he wanted to be clear and honest with me. And that he intended to protest our bike as illegal.”

Over twenty seasons of racing later, the events of 1993 are still crisp in Rob Muzzy’s mind. “Yeah, I did protest their bike because the carbs on Eddie’s bike were illegal,” Muzzy remembers and states plainly.

I question Muzzy and ask if he’s sure that is the way that it happened, as at the time no one in the media reported any kind of technical protest of Lawson’s Yamaha. This is one of the major tenets of racing—never ask Rob Muzzy if he is sure of anything. Muzzy, replied simply, “Yeah, well, the media doesn’t know everything. A lot of things happen in racing that the media don’t find out about.” That he is talking to a member of the media is immaterial to Muzzy, truth is truth.

The issue that Muzzy had with the Yamaha OW01 that Lawson would race at Daytona centered on one component–the very trick flat slide magnesium Mikuni carburetors that the 750cc Yamaha used for induction. In 1993, carburetors still enjoyed a strong presence in Superbike racing and in some ways the new kid on the block, fuel injection, was temperamental and slightly inferior to carburetors. In 1993 the two technologies were duking it out, fuel injection clearly the future, but carburetors still a very solid performer, with most teams and manufacturers enjoying a strong knowledge base of what Kevin Cameron once termed “a controlled leak”.  

Their being manufactured from magnesium was, of course, a signal that this was not a just a basic “controlled leak”.

Regardless, carburetors are carburetors, right?

“No, not really,” says Vance and Hines Yamaha mechanic Mitch Leonard. “Those were very special carbs on Eddie’s bike, and they were the end product of a lot of work by us and also by Yamaha Japan and Mikuni Japan in really refining the systems inside the carbs. For over a full season before that we spent more time on jetting and needles and analyzing flow systems on Mikuni carbs than we did almost any other part on the Yamaha Superbike. I mean, if someone had asked me if I had pulled the carbs off a Yamaha Superbike a hundred times in order to change jets or try something, I’d probably answer, ‘Well, you mean it wasn’t a thousand times?’ because it felt like I had pulled those carbs off probably ten thousand times. We’d run endurance race practice sessions, test days, dyno runs and all we’d be doing is really testing carbs and jetting. Many, many hundreds of hours were spent dialing those carbs in, and sending the data to Yamaha and back to Mikuni in Japan.”

Mikuni had a global development program for their Superbike carburetors at the time and the set that Yamaha mounted on the Superbike for Lawson to race at Daytona was the end result of all that research and development. The magnesium-bodied carbs were super light and packed with tiny vessels of proprietary information. They were the best carburetors that Mikuni could build at the time, and the company was not keen to see all that information being handed over to their competitors, at least not easily. Sure, fuel injection was the future in 1993, but widespread use of fuel injection, in Superbike racing, was still years away. In fact, these were the developmental base for the carburetors that fed fuel to the original Yamaha YZF-R1 streetbike—five years later.

Specifically, Muzzy’s issue with the magnesium Mikuni TDMR41 carbs on Lawson’s bike was based around the availability of the carbs to others. In ‘93 AMA Superbike racing the rulebook still had some vestiges from the 1985 Superbike rules package, which stated that all parts for Superbike had to be available for purchase by other competitors in order for the playing field in US Superbike to remain level. Muzzy himself had been trying to obtain a set of the magnesium Mikuni carburetors for over a year and found his inquiries rebuffed.

AMA rules stated that the carbs were to be offered for sale to competitors, and as a competitor Muzzy says that he had tried to obtain a set and was refused. Hence, next came his threat of a protest of Lawson’s bike after the race.

Yamaha had filed all of the paperwork with the AMA in order to make the carbs legal and had little choice in the matter when a deal was brokered later in the week at Daytona–probably by the AMA–which led to Yamaha selling Muzzy a set of magnesium carburetors.

“I told them that I intended to keep an eye on their bike and to protest it at every race where it had those carbs on it,” Muzzy remembers. “And I was serious about it.”

It’s hard to look back at these Mikuni carbs and over-estimate their value in 1993. Various race teams and Mikuni’s R&D department had an astronomical amount of resources invested in the carburetors, not just in the physical set of four carbs on a bank, but in the technology contained within them. Unfortunately, for Mikuni and Yamaha, AMA rules dictated that most Superbike parts had to be available also to competitors. Almost twenty years later Muzzy is unclear on how much he had to pay in order get a set of Kehin’s best carburetors. Ten thousand? Twenty thousand?

“I think it was either twenty-five hundred or maybe five thousand dollars,” Muzzy recalls.

Muzzy says that in the agreement that was brokered by the AMA, his protest was quashed. In lieu of an official protest of the carburetors on Lawson’s bike, did Yamaha sell Muzzy a set of race kit carbs identical to the set Lawson used at Daytona?

“I think I remember something like that,” Yamaha’s Tom Halverson recalls vaguely.

Then Vance and Hines Yamaha crewchief Jim Leonard was embroiled in a barn of flames within two hours of arriving at Daytona in 1993, some which would not end for ten days. Still, he remembers most of it very clearly. Except the carburetor incident.

“I don’t remember any carb-claiming situation with Rob Muzzy that year at Daytona. It’s possible that they (Yamaha ) would have not told me—we had a lot going on at that time—but what I suspect happened is Yamaha just got caught. What they’d do back then is they’d announce that all race kit parts were available but had to ordered and paid for by September or October. If you didn’t order them by the cut-off date, then you could not get the parts. It was a way to keep works parts available but at the same time unavailable, because in racing, September or October is the time of the season when it’s winding down and few have the money or inclination to order parts.”

Leonard shares his own Muzzy story from ’93 Daytona.

“After one of the first practice sessions, Muzzy came up to me and asked for a moment to talk in private. We stepped away and he told me that he intended to protest Eddie’s bike after the race for an illegal chassis.”

The aluminum Deltabox chassis which Lawson rode at Daytona in 1993 was built in Japan, but wasn’t anything special, according to Leonard.

“I think it was just an 8 Hour mule chassis. One they felt would work for Daytona.”

He continues, “Muzzy and Mathers were the two guys I respected that would tell you to your face if they had issues with your stuff. I shook his hand and told him that I appreciated his letting me know, and we left it at that. He seemed a bit surprised at my reaction, and I suspect took that to mean that the chassis was legal.” Muzzy did not protest Lawson’s chassis.

Muzzy says that six weeks after Daytona, a box from Yamaha arrived via UPS at Muzzy’s race shop in Bend, Oregon. Inside was a works set of Mikuni TDMR41 flat slide carbs, magnesium bodies.

“I think that the time delay was partially because they’d have to be made, hand made,” says Jim Leonard. “A set of those carbs were not just sitting on a shelf somewhere ready to be put in a box.”

Then Muzzy’s right hand man and engine builder, Gary Medley, remembers the day the box arrived and also remembers being shoulder to shoulder with others in the race shop when the box was opened and the carbs were cracked open.

“They were unbelievable,” Medley says. “I mean, sometimes you get some piece of works equipment from Japan and, you know, before you even take it out of the box you know that it ain’t gonna work. It’s some piece of shit that somebody in Japan got a wild hair up their ass about and had made when the reality was it was never gonna work. Those carbs, though, were beautiful. They were hand-made and just about a work of art. I mean, you felt bad when you put a screwdriver to them and started to crack them apart, they were so nice. Inside they were amazing.”

Made from magnesium, the flat slide carbs were actually very short and the entire assembly incredibly light.

Medley continues, “We saw a lot of stuff come through the shop in those days, we had seen some pretty trick stuff come from Kawasaki Japan back in the days when TT-F1 rules were still in effect for the 8 Hours. But we had never really marveled at much of it. You know, light thin-walled frame, or something, big f#cking deal, it ain’t gonna live on a US racetrack, so why bother? But those carbs, though, I mean, we took pictures of them. Not pictures to send back to Japan or anything like that, but pictures so we’d have pictures of those carbs, and could study them a little, admire them.”

Muzzy and his crew ran a short R&D program with the Mikuni carbs on a Kawasaki Superbike but frustratingly could never find a combination of cylinder head, jetting and exhaust system that would make that combination significantly better than the one that they had already using a more standard set of Kehin carbs. Was this because the Mikunis were designed for the Yamaha five-valve cylinder head, whereas the Kawasaki Superbike had but four conventional valves?

Muzzy says months later he sold the carbs in Japan for $15,000. Is the bench racing story true, that he actually sold them back to Mikuni, or even Kawasaki?

“I sold them to a collector in Japan,” Muzzy states.

The carburetor schism mediated to an acceptable détente, Halverson left Rob Muzzy’s motorhome and breathed a big sigh of relief, feeling like he had extinguished the one big unexpected problem they’d face at Daytona in 1993.

He had no way of knowing the avalanche of drama headed his way, and how nearly two decades later the “story of the carbs” was by comparison an almost forgotten detail.

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