Kevin Magee followed the path of several Aussie (and Kiwis) before him by honing his skills in the Australian road racing series and then showing their stuff at the Suzuka 8 Hours attracting the attention of the factories.
In the 1986 Suzuki 8 Hours Magee came seemingly out of nowhere and partnered with fellow Australian Michael Dowson on a lightly modified Marlboro Yamaha Dealer Team FZ750 to finish runner-up to factory Honda’s Wayne Gardner and Dominique Sarron. Magee was immediately pegged the next big thing to come from Down Under.
Magee was managed by the late Warren Willing. He had ultra respect in the GP paddock as an engineer, racer and gentleman. If Willing said someone was fast, all the right people took notice.
In 1987 Magee got a trio of Wild Card rides in Grand Prix. In the season-opener at Suzuka Magee, in his GP debut, remarkably headed the second row in qualifying on a 1986-model Yamaha, but crashed out 14 laps in on wet track while battling over third among a group that included Wayne Gardner, Christian Sarron, Niall Mackenzie, Ron Haslam, Shunji Yatsushiro and Tadahiko Tairaover. He then scored 10th at the Dutch TT, but that didn’t prepare anyone for what Magee pulled off at the “Portuguese” GP in Jarama, Spain.
The ’87 race at Jarama was held in blazingly hot conditions. Wayne Gardner was leading the championship, but both Randy Mamola and Eddie Lawson still had a mathematical shot at catching the factory Honda rider. Magee was brilliant that day on a Team Roberts bike in Yamaha red and white, but not wearing the Lucky Strike sponsor logos.
Magee did a perfect job of helping both Lawson and Mamola in what ultimately turned out to be a futile effort to catch Gardner. Magee, coming from a ninth-place start, moved all the way up to pass Gardner for third in the final stages of the race. Magee actually could have likely finished second, after Mamola ran wide in a turn, allowing Magee to get by. But in order to help his temporary Yamaha teammate Magee allowed Mamola (who was second in the series standings) back by so he could earn maximum points.
That Jarama performance solidified Magee’s reputation as perhaps the best up-and-comer in road racing and he was hired for a full-time ride with Lucky Strike Yamaha in 1988. It proved to be a good hire by Kenny Roberts. Magee scored victory in the third race of 1988 at Jarama (that year called the Spanish Grand Prix) over Lawson and Gardner (pictured).