Two Book Reviews: King Kenny’s Spanner Man, & Lean, Mean & Lime Green

So, suffice to say, I am not this book’s target market. At all.

thanks, Bateman

King Kenny’s Spanner Man: Mike Sinclair

Author: Kerry Swanson

Publisher: David Bateman Publishing, NZ

Paperback 335 pages

Dean rating: Would I buy this book again? Yes.

King Kenny Roberts’ says in the foreword of this book, on retired Grand Prix and MotoGP mechanic and engineer Mike Sinclair, that he never worried much about his motorcycle when he raced because Sinclair was his mechanic. Now listen to me, he writes. I sat on that motorcycle not worrying , not second-guessing, not thinking about a damned thing but how to win that race for one reason. Just one. That day, Mike Sinclair was my spanner man.” It’s hard to imagine the original Modesto cowboy actually using the term “spanner man” because he actually uses the American nomenclature–mechanic– but there it is in black and white. Also, I had always understood that Kel Carruthers was Kenny’s most trusted and valued mechanic but maybe not, as per the quote above.

A New Zealander, Sinclair was a semi-pro rider in the 1970s.  Back then the rider was the mechanic in many cases and after riding he became a mechanic full time.  In that capacity he worked in the sport, for top teams, for roughly thirty years. He worked with American riders such as Roberts, but also Pat Hennen, Mike Baldwin, Wayne Rainey and Kenny Roberts Jr. Sinclair was among the original group of GP pirates who helped Roberts split from Yamaha and design, build and race the KR3 two-stroke of the 1990s. Sinclair was with Pat Hennen for his first Grand Prix win, all the political horse manure he endured while under the thumb of Barry Sheene  and also for the absolutely devastating day when Hennen crashed at the Isle of Man TT and as a result of those injuries would never race again. Additionally, Sinclair was Wayne Rainey’s crewchief for his three world championships and was also there in that capacity when Rainey crashed and became a paraplegic. He has seen some stuff, to say the least.

Sinclair actually left the merry band of KR3 pirates (basically he infers he quit KR after seeing the second version of the two-stroke engine which was designed by retired HRC head Yoichi Oguma and others) to work with Team Rainey, when Wayne ran his own Yamaha (MotoGP) team.

Author Swanson is a Kiwi as well, and has a good handle on racing and writing. The author basically narrates the events and adds in Sinclair’s quotes. It works very well.

There are a wealth of great stories in this book and I won’t spoil any of them with a cut-rate recounting here. I’ve read and re-read this book and in doing so I’ve grown to really enjoy it. This is an excellent and honest chronicle of a man’s life in racing. Also, it seemed to me after reading this book that a big bunch of what makes a racing motorcycle successful or unsuccessful is something called “chain force” as per Sinclair. It’s a cool phrase, and would make a fine name for a moto-inspired band if anyone is considering it. PLAYING TONIGHT: CHAIN FORCE!

I purchased the book directly from the publisher after stumbling upon it in insomnia theater one night. It took some time to arrive from the other side of the world but once it did I was quite happy with the book.

Jay Leno, when he finds a motorcycle or car book he likes, usually buys two copies. One to actually read and thumb through, dog ear the pages and underline passages, the other to “keep nice” and stay on the shelf in his library.

I’m thinking about a second copy of this book.

I found King Kenny’s Spanner Man: Mike Sinclair on sale on-line for $16.

From the publisher: This is a story of a young man who progressed from working in spare parts for a major Christchurch motorcycle retailer to the position of crew chief for ‘King’ Kenny Roberts’ Yamaha grand prix team. It is a history of significant change, both political and technological, with respect to how the Grand Prix season organised and the machinery necessary to win that most coveted of titles… ‘World 500 cc Champion’. Mike started his racing career riding a 350cc BSA, but everything changed when he discovered two-strokes. Increasingly he experimented, blowing numerous engines up along the way but at the same time learning, always learning. This trajectory of discovery coincided with increasing interaction between overseas and local riders, and it didn’t take too long for us Kiwi’s to realise we really could cut it with the best… Mike’s 25 year long career provides an insight into a period of motorcycle racing when change was both rapid and compelling, he was not only a participant, on the technological front he initiated much of that change 



Vol 1

Author: Randy Hall

Publisher: Randy Hall

Paperback 344 pages

Dean rating: Would I buy this book again? Well ….

A friend of mine purchased a copy of this book, written by former Kawasaki employee Randy Hall, and seemingly loved it. Based on that, I ordered a copy–even after realizing that the price with shipping was something like $60. It landed at the office with a distinct thud–the book has to weigh in at a couple or three pounds. It’s clearly a labor of love. Or a labor of something.

I don’t know Randy Hall. I think I may have spoken to him once on the phone, but I think he was largely gone from the racing scene by the time I bought my first ticket–1980-81. I had, however, heard stories regarding Hall from people such as Eddie Lawson, Kevin Cameron, Dave Ray, Gary Nixon, Yvon DuHamel, Norm Bigelow, Erv Kanemoto and Rob Muzzy. Thus I wanted to hear Hall’s (side of the) stories. So, even though the purchase price of the book was a minor financial hit, I bought it.

Kawasaki in the 1970s means two-strokes, for the most part. Hall details Kawasaki infamous two-stroke triples from day one.

If you are the kind of motorcycle enthusiast who likes Kawasaki’s 1970s two-stroke triples, and their racing exploits, you might enjoy this book, as my friend did.

Me? Listen, I worked in a Kawasaki dealership in the 1980s, hung out in others and in doing so saw a fleet of triples roll from the back of a truck to work bench to the street. I became familiar with the three-cylinder by working on them in the shop at $3.75 an hour. And so blossomed a relationship where eventually I absolutely despised everything about Kawasaki triples other than their exhaust note when fitted with tuning pipes. When they were cheap and plentiful I basically supported myself and my eldest son by buying and selling triples, fixing them, re-selling them, exporting them to Japan and Germany, all many, many years ago. As luck would have it, I think I have owned, at one point or another, every model Kawasaki triple made, and for some years, every model and color. So how many of those maybe three-dozen Triples do I miss terribly today? None. Not one. How many did I send down the road with a new owner while wiping a warm tear of regret from my eye? Exactly zero. Being a Kawi’ ‘Triple mechanic is probably a lot like being a cancer doctor; I can diagnose one of those pieces of … er, things,  by a brief look at the fluid leaking out of it or just slowly kicking it over. The process and outcome are rarely good.

So, suffice to say, I am not this book’s target market. At all.

Mr. Hall clearly worked very hard on his book–which is just the first volume, mind you. These labor of loves from a new author can be interesting. It’s a weird book from the perspective that Hall seems to swap from first person to third person regarding himself at will which is confusing at times, but back-tracking a few pages usually cured my sense of “Wait. What?”.

Hall documents a great deal of early Kawasaki USA history, both in terms of production bikes and racing. From their first races on the west coast to Daytona and beyond.

If this book were in a lending library I’d unquestionably take it home and read it. Buy it again? No.

From the publisher: Volume One – This is the most complete inside story of Kawasaki’s racing history starting with their first venture into Japanese motorcycle racing and finishing in the unforgettable 1970’s two stroke era of the famous 500cc and 750cc three cylinder factory road race motorcycles. These were the motorcycles that were at the beginning of Formula 750 World Championship racing. Randy Hall, Kawasaki’s first US Racing Team Manager and racing development engineer starting in 1970 was always at the heart of the action, whether on the racetrack or behind the scenes with Team Kawasaki’s racing program in America, Canada and Europe. He remembers well the legendary star riders like Yvon Duhamel, Ralph White, Gary Nixon, Art Baumann, Hurley Wilvert and Paul Smart who raced these awesomely powerful 180 mph Kawasaki racers that made the team so successful in its time. 


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