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Get down on your knees and play

Thu, 09 Sep 2010

This remarkable shot of Eddie Lawson is taken by Rich Chenet. It was August 1980 and Lawson was undergoing a titanic scrap for the AMA title with Wes Cooley and Freddie Spencer here at Pocono Raceway in Philladelphia. The circuit is known as the 'Tricky Triangle' amongst the NASCAR drivers but the superbikes used a mix of infield and sections of the banked circuit.

That’s some lean angle on crappy cross-ply Good Year slicks on a bike with a crankshaft that’s probably as heavy as a whole ZX-10 engine. What makes this feat even more impressive is that Lawson was back-to-backing races that season on his 250GP bike (he was AMA 250cc champ in the same year).

In this race, Wes Cooley took the early lead on his Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000 only to be passed by Honda’s Freddie Spencer. Cooley, who led the series at this point, was forced to retire when his bike broke. It was then Lawson and Mike Baldwin chasing Spencer. By the closing laps Spencer had opened a gap on Lawson, who’d gapped Baldwin. On the last lap Spencer got completely sideways coming out of a turn and started looking down at his bike. Lawson came past to take the victory. Spencer’s factory Honda was leaking oil and he limped home to second.

"It was really pretty fun to ride those old 1000cc Superbikes," Lawson recalls. "They were pretty heavy and had a lot of power and with the wide handlebars you could actually ride them a lot like a flat tracker, power-sliding out of the corners and everything."

It didn’t take long for Lawson to get used to racing Superbikes. Lawson won his first Superbike national at Talladega, Alabama, in April of 1980. The 1980 season ended with Cooley winning the title in a controversial manner, with protests and counter-protests being filed between the Kawasaki and Suzuki Superbike teams. Cooley had to wait two months after the season to finally be awarded the championship.

The Superbike controversy at the end of 1980 just made Lawson more determined. He came back in 1981 and won the title after another great year of battling Honda and its top rider, Freddie Spencer.

The Lawson/Spencer rivalry would go down as one of the best in the history of Superbike racing. During this period, AMA Superbike racing really came into prominence and started to replace the Formula One class in importance. Lawson again won the 250GP title in ’81. Lawson’s ’80 and ’81 championships marked the only times that Kawasaki would win the AMA 250 Grand Prix titles.

Thanks to the for flagging it up.

By mark forsyth

See also: You want a nice little car, you do., You want a nice little car, you do., Niall Mackenzie blog No.2.