Legends: Eddie Lawson
Eddie Lawson’s 1983 signing direct from American Superbikes to the Yamaha 500 Grand Prix team brought howls from the European press, but the decision was soon vindicated.
The dirt-track schooled Californian won three championships in five years for Yamaha, and a fourth 500 crown when he dramatically switched to Honda in 1989.
By the time Lawson retired in 1992, at age 34, he’d won 31 GPs on three different makes – at that time the third highest tally in world championship history. He was only the third rider to win 500 crowns on different brands and the first to do it successive years. He even won championships on two tyre brands, including the only 500 title in the period from 1976 to 1990 secured on Dunlop.
Lawson came out of a US road-racing scene where he won two national 250 crowns and two (very nearly three) AMA Superbike championships in 1980-82, and yet Freddie Spencer captured more of the limelight.
Those who called him ‘Steady Eddie’ sold the former carpenter short. Replacing Kenny Roberts as Yamaha team leader when King Kenny retired, Lawson scored his first GP victory in the opening race of 1984. His last victory was on a Cagiva in Hungary in 1992 – a clever ride where he gambled on intermediate tyres for a drying track and made impressive pace when it was still wet.
In between, Lawson raced with the best in a great era – Doohan, Gardner, Mamola, Schwantz, Spencer and fellow South-Cal dirt-track/Kawasaki team mate Wayne Rainey.
He won 26 GPs with Australia’s Kel Carruthers as his Yamaha crew chief and four working with Erv Kanemoto in ‘89, the year they preserved to tame the Honda NSR500.
Lawson never did like the travelling and had his moments with the press, but he simply lived to win races.