yoshi years...

Suehiro Watanabe has been in charge of the Yoshimura US operation since 1977. Yoshimura's racing exploits are legendary. Their name is associated with riders such as Graeme Crosby and Wes Cooley but Kevin Schwantz is their most famous son. They gave Kevin his big break but Nabe admits that they were also very fortunate to have him ride for them. "Before John called I had never heard of Kevin Schwantz. Then we did the club race at Willow Springs. I was really impressed by that first race. The most impressive thing was that he didn't seem to feel any pressure at all. We only turned up at the track when practice was almost over. He had just a couple of laps practice but even so his lap times were impressive. Then in the main race he just smoked everybody."
The winning 1988 Daytona crew. Fujio is in the yellow shirt and Nabe is in the center with a grey sweater under his jacket.

That, says Nabe was not just a one off first impression. "He was always impressive when riding for us. The main thing was that he never gave up." Though Kevin did not win the US Superbike Championship for Yoshimura in the three years he rode for them Nabe does not lay the blame at any mistakes Kevin may have made due to his exuberance and inexperience. "I wouldn't call them mistakes, he was just trying very hard. It's just part of racing, some people talked about the fact that he fell down, that he had made a mistake, I didn't feel that. When he was riding with us all my crew were impressed with the effort he put in, even when he fell with a ten second lead over Rainey like he did at Laguna Seca he was more upset about it than anyone else. He felt worse about it than we did."

Nabe was as impressed with Kevin the person as he was the racer. "He was so easy to work with, he would just ride the motorcycle however it was. Often we would have the whole crew at the track with nothing to do, after the qualifying was over we'd have no work to do and end up going golfing. With most riders mechanics are so busy because the rider is always complaining and wanting things changed, making excuses and blaming the motorcycle."

"When Kevin was racing for us we had nothing to do. He just rode them. I don't think our bike was that capable of winning. When he was riding for us we used to joke about the fact that he was the jockey that turned our Clydesdale into a thoroughbred. It could be true though, since he left we haven't done that well, we're back to racing a Clydesdale."

"Perhaps it was the way he was brought up, he never blamed the bike for anything. Compared with Rainey's factory Honda our GSXR was only 95 or even 90% in terms of performance. Somehow he was recovering that 10% horsepower deficit by late braking or the way he was coming out of the corners. He would be sliding the front or sliding the back, something to make up the difference. It was something I think he was learning from Europe, it was unbelievable what he could do."

"Even when he was clearly passed on the straight he never complained. For example at Elkhart Lake in '87 he was beaten by Rainey in the Camel Challenge on the last lap. You got $10,000 to win and he was ahead right up to the last lap. We were watching from the pit rail and he was ahead coming out of the last corner by about five bike lengths and Rainey just drafted past. He lost $10,000 but he never came in and complained, he just came up to me and said, 'I know I can beat him in the main event.' "

Kevin's ability did not stagnate while he rode the Suzuki four strokes but Nabe takes no credit for that. "Every time he went to Europe during the time that he was racing with us he would tell me he learnt something. Every time he improved by at least a second a lap so he was learning something. I don't think he learned anything from us, I think he was learning from the European experience."

Kevin says otherwise, that he learnt a good deal from Nabe and the other people at Yoshimura. "I think he is just being nice to me. I was just giving him lap times and split times compared to other riders, that is just the thing that any constructor or team owner does, there is nothing special in that."

"I had to give him splits and my judgment of whether the motorcycle was not doing the job or the rider not doing the job. That was the only judgment I made and it was to say that it was the motorcycle that was not capable. I felt we were behind in performance compared with the competition of the time."

Nabe saw Kevin's ability build to the point that he believes Kevin was the best rider in the US even though Wayne won the championship. "I believe that in the final year that Kevin rode with us in the US Rainey was not even close on ability. Rainey was trying hard but Kevin was much faster, unfortnnately he fell down sometimes so he didn't get the good points but he was much faster. I think that Kevin had more talent than Rainey. Rainey had more desire to win and experience in the first two years, that was just my feeling. Rainey was pushing all the time and I don't think Kevin was aggressive. In the third year he was, every time he went to Europe he came back more aggressive and he became unbeatable."

Victory at last Daytona 1988

"I was so sure that he would be World Champion, I don't understand why it took so long, I thought he would be champion that first year when he went to Europe full time. I thought he might make a few mistakes but as far as rider skills go he had so much natural talent I expected him to win straight away."

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