yoshi years...


"The way I figured it was, we had recently seen a load of really young guys come along and do spectacularly well instantly, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Rainey was another, so I thought, this guy could really be somebody. Especially his control in the wet, he could make the motorcycle do stuff that would normally crash it and he'd get away with a lot. He crashed sometimes and ran off the track sometimes but he was getting away with it a lot more than he was crashing."

The thing that finally convinced me about Kevin was at the WERA Grand National final at Road Atlanta. It would have been the first week in November. Up until this time the only thing that I had seen Kevin ride and paid any attention was a 600 and a 600 is not a Superbike." "He put a 'T' shirt over his leathers to try and disguise his identity"

"We get down there and Yamaha has hired Randy Renfrew to try and win the Heavyweight production race on an FJ1100, their new bike at the time. Dale Quarterly was in the race on a Ninja 900 Kawasaki. These are two really good riders. Kevin has some friend entered in this race, I don't remember what happened to the friend but for some reason Kevin grids on this guy's Ninja 900. He'd got four laps of practice."

"He put a 'T' shirt over his leathers to try and disguise his identity, which of course didn't work and eventually he would get thrown out but that's not the point. The point is that with no practice whatsoever on this motorcycle which was substantially faster than his 600 he jumped on it and smoked everybody, including Renfrow and Quarterly who are very good pilots."

"He ran off and hid, disappeared. Got disqualified later for not having entered but seeing is believing. In some races on his 600 he beat guys with like RZ500 street bikes, guys that he shouldn't have been able to beat. He won this one race at Road Atlanta, I was watching from the tower, he came down the hill from the bridge, put it into the last corner carrying so much speed to overtake this guy that he couldn't keep the thing on the track. He dropped the rear wheel off the track onto the grass. Normally when guys do that they go sideways and highside into the observation platform that juts out halfway down the straight. He didn't, he got it somewhat sideways but kept it under control, got it back on the track and won the race. Everyone who watched it was just open mouthed, going, 'Holy shi....' because everyone who drops a wheel off there crashes. Kevin didn't, I don't know how, I don't know what he was doing but he did it."

"Later that weekend I thought, this guy can ride anything."

"I called up Nabe and said that I had this kid he had to try. I knew that Yoshimura had been having try outs and he was looking at Scott Gray and Russ Paulk. I just didn't think that those guys were going to be able to get the job done, that was my opinion. Good pilots but he needed someone spectacular. I said, 'You've got to see this guy, your not going to believe it..""Nabe was reluctant, I can't remember how long it took me but it must have been a couple of weeks or more I was talking to him twisting his arm hard trying to get him to give Kevin a try out. There was a race coming up at Willow Springs at the beginning of December."

"When I had set the deal up I had to find Kevin. I didn't know where he lived. I remember calling Joe Fisher and asking him where I could find Kevin. He tracked him down by calling Darryl Hurst. Fisher called me back and said, 'Hey John I called Darryl Hurst and told him what was going on and he said, 'Who the hell's John Ulrich."

"So I found Kevin. He called me, I told him what the deal was. I told him stuff like, 'don't crash their bike, keep your mouth shut, smile and nod, don't say nothing smart and just do whatever they want to do and you can get the thing done."

Yoshimura team boss Suehiro Watanabe looks on as John Ulrich gets the story from Kevin at Willow Springs on the April of 1985, early days on the GS750

"I had spoken to him a couple of times through the year, just at the races. I thought he was a cocky kid. That was why I was telling him to keep his mouth shut and just smile and nod. I thought that there was a danger he could run in there and screw it up. I didn't know what he might do but I thought that if he went in there and started talking about kicking everybody's ass they'd look at him like he was a lunatic. There's a lot of guys I've met over the years that I thought were kind of cocky but if they can get the job done on the race track who cares... to a degree obviously. But he wasn't bad, he was just a kid."

The catch with the test was that I knew Nabe and how these try outs go. He's been doing them for years, he brings the guy out, throws him on the bike with whatever tyres are on the hike and that's it. Nabe has his watch on him and Nabe gets an initial impression and the guy has to live with it. That's a really tough deal." 'Look this guy is somebody, this kid is going to do something here.'

"So Kevin's going to Willow Springs, he's never ridden anything fast there and hardly any slick tyre experience. I set up the try out for the ARA race on the Sunday. So I said to Kevin, 'Let's go to Willow on the Saturday and you can ride my Endurance bike in practice.' "

"Also I called Jim Allen at Dunlop and said, 'Look this guy is somebody, this kid is going to do something here.' So through Jim I arranged new Dunlops for him to use on the Yoshimura Superbike at his tryout."

"So I took him out there, set him on our Endurance bike and told him what I could tell him about getting around Willow Springs. I remember very distinctly talking about turn eight and that if you get the thing set up just right you can go through turn eight wide open. And if you can hold it wide open through turn eight its really going to make a difference to your lap time. He went out there, worked and worked at it, kept bringing his lap times down."

"I had told him some stuff about turn two and turn three that I used. He kept going a little faster and a little faster but the big breakthrough was one lap when he suddenly took off like a second and a half or two seconds. He came in and he was really excited and he said, 'I did it, I did it, I held it wide open in turn eight.' "

"That really impressed me too because it took me years to work up to holding it wide open in turn eight. Even now I go out there on my 125 in the first couple of sessions I am not holding it wide open going in there because it's hairy. There he is riding my Moriwaki Endurance bike with a G51150 engine which was not slow and he is holding it wide open on his first time. He lapped faster than I'd ever gone on my own bike."

And the rest, as they say is history.

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