AMA Superbike Champion: 1981, 1982
Eddie Ray Lawson was raised on the dusty dirt tracks of California in the mid-1970s and began road racing in the late-70s, at first of 250 Grand Prix bikes, then later on Superbikes.
Lawson seemed destine for greatness from the very beginning, In his first AMA Superbike finish he won at Talladega in 1980. In only his second full year of Superbike racing, 1981, Lawson won the title in a close battle with rivals Freddie Spencer and Wes Cooley. Lawson became known as "Steady Eddie" for his consistent performances during the course of a season.
Lawson came back to win his second AMA Superbike title by the slim margin of nine points over Honda's Mike Baldwin. The 1982 season was to be his final full year of racing in America. In 1983 he left to compete in the 500cc World Championship Grands Prix where he brought home four World Championships.
Eddie Lawson will go down in history as one the greatest motorcycle road racers of all time. Lawson won the 500cc World Championship four times during the 1980s. When he retired from GP racing in the early 1990s, he ranked third on the all-time 500cc Grand Prix wins list with 31 victories.
In addition to his international accomplishments, Lawson was equally successful on the domestic front. The Californian won the AMA Superbike Series twice (1981 and 1982) and the AMA 250 Grand Prix Series in 1980 and 1981. When inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Lawson was the only rider to ever win the AMA Superbike and 250GP titles during his career. Lawson also won the Daytona 200, the first time during the prime of his racing career in 1986, then again in 1993 when he returned to the event after retiring from full-time motorcycle racing.
Lawson was born in Upland, California, on March 11, 1958. He grew up around motorcycles. Both his father and grandfather raced. Some of Lawson’s earliest memories are of going out to the desert races with his father. Lawson started riding an 80cc Yamaha when was 7 years old, having to hold the nearly full-sized bike up on his tiptoes when he came to a stop. By the time he was 12, Lawson was racing the local Southern California dirt track circuit.
"We rode mainly at tracks like Corona and Ascot. I didn’t do very well for the first couple of years," admitted Lawson. "I just sort of rode around cautiously trying to not fall off my little 90cc Kawasaki Green Streak."
It didn’t take Lawson long to get over his timidity. He quickly became one of the fastest young amateurs in Southern California during the early 1970s heyday of dirt track competition.
Besides dirt track racing, Lawson also began to hit the local road races after his grandfather bought him a 50cc Italjet. He later graduated to a Yamaha RD350. This road racing experience would later prove to be very valuable for Lawson.
By 1978, Lawson obtained his AMA expert license. He was riding Shell Thuett Yamahas, which were very fast for Yamaha dirt trackers, but were no match for the Harley-Davidsons that dominated dirt track racing. Lawson did manage to do decently on TT tracks. His best finish of his rookie expert season was fifth in the TT national at Santa Fe Speedway near Chicago.
By 1979, it was becoming clear that Lawson was fighting an uphill battle on the dirt tracks, while just the opposite was happening at the road races. At 20, Lawson was already considered one of the top road racers in West Coast club racing. In 1979, he proved that he was a force to be reckoned with when he finished second to a young Freddie Spencer in the AMA 250 Grand Prix national at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California. Lawson finished the season as the second-ranked rider behind Spencer in the AMA 250 GP series.
While doing a made-for-television Superbikes event late in 1979, Lawson was invited to a Superbike tryout at Willow Springs Raceway by Kawasaki. Lawson set fast time in the tryout and was offered the ride.
"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 did not take long for Lawson to get used to racing Superbikes. Lawson won his first Superbike national at Talladega, Alabama, in April of 1980. That season saw some epic battles between Lawson, Freddie Spencer and Wes Cooley. The 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 same season, Lawson dominated the AMA 250 Grand Prix Series.
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.
Lawson's last full season of racing in the U.S. was 1982. Again, Lawson and Kawasaki held off a serious challenge from Honda, that year with Mike Baldwin, who finished second in the series.
The real thing: The KZ1000-S1
The Kawasaki KZ1000 had been raced in the AMA Superbike class since the first race in March of 1976, but hadn't won until the fifth race of the 1977 season. Reg Pridmore set the precedent for the domination of the class by Japanese bikes. Pridmore would go on to win the championship that year and also in '78.
Until 1980, Kawasaki was content to let others, such as the Vetter and Racecrafters teams, race their bikes for them. Now they recruited a young rider named Eddie Lawson for a factory backed Superbike team. Another racer of great promise, Wayne Rainey, would later join the effort.
Rob Muzzy would build and tune the bikes that Eddie Lawson rode to the championship in 1981. To commemorate the win, Kawasaki built "the most striking, most performance-ready street-legal Superbike ever. The brand-new 1982 Kawasaki KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica." (Quote from the KZ1000R brochure.)
Based on the standard KZ1000J model, the R1 had the fuel tank, rear-set footpegs, oil cooler and wheels from the GPZ1100. A GPZ style fairing and lower handlebar were added along with a Kerker KR-series four-into-one header. Revised steering geometry and suspension improved the handling. The motor was unchanged. Motorcyclist Magazine got an ET of 11.56 from their test bike in1982. That may seem slow in comparison to today's 10 second 600's and ZX12's running mid-9's, but it was quite respectable at the time.
If you had the urge to go even faster on an '82 Kawasaki, you could purchase the KZ1000S1. This was no replica--this was the real deal. For a mere £8000 a ready-to-race Superbike could be in your driveway.
At the crankshaft, the motor put out 136 horsepower compared to the 79 of the R1. Eddie Lawson's race bike was said to have 149 horsepower. Harnessing all this power was a braced swing arm and huge brakes attached to the Dymag magnesium rims.
The power may have been harnessed, but it certainly wasn't tamed. These motorcycles were being ridden much faster and harder than their designers intended. The frames would twist and flex from the horsepower and cornering loads. It was common for the riders to be seen sliding the bikes around the turns. Rob Muzzy was quoted as saying," those bikes were like dirt-tracking on the pavement. You really had to muscle them around."
This era was a turning point for Kawasaki, whose racing efforts in the 1970's had limited success. No longer would this be the case. To this day the green bikes are a force to be reckoned with, having a heritage of power and reliability.
FRAME NUMBER: KZT00R-000001 ONWARDS
ENGINE NUMBER: KZT00JE-031001 ONWARDS
The fist model Z1000R1 was intended for America only and differed from the European models by having a genuine KERKER 4-1 black exhaust system. It came in one colour of course: Kawasaki Lime Green.
FRAME NUMBER: KZT00R-001101 ONWARDS
ENGINE NUMBER: KZT00JE-039301 ONWARDS
The european version was also available in white with the 4-2 black chrome exhaust system borrowed from the GPz1100B2.
FRAME NUMBER: KZT10R-000001 ONWARDS
ENGINE NUMBER: KZT10BE029301 ONWARDS
The following year Kawasaki replaced the 1000R with the Z1100R1. This model was more or less the same but with one big difference, the motor from the GPz1100 unitrack was used boosting performance. Other small mods were made including a 18 inch front wheel, wider rear wheel and a double mounting point for the exhaust. Kawasaki offered it in the Lime Green and in a silvery Blue not unlike the Z1-R.
These were the last of the great Z muscle bikes, giving way to the lighter, faster, better handling, water cooled GPZ bikes.