1985 Yamaha FZ750

Vintage race daze

| January/February 2009

Flat out and heading toward turn nine at Road Atlanta, I’m not sure what’s giving me the most concern: The fact I’m displacing families of potentially rare spiders or the likelihood of anything falling off this 1985 Yamaha FZ750 as we approach the far side of 140mph.

With my mind flip-flopping between images of environmentalists with protest banners pacing up and down outside my apartment, and my shiny custom Joe Rocket leathers getting seriously scuffed, I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

It had all seemed like a great idea when former AMA racer Bill Brown called and asked if I’d like to participate in a vintage motorcycle racing exhibition at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. We were slated to run during the big classic car meet known as the Historic Sportscar Racing Mitty Challenge, or just “the Mitty.” Setting the bait, Bill buttered me up with promises of “slow parade laps to let the car guys see some motorcycles.” My ride? A very cool 1985 Yamaha FZ750 with a big-bore engine, “just like Eddie Lawson rode when he won the Daytona 200,” Bill said. What he didn’t tell me was the bike looked like it was parked in Bill’s yard around the time Eddie was putting his trophy on the shelf.

A little preparation
On arrival in the pit area before the race, I learn the practice session has degenerated into a quick spin around the parking lot in first and second gear. This at least clues me into the fact the Yam’s brakes are about as useful as Pope Benedict’s family jewels — even with four fingers molesting the brake lever the Yamaha  FZ750 has trouble stopping from 20mph; Bill doesn’t seem even a bit worried.

In the interest of public safety (well, mine really) I decide a pre-race inspection might not be a bad idea. This at least raises my confidence level from negative to zero, as all the important pieces on the FZ750 seem to be lock-wired properly. The copious amounts of duct tape also seem to be doing their job, and there doesn’t appear to be any fluids leaking. Checking out the rear end, I think of asking Bill if we should put some lube on the chain. As rusty as it is, I’m not sure if it would help.

Tire woes
Examining the rear tire makes me think Bill is taking this vintage thing a little too seriously. Wrapped around the narrow 18-inch rim is an old, oversized Metzeler ME88 touring tire, circa the late 1980s. Harder than a marble statue, it’s good to see that it’s worn nearly flat in the middle, with the edges bending outward at an interesting angle. “It’ll probably spin in the lower gears with all the power from the big-bore motor, so you better be careful coming out of the turns,” I hear Bill say as he catches me scrutinizing the beast. “Thanks,” I murmur, adding this to my mental checklist of things to pay attention to.

Shooting around to the front to see what wonder of modern science might be wrapped around the other rim I’m surprised to see a Pirelli race-compound tire. Shame it’s worn out. Pressing on regardless, I decide to hop on the bike and familiarize myself some more with the bar, peg and lever positions.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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