Did you know David Aldana and Yvon DuHamel were both AMA Superbike winners? If you look at a list of winners today you will not see either of their names. Would you believe it if I told you a Harley-Davidson XLCH scored a top-five AMA Superbike finish? How about the fact that Superbike was once broken down into two and then three classes? The first Superbike race to be held as part of an AMA National Road Race at Laguna Seca in 1973 featured a Heavyweight and a Lightweight class. Then later there were three classes – Heavyweight, 750cc and Lightweight. Like DuHamel and Aldana, the winners of each of those Superbike classes were largely lost to history – until now!
AMA Superbike racing, like many other championships, most notably AMA Supercross, began small, with just a few events, before finding an audience and blossoming into full-blown AMA national championships.
In the case of Superbike racing, the class emerged from production racing in club events across the country and most specifically in Southern California. By the late 1960s and early 1970s big four-stroke street bikes like the Honda CB750, Kawasaki Z1 and various European models such as Ducati’s 750S, BMW’s R90S and even a few Triumphs, Nortons, Laverdas and Moto Guzzis were being raced by club racers.
Superbike Production racing was catching on quickly. The main reason was that fans could relate to the machines, since they were almost exactly like the production models they might buy off the showroom floor. The other factor was Yamaha’s sheer domination in American road racing. By the mid-1970s Yamaha TZs were almost required if you were to have any shot of winning an AMA National Road Race in both the main National class and the Lightweight (250GP) class. Sure, Kawasaki and Suzuki made some inroads against the Yamaha tidal wave in the early 1970s, but the results didn’t lie. In 1974 Yamaha won all but a single national road race and in ’75 it was a clean sweep for the Tuning Fork.
Fans longed for multi-brand racing and Superbike racing met that demand in a big way.
The first Superbike race held on a AMA national race weekend was on July 28,1973, at Laguna Seca Raceway. At that point it was simply called AMA Heavyweight Production and Lightweight Production. Novice and Junior-rated riders were allowed to race in the Lightweight class, while the Heavyweight division was reserved for Juniors and Experts.
Both classes utilized a Le Mans start. In the Lightweight class it was Mike Clarke running away with it on his Yamaha RD350. The class was mainly Yamaha RDs, but Bob Endicott made an impressive run on his Action Fours Honda CB350F, the smallest of Honda’s four-cylinder machines. Endicott made it up to second place until the final lap when Dick Fuller and Greg Hornot, both on RDs, passed Endicott late in the race to round out the top three. Incidentally, Endicott and a rider on a Harley-Davidson Sprint, were the only four-stokes in the race.
In the Heavyweight Production class, it was Yvon DuHamel leading from flag to flag on his factory-backed Kawasaki Z1. It was said to be the same motorcycle that shattered the 24-Hour World Record with an average speed of 109.641 mph that March at Daytona International Speedway. Steve McLaughlin, on another Z1, badly botched the start, but sped rapidly from the back of the field to finish second. Reg Pridmore raced his BMW R90S to third. Several riders in this first race, like Pridmore, McLaughlin and Cook Neilson, would later become stars of the series when AMA Superbike began in earnest three years later.
Many people don’t recall this event, but the Pocono (PA) Road Race National also featured a Production race in August of ’73 and it was DuHamel winning again, this time on a Kawasaki H2, a 750cc two-stroke Triple over the BMW of Pridmore and Hurley Wilvert third on a Z1. It marked the only time a two-stroke would win an overall in an AMA Heavyweight Production race.
The Production race returned to Laguna Seca again in 1974 and this time the race actually made the cover of Cycle News, with a photo by associate editor John Ulrich, showing McLaughlin, DuHamel and Pridmore battling for the lead.
In ’74 McLaughlin didn’t make the same mistake he had the year before and got a great start and put his Kawasaki Z1 to the lead with DuHamel (Yoshimura Kawasaki Z1) and Pridmore (BMW R90S) in hot pursuit. The trio had a great battle going, but McLaughlin and then Pridmore’s machines broke clearing the path for a second-consecutive DuHamel victory. In the Lightweight Production division that year, another future Superbike star named Wes Cooley, took the win.
The season-ending road race national at Ontario in October of 1974 also featured a production race where Reg Pridmore finally broke Kawasaki’s domination by riding his Beemer to victory over the Kawis of Steve McLaughlin and Yvon DuHamel.
Momentum in the class was building, driven in large part to the prominence Production racing was getting from Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling’s excellent coverage in the pages of Cycle magazine, by far the biggest voice in the sport at that point with a circulation of nearly a half-million.
In 1975 the handwriting was on the wall that Production racing would become a national championship class when Daytona picked up the event for Bike Week.
At Daytona Production racing was split into three classes for the first time and West Coast racers dominated all three categories. David Aldana put Z1 back atop the podium once again by taking the overall victory in the 10-lap sprint aboard his Yoshimura Kawasaki. It was a clean sweep for Kawasaki at Daytona, with Bob Endicott scoring second on his Action Fours Kawasaki and Yvon DuHamel third on another Yoshimura Kawasaki. Interestingly, Rodney Pink took fifth aboard a Harley Sportster 1000cc. Cook Neilson topped the 750cc class and Bob Tigert the Lightweight division.
DuHamel proved to be the king of pre-national Superbike racing, winning the ’75 Laguna Open Production race, this time on a Dale Starr Engineering Kawasaki Z1 ahead of the BMWs of Ron Pierce and Gary Fisher. Interestingly, Dale Singleton, better known for his prowess on Yamaha TZs, won the 750cc class on a Triumph. Loren McCreary took the victory in the Lightweight class.
By 1976 the Superbike name was used for the first time, as the Superbike Production class ran at all four AMA Road Race Nationals that season and the new championship was off and running.