Book Review | Lean, Mean and Lime Green: Volumes 1 & 2

Cycle News Staff | August 19, 2020

Book Review

Lean, Mean and Lime Green: Volumes 1 & 2

The whole story of Kawasaki’s earliest racing years is in these two books, written by Randy Hall, the man who was always at the heart of the action, whether on the racetrack or behind the scenes.

Lean, Mean and Lime Green: Volumes 1 & 2

More than any other Japanese manufacturer, Kawasaki has traditionally gone racing with the bikes its dealers sold in their showrooms—even its three-cylinder H1R, the first two-stroke to challenge the Agostini/MV Agusta duo for 500 GP victories, was based on its H1 street bike. And nowhere was that more important than in the USA, where throughout the ’70s and ’80s Kawasaki’s U.S. affiliate KMC reaped a rich harvest of AMA Championship titles and race wins with bikes derived from its customer lineup.

The man ultimately responsible for fronting this operation was Randy Hall, a South Dakota dirt-tracker who, after spending a year in Europe following GP road racing’s Continental Circus in wrenching his British privateer mate Rod Gould to the 1970 World 250 GP title with a Yamaha, was hired on his return Stateside as KMC’s first Racing Team Manager. In a 17-year career with Kawasaki, Hall held this post for 13 years, combined with his role as Advanced Engineering Manager in the firm’s R&D Center in Southern California, KMC having recruited Gary Mather to take over running the superbike team from him.

Lean, Mean and Lime Green Volumes 1 (The Two-Stroke Years) & 2 (The U.S. Superbike Years)

By Randy Hall

Published by BRG Multimedia Ltd.

Hall was charged with creating Kawasaki’s official AMA road racing team from the ground up, initially in conjunction with Team Hansen, later on his own. He was thus directly responsible for hiring such standout stars down the years as Yvon Duhamel, Gary Nixon, Eddie Lawson and Freddie Spencer to ride the lean, mean, Lime Green machines KMC developed in conjunction with the parent KHI R&D team in Japan. In these two separate companion volumes—the first dealing with the two-strokes, the second with KMC’s superbike years from 1978 onwards, with just a brief look at KMC’s off-road activities—Randy tells the inside story of how it all happened in a clear, concise but very readable way, complete with numerous tantalizing titbits and slivers of data that only an insider can impart.

So he confirms the rumor that the Kawasaki Z1, code-named the “New York Steak” within Kawasaki, was originally supposed to be a 750cc motorcycle, until Honda came out first with the four-cylinder SOHC CB750, after which Kawasaki redesigned it to be a DOHC 900cc model, thus raising the bar to be the biggest and best. He details development of the variable-rate Uni-Trak rear suspension on the tandem-twin KR250, and modestly recounts how a frame he designed himself in his spare time successfully combated the wayward handling of the original H2-R, which produced too much power for its Japanese-made chassis to handle. He also tells the story of the famed Kawasaki refrigerator, an iconic soft-drinks cabinet that became part of So Cal racing legend. Wait until you see the photo of it to understand why!

He details many rider idiosyncrasies, like Yvon Duhamel always insisting that white workshop rags be wrapped round his footrests, gearlever and rear-brake pedal, so that if oil got on them it’d stop his feet from slipping. And just like Agostini on his MVs, Yvon wanted colored friction tape wrapped round his brake and clutch levers for better grip. Dave Aldana gets a five-star rating as a backup rider to Eddie Lawson, and Randy reveals Dave’s passion for breeding and racing pigeons as a get-away-from-it-all hobby. Lawson comes over as the rider he most enjoyed working with, a consummate pro who just loved racing motorcycles, and pushed hard for his friend Wayne Rainey to be selected to replace him when he moved on to 500 GP racing with Yamaha, with positive results.

There are heaps of great Duhamel stories, another rider Hall evidently relished working with, but Mike Baldwin appears as a source of frustration, as a “very driven rider who thought going at 110% all the time was the only way to race, and had trouble accepting that to win the championship you didn’t need to win all the races.”

Hall is also the man who gave Freddie Spencer his first rides on a factory Japanese motorcycle, when he hired him to race the KZ1000 Superbike in 1979 after Baldwin was badly injured at Loudon. Fast Freddie won both his races on a Kawasaki, the first time he’d raced a four-cylinder Superbike—only for management changes at KMC to allow him to slip through their hands, after Honda reacted faster and signed him up for the long-term. 1980s road racing history would have been very different if Kawasaki had been quicker on the draw!

Hall’s inside story of Kawasaki’s rider relations is matched by his in-depth development story of the superbikes that won the AMA title in 1981/’82 with Lawson and 1983 with Rainey. The detailed numbers are all there, too: You don’t have to be a flow engineer to appreciate the stories Hall recounts of how Jerry Branch transformed the KZ1000 cylinder head, or how the array of exhaust pipes from Yoshimura, Kerker, Bassani and Formula One car racer Dan Gurney through painstaking testing produced the effective Kerker design they ended up using.

These books are packed with fascinating facts and insider detail in a way that has never yet been available for any Japanese manufacturer’s race team, and we can only hope that one day someone else does the same for the other three J-majors, or indeed, Ducati. Anyone remotely interested in road racing during this era, American or otherwise, Kawasaki fan or not, will relish reading both these books for the fascinating behind-the-scenes insight they impart on how to go racing successfully—with focused passion. The whole story of Kawasaki’s earliest racing years is here, written by the man who was always at the heart of the action, whether on the racetrack or behind the scenes. CN


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