Back in the day, the All Japan 500cc Championship at Tsukuba

500 GP bikes may have been scary but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Posted: 24 June 2011
by Niall Mackenzie


This ‘you tube’ gem sent to me recently brought back some funny memories from the scary but incredibly exciting days of 500cc two stroke racing. This particular race was the final round of the All Japan 500cc Championship at Tsukuba Circuit where I enjoyed a head to head battle with national hero Tadahiko Taira. Yamaha’s favourite son at the time, ‘tie wrap’ as we liked to call him, was taller and better looking than most Japanese riders (maybe a war baby?) and went on to win nearly everything in Japan during his career. He also won the 1986 San Marino 250cc Grand Prix and qualified on pole for the 1989 500GP at Suzuka.

I had performed well in the 500cc GPs that year and although I only finished 6th overall in the World Championship I got to 3rd in the rankings at one point before suffering three DNFs while battling for podium positions.

Anyway, Honda used to wheel me out now and again to stop Yamaha dominating the national scene, so after qualifying on pole I dealt with Taira then took off into the distance having some fun along the way. Unfortunately the gremlins that hampered Wayne Gardner and me that year returned and the crankshaft somehow bored a hole in the engine casing leaking oil onto the rear tyre. A few skids Iater, I had to park my gorgeous NSR and that was that. Later that night I was sacked by HRC (they gave me a nice watch though!) to make way for Eddie Lawson and Mick Doohan. My tears soon dried up however, as Giacomo Agostini called a few hours later and offered me a ridiculous amount of money to ride for Marlboro Yamaha the following year.

I love the video clip as it shows a national championship for full 500cc factory machines back in a day when money was no object for all the Japanese manufaturers. The teams had diverse sponsors like Nescafe and Ladies fashion houses but with mad Japanese riders high siding all over the place I'm sure the cash was soon swallowed up.

Back then the bikes only weighed 115kg (a superbike minus the engine) but delivered around 150bhp so everyone got flicked skywards on a regular basis. Top speeds were also nudging 200mph so fingers were normally covering clutches at circuits like Hockenheim, just in case the crew chief had made a mistake with the jetting.  I didn’t suffer too many injuries, however, many riders of my era including world champions Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz and Mick Doohan did, and were forced out of racing while still very much their prime. Magical times indeed and I wouldn’t swap them for the world.    

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Thats very cool. Never mind the lack of comments as some indicator of popularity, its greatly appreciated such posts.

Fancy being dropped for Mick Doohan and Lawson. Honda were the losers I suppose. What'd they ever do? Was the watch some sort of cruel Japanese humour, hinting at not good enough lap times? Glad to see you got another gig.

Everyone misses the 500's.

Posted: 27/06/2011 at 08:42

Nice dig at people for not noticing this post by Mackenzie there....

I'd be devastated at being sacked in favour of those 2 no hoping colonials.... ;)

Imagine getting a call and the voice at the end of the line saying "this is Giacomo Agostini"......how much has THAT gotta rock. I think we all mourn the passing of the 500's...but, progress is progress.

Posted: 29/06/2011 at 13:41

I remember wishing the GP's were on tv back then , always had to look on ceefax to see the results . I'd slump off dejected because Niall hadn't won . And then the 89' British GP and He took the lead , it was brilliant , ended up 4th , great day though , good memories when GP bikes were scarey not dull like these things they ride now.

Posted: 30/06/2011 at 21:29

Not dull like these things now? Well its the doctrine to get on board with. But I dont buy it. As Pagik says, its progress, and I dont call watching that sideways slide into corners boring at all. I miss the 500s too, but I couldnt deny the riders that extra safety of the electronics. It might make good TV to see the big highsides, but its like enjoying watching a christian being eaten by a lion, cool, but a little bit sicko.

Posted: 04/07/2011 at 01:03

Quote:[was taller and better looking than most Japanese riders (maybe a war baby?)]

WOW! What a racist remark! If you were to make those types of remarks about a black individual you could just feel the trickle of urine running down everyone's legs. Not to mention letters from the NAACP reminding you that it's 2011 and reprimanding your insensitive comments. But I'm guessing the Asian community isn't afforded the same consideration. Bigot.

Posted: 24/08/2011 at 15:31

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