Eddie Lawson

With all deliberate speed

By Dean Adams

And therein might lie one of the most important factors in growing a world championship racer: finding a comfort level in the madness, finding the faith to believe that nothing bad can happen to you while sliding a motorcycle sideways at 110 mph with an Armco fence 18 inches off your back wheel. Serious racers never lose the inherent faith of a 15-year-old. In fact, that faith is nurtured and used as a building block for success.

Lawson was able--or was taught--to develop a riding style that led to victory. It relied on natural talent allied with the unflinching courage of youth, the capacity to learn the game of racing and a circumspect approach stemming from a childhood desire for the riding to never end, influenced by the knowledge that if he fell, chances were he was done for the day or the weekend.

At times, though, Lawson found his hard-learned caution completely overwhelmed by the sheer pragmatic need to win. In the mid-to-late '70s, the future world champion came frighteningly close to quitting racing because of finances--or a lack of them, to be exact. "You'd just wonder how you were going to keep going," Lawson says. "I'd go and borrow money from my grandparents for gas and an entry fee so I could race, and know that if I didn't win some money, there wasn't gas to get back."

Adventure is often discomfort remembered. Lawson shared a van with Wayne Rainey on some of those no-money trips to far-off racetracks, the pair of future world champions having the time of their lives, racing for a living until the money ran out. When one of their trips ended, the pair had only 20 cents between them and had to wire home for money so they could return. "Wayne and I paid our dues more than most people," Lawson says. "These kids today, it's just mind-boggling to me that they have transporters at 15 years old." But the costs of racing were not limited to the financial. It's startling to read grid sheets from the days when Lawson raced AMA Grand National dirttrack and realize how many of the riders are now dead, killed in racing crashes. Lawson himself suffered a ghastly crash on a 250 at Riverside that dislocated his hip and came very close to ending his career.

Still, Lawson retired without a limp and with all his fingers intact, even though he raced both domestically and internationally in what was arguably the most dangerous period in modern motorcycle racing. Rainey is in a wheelchair, five-time 500 GP world champion Mick Doohan limps like a peg-leg pirate, and one-time world-champ Kevin Schwantz's wrist X-rays ought to be on file at a medical museum of horrors. Like the Rolling Stones, who survived the drug-addled '70s largely intact even as their entourage dropped like flies, Lawson left racing on his own terms and under his own power because of what he learned when he was 12 years old: find the limit and respect it. He watches MotoGP racing on television these days and is thankful he rode GP bikes when they put out "only" 180 horsepower. "I look at those things now," he says, "and go, `Man, I'm glad I'm not doing that.' It's fun to watch, but...no thanks."

Lawson still races--he's still breathing, after all. He's a huge talent in shifter kart racing on the West Coast. But he admits the days of stuffing another competitor for a position and stepping gingerly over the edge in order to win a trophy are behind him.

"It's a blast," Lawson says of his Yamaha-powered kart. "It's fun to try and find a good setup and then go do some fast laps. It's actually pretty intense--we go as fast as a GTS car at Laguna Seca and lap as fast as the World Superbike motorcycles." But at the same time, this is racing for fun, as opposed to racing for a world championship. "I suppose you could call it racing, but it's really just a good time," Lawson says. "It's not racing as I knew it. This is a bunch of us getting together on the weekend and having some fun in our karts."

Having some fun. To mere mortals, fun means pretty much just that. But to Eddie Lawson, having some fun translates into winning races. And winning is what he's still doing, four decades later.

The great fiery furnace within Lawson still burns brightly.

By Dean Adams
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!

*Please enter your username

*Please enter your password

*Please enter your comments
Not Registered?Signup Here
(1024 character limit)
  • Motorcyclist Online