Hurryin’ Harry and the Birth of Superbike Racing – The Rider Files

Harry Klinzmann racing the 1982 Daytona Superbike race

Harry Klinzmann racing the 1982 Daytona Superbike race

Harry Klinzmann on the Racecrafters Kawasaki ELR1000 in the 1982 Daytona Superbike race. Klinzmann was the first rider outside of the factory team to get one of the rare and highly desirable Eddie Lawson Replicas. (All photos from the Harry Klinzmann collection)

Harry Klinzmann was one of the early stars of AMA Superbike racing. The Garden Grove, California, racer was there when Superbikes were transitioning from a modest support class at AMA roadrace nationals to being the next big thing. Mirroring the status of the series, Harry went from riding old-school BMW Superbikes during the Seventies to the then-ultra-modern Kawasaki Z1, a Racecrafters-sponsored Superbike. Such was the impact of the Racecrafters machine that enthusiasts today in Europe have built nearly exact replicas of the Kawasaki as a tribute to the formative days of Superbike racing--Klinzmann’s glory days.

Klinzmann was from a racing family. His father Alfred Klinzmann roadraced a Norton Manx during the Fifties in his native Germany, and encouraged Harry, when he came of age, to get into the sport.

“I started out on dirtbikes and that’s what I wanted to do,” Harry remembers of his teenage years. “I was at Saddleback Park (in Southern California) one day and my dad told me, ‘Harry, if you go roadracing I’ll support you, but if you choose motocross, you’re on your own.’ So I went roadracing.

“I think my dad just didn’t want to get his feet dirty,” Harry added with a laugh.

Klinzmann and his dad and sponsor Alfred

Klinzmann and his dad and sponsor Alfred

Klinzmann and his dad/sponsor Alfred, the owner of Mr. Al’s Restaurant, a hangout for the SoCal racing crowd during Harry’s on-track career.

Harry’s German father owned, of all things, a Mexican restaurant in Costa Mesa. Right down the street from the restaurant was Champion Motorcycles. Whitney Blakeslee and George Roach were mechanics there and were involved in the Southern California roadracing scene. They encouraged Harry’s dad to get him involved in CMC and AFM club racing. Mr. Klinzmann bought Harry a Kawasaki 250cc Triple production bike to race, but when he went to his first race weekend at Riverside in 1972, Wes Cooley’s dad, who ran the organization, told Mr. Klinzmann that his son was too young (at 15) to race.

“So that first weekend, Bruce Hammer raced my bike instead of me,” Harry said. “But it turned out to be great since Bruce really got me into that world and both he and Hurley Wilvert, who was a factory Kawasaki rider at the time, helped me learn the ropes.”

Harry immediately gained a bevy of sponsors and rapidly progressed. He credits his dad and his family’s restaurant for advancing his career. “My dad always invited racing people to free dinners,” Harry said. “He was a good talker and was really behind me and my racing. I think everyone loved to hang out at the restaurant and that was sort of my claim to fame and got me noticed in those early years.”

Harry’s dad Alfred was a leading German road racer after World War II.

Harry’s dad Alfred was a leading German road racer after World War II.

Harry’s dad Alfred was a leading German roadracer after World War II. Here he celebrates victory in Bremen.

In his first race as an expert, in 1977, he finished a solid fourth in the Daytona 250cc Grand Prix behind Steve Baker, Takazumi Katayama and Rich Schlachter. That same year Klinzmann got his first taste of Superbike racing when he ran Laguna and Riverside for San Jose BMW, scoring an excellent fourth at Riverside. At 6-foot-2, Klinzmann seemed better suited for the more powerful and heavier Superbikes. The team was impressed enough with Klinzmann’s debut on the bike they brought him back in ’78. It was a good move. Klinzmann won the September Loudon race (they ran twice there that season) and scored on the podium at Sears Point. He finished the season ranked fourth in the AMA Superbike standings.

“They ran Loudon backward the time I won,” Klinzmann said. “David Emde was on a Vetter Kawasaki and we battled and I got him on the last lap. I was able to catch him late in the race because a seat pin came out on his bike and he was having a hell of a time trying to keep the seat on. I saw that and grabbed the back of his seat and shook it when I came by him.”

Both Klinzmann and Emde desperately tried to get their first Superbike win and even though Klinzmann came out on top, Harry said David was happy for him after the race. “We were the best of friends and even roommates for a time, so we were almost like brothers going at each other,” Klinzmann said.

Klinzmann was set to ride for San Jose BMW again in 1979, but a last minute call from his friend Steve McLaughlin came just a week before Daytona offering him a ride on the Racecrafters Kawasaki. “I told Steve I was set with BMW,” Klinzmann remembers. “But you know Steve. He has a way of convincing you. He said, ‘C’mon Harry! It’s the new Kawasaki. How’s the BMW going to compete?’ So I told him OK, I’d ride for Racecrafters. The guys at San Jose BMW were upset, but Steve was right, it was a great opportunity for me.”

As a teenager Klinzmann started his career racing one of Ron Pierce’s Yamaha TZ250

As a teenager Klinzmann started his career racing one of Ron Pierce’s Yamaha TZ25

As a teenager, Klinzmann started his career racing one of Ron Pierce’s Yamaha TZ250s in Southern California club events.

The Racecrafters Kawasaki was one of the coolest looking bikes on the grid with its distinctive yellow, red and white paint scheme. The Kawasakis were fast too. Legendary builders Bob Endicott and Pierre des Roches did a lot of the work on Klinzmann’s bikes and it was the beginning of a four-year run on the team with Klinzmann. In fact, when race fans of that era think of Harry Klinzmann they immediately think Racecrafters Kawasaki.

Although he scored a slew of top-five finishes on the bike, the closest Klinzmann came to winning an AMA Superbike race on the Racecrafters Kawasaki was taking a close runner-up to Mike Baldwin at Sears Point in 1982. He twice finished ranked inside the top-five in the final standings with the team.

Klinzmann raced about everything in those days--250cc Grand Prix, Formula One and even Battle of the Twins--but he said racing Superbikes was the most fun he had.

“We were a family,” Klinzmann recalls. “We were all best of friends and the East Coast riders stayed with me when they came out West and I stayed with them when I went out there. We’d help each other out if we needed parts. It was an unbelievable time to race.”

Klinzmann finished off his racing career in Battle of the Twins on the stunningly beautiful Mike Krauser BMW in 1984. He scored three podium finishes on that bike and finished fourth in the final BOTT standings.

There’s a Harry Klinzmann fan club in Europe

There’s a Harry Klinzmann fan club in Europe

Such was the impact of Klinzmann and the Racecrafters Kawasaki that there’s now a Harry Klinzmann fan club in Europe. Prized possessions of the members? Racecrafters Kawasaki replicas, of course!

Today Klinzmann lives in the desert neat Palm Springs. He drives a concrete mixer and says Facebook has finally allowed him to catch up with fellow competitors and fans. “I was never into computers at all until my brother got me one and now I’m a Facebook fanatic. I get to talk with old friends like Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson. I’m catching up with people I haven’t seen in 20 years,” Klinzmann said.

The Web has also put Klinzmann in touch with a group of hardcore enthusiast in Europe. “This blew me away,” Harry says with a laugh. “These guys have got their own little Harry Klinzmann Club with members in Scotland, Germany and the UK! They all have Racecrafters Kawasaki replicas. I sent them some old posters and they’re going to enter the bikes in some bike shows next year with the posters as part of the display. They’re even getting Harry Klinzmann T-shirts made up. So there are guys riding around in Europe on bikes that look just like my old racebike and they get in touch with me with questions. It’s great!”

--Larry Lawrence, The Rider Files