CATCHING UP WITH: Eddie Lawson

A conversation with Steady Eddie, four-time 500cc GP world champion, at Yamaha’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Lawson in the Wolf F1 car

Cycle World: I understand you had some fun recently at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, racing an old Wolf Formula 1 car from the 1970s at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. What was that experience like?

Eddie Lawson: "Those cars are a lot of fun. It has a Cosworth V-8. It makes about 500 horsepower and weighs only about 1200 lb. So, yeah, it's good power to weight. It has big tire and a lot of wing. They are a lot of fun. We had close to 40 cars. It was a pretty good turnout. It's called Masters F1. They have a series. They run all over the world, actually. And that was one of their stops."

CW: Do you normally drive in that series?

EL: "I've done a couple of races. We've done a few races here in the States, but I don't follow the entire series. But the team I run with is John Anderson Racing up in Sonoma. He's a nice enough guy to let me run the car now and then. So we are going to run in October at the Masters F1 race at Sears Point. I'm looking forward to that. It's a lot of fun."

CW: Is it a former Jody Scheckter car? And what’s it like driving that thing?

EL: "Yeah, it's a Jody Scheckter car, and it has a lot of G forces. Completely different from the bikes. It's good. There's a lot of lateral Gs, and the braking is so much deeper than the bikes. You know, what you see on the track is the same. There are similar lines, but it's just a completely different experience. There is so much corner speed."

CW: How did you finish?

EL: "We were running third out of the 37 cars that had lined up for the main event. I was running third all the way to the last lap and then the ignition gave up on it. But we ran at Barber, and we won that race. We're hanging in there. We're doing pretty good."

Eddie Lawson at Yamaha 60th Anniversary Event

CW: I remember seeing you many years ago dominating the Celebrity Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and thinking, “Wow, Lawson really has some serious skill on four wheels.” Ever wish you had started racing on four wheels instead of two?

EL: "Thank you. I never really thought about cars at all. They never really interested me at until I retired from bikes. A friend of mine had an Indy Lights car and he was running that team. He said, 'Would you like to give it a go?' And I got in the car, and I drove it, and I just said, 'Oh man, this is the greatest thing I've ever done. This is so much fun.' We were pretty competitive right away. In my second year, we won a race in Cleveland.

“The problem with car racing is that you really need a competitive car. And good sponsorship. That was difficult. But yeah, I really enjoy it. If I hadn’t chosen bikes, and knowing now what I know now, I wish maybe I had gone that route. I would love to have driven an F1 car, that’s for sure.”

CW: What’s it like going around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in a Wolf F1 car versus one of your Grand Prix Yamahas?

EL: "On the bike, of course, everyone knows that the Gs are kind of straight down and straight on the tires. In the car, it's such a big lateral G force. It's so hard on your neck. That's the one thing that people don't realize. The lateral Gs are so strong. Especially when you have such big wide tires and a lot of wing. I don't think a lot of people understand. They watch a car go around a track, and they think, 'Yeah, I could just get in there and do it so easily.'

“Your tendency is to say, ‘Okay, this corner is fourth gear, flat.’ Well, the car will do it in fourth gear, flat. It’s getting your brain and your foot to do it. The first few laps, I’d just lift out. You just think, ‘No, this thing is going to break away.’ And it’s really a scary sensation.”

1986 YZR500 OW81 static 3/4 view

CW: Is Turn 1 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca an example of that?

EL: "Turn 1 is not too bad. It's a little bit hairy your first couple of laps. But then you just keep it flat. But coming down Rainey Curve, for instance, or Turn 6, these things will do it flat if you have the_ cojones_ to do it. And that's where your foot has the tendency to come off the throttle. What's funny is this: You'll say, 'Oh, I did that flat.' But then the guys will show you the telemetry trace and say, 'No, you didn't.'"

CW: How do you like your car set up? Do you like it to understeer a little bit? Or be a little loose?

EL: "Entry, I like them not loose. That's a little hairy for me. Some guys can drive them a tiny bit loose; I can't do that. I have to have just a tiny bit of understeer. Just a tiny bit on the entry. And if the car is really hooked up in the rear, then I can just go."

CW: How do you feel about the current state of MotoGP racing?

EL: "I enjoy it. I wish there weren't so many controls. Wheelie control, traction control. All the controls. But that's the way it is, and that's how it's going to be. So I just have to accept it. I'm old school. I'm just an old fart."

CW: How old are you?

EL: "Old. Fifty-seven. Yeah, that's how it's going to be and I need to get over it. It just seems that if the riders would just ride the bikes instead of all these electronics, it would be a lot less cost for the factories. But that's just the way life is going to be. I guess the upside of it is this: Streetbikes are so much better with all these electronics on them. The trickle-down effect is a good thing."

CW: Any particular riders you enjoy watching?

EL: "I like watching them all. But I like Marc Marquez."

F1 action.

Eddie Lawson in the Wolf F1 car.John Lamm

Eddie Lawson.

Eddie Lawson at Yamaha 60th Anniversary event.Andrew Bornhop

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1986 YZR500 OW81.Andrew Bornhop

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1986 YZR500 OW81.Andrew Bornhop

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1986 YZR500 OW81.Andrew Bornhop

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1986 YZR500 OW81.Andrew Bornhop

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1986 YZR500 OW81.Andrew Bornhop

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1986 YZR500 OW81.Andrew Bornhop

Eddie Lawson.

Eddie Lawson at Yamaha 60th Anniversary event.Andrew Bornhop

Yamaha 60th Anniversary Event #1

Lawson and his peers.Andrew Bornhop

Yamaha 60th Anniversary Event #2

All the riders who were just added to Yamaha?s Wall of Champions.Andrew Bornhop

Yamaha 60th Anniversary Event #3

Lawson being interviewed.Andrew Bornhop