In 1954 Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura started the company “Yoshimura” in Japan. Pops was trained as an airplane mechanic during the war and afterward made quite a reputation working on the BSA’s and Triumph’s of service men stationed in Japan. Pops had quite a talent at modifying existing parts to make more power. Although Pops worked on planes, cars, and all manner of other combustion engine powered vehicles, motorcycles were his first love.
Soon, Pops developed a large and well-earned reputation for building power. Customers flocked to Yoshimura looking for a competitive edge and Yoshimura delivered it. The company prospered but Pops wanted more.
Pops had long been fascinated by the fabled Daytona 200 and its high-banked circuit. He established racing there as a goal and sure enough – soon was making the trek to the USA and Florida in particular. In 1971 Pops added to Yoshimura Japan by opening a shop in North Hollywood. Yoshimura Research and Development of America, Inc. was born and Pops pulled out all the stops.
Then in 1976, the first official AMA Superbike series was established and the first race was… Daytona. As the 200 was reserved for two-stroke 500s in that era, this was a great chance for Pops to race Daytona and hopefully… win!
Initial Yoshimura efforts were with Kawasaki motorcycles and a young rider named Wes Cooley. Wes had an exciting riding style that was very much in tune with the emerging sport. However, instead of the standard riding style of proper corner approach, apex, and exit… Wes and Pops had a new play-book that would set the Café racers of that era down the path of the Dodo bird.
Wes would come flying into corners more or less out of control,back the big Yoshimura KZ1000 in with tire smoking, scrub off some speed as he slid right through the apex, and then, hammer the brutal power of Pops’s engine to the stops. The Kawasaki was long on power but short on handling, but Wes rode the wheels off of that thing. The crowd was amazed by the incredible exhibition of riding (and tire smoking power) but at the end of the day…Pops didn’t win. Fourth was as good as it got for the Yoshimura team in ‘76… but a seed was planted.
In 1977 much the same occurred at Daytona. Yoshimura moved one step closer to victory. Yoshimura and Wes scored a trip to the podium with a fine third place finish.
In 1978, what would prove to be a long relationship formed with Suzuki. Yoshimura switched over to that brand and the results were immediate. The new Suzukis made massive power and… they also had a chassis that handled! Pops knew that the competition was in serious trouble and he was right. Steve McLaughlin won the Daytona Superbike race for Suzuki on a Yoshimura built GS1000.
In ‘79, Yoshimura got out the broom! Team Yoshimura racers Ron Pierce, Wes Cooley and Dave Emde finished one-two-three at Daytona. This incredible victory was the first time a team swept the podium in an AMA Superbike race. It was just the start of things to come. From 1978 through 1981, Yoshimura and Suzuki won four straight Daytona Superbike races. This had never been done before and the legend continued to grow. In the meantime, Wes was on fire in the series and won the 1979 and 1980 AMA Superbike titles… the Yoshimura legend was being carved out one win at a time.
Yoshimura’s innovative “hands-on” engine building techniques, relentless work ethic, and racing success quickly built an even larger following. All of this was going on while the top Japanese manufacturers proliferated lightweight, high-powered new motorcycles. Sometimes timing is everything, and Yoshimura is proof. Pops came along at a salient point in the beginning of Superbikes and performed. The hard work paid off and the company was growing.
After Pops went home to Japan in 1981, Yoshimura R&D of America’s business grew even more and the racing was awesome. During this time some great riders rode for our brand. Riders like:
Dave Aldana, Steve Crevier, Miguel Duhamel, Dave Emde, Scott Gray, Jamie Hacking, Donald Jacks, Jamie James, Tom Kipp, Britt Turkington, Fred Merkel, Pascal Picotte, Ron Pierce, Doug Polen, Jason Pridmore, Steve Rapp, Scott Russell, Dave Sidowski, Kevin Schwantz, Jay Springsteen, Thomas Stevens, and many others.
It was the beginning of a huge career for Schwantz and marked a transitional period for Yoshimura. The company was changing from a small race shop to a powerhouse in the motorcycle aftermarket exhaust business.
1988 saw Doug Polen win both the 600cc and 750cc Super Sport titles. 1989 had Jamie James win the Superbike title and the 750 Super Sport gold. In 1993 Britt Turkington claimed the 750cc Supersport crown as did Tom Kipp the following year in 1994. Aaron Yates came along in 1996 and power-slid his way to the 750cc Super Sport title while “The Joker” Steve Crevier bagged the 600 Super Sport #1 in 1998.
While not getting the Superbike titles that Yoshimura hoped for, numerous Supersport titles, and Superbike race wins kept the spirit alive. In the meantime the business was incrementally growing all the time. The small North Hollywood shop was replaced by a bigger facility in Chino, California.
It was in this time period that Pops became ill and Fujio headed back to Japan to take care of the business and his family. Suehiro “Nabe” Watanabe (who had risen through the ranks as a race mechanic) took over the reins here in the USA and the company moved forward.
During this Era, no other rider epitomized the Yoshimura spirit as much as Kevin Schwantz. Yoshimura signed Kevin at the end of 1984 and in his first race for the team, won both races at the 1985 AMA Willow Springs National!
The following year he finished second to Eddie Lawson at the Daytona 200. Injuries plagued Kevin for much of the remainder of the ’96 season, but it was clear that Kevin had something special. In spite of winning numerous races in the 1987 season, Kevin finished runner up to Wayne Rainy for the 1987 Superbike title. But, Yoshimura and Schwantz won the prestigious Daytona 200 in 1988. Winning the 200 was a sweet moment for the company and for Kevin.
With all this growth, the block of buildings in Chino no longer was big enough and the company moved to a new Chino facility. Today again, Yoshimura is comprised of three separate buildings – but they were all built from the ground up by us. The main building is the manufacturing facility, which houses all of the exhaust pipe production and warehouse. Building two is our race shop, which houses all of our various racing teams and performance labs. The last building is our R&D facility where all of our production research and development occurs.
During this growth period Yoshimura added young Texan Ben Spies to the team. He put his time in learning from his more experienced teammate and in 2006 wrestled the title away from Mat who finished second. Ben won again, (by one point), over Mat in 2007, and then once more in 2008.
Yoshimura continued to grow, adding people and infrastructure. The once tiny race shop was now a state-of-the-art facility with multiple dyno rooms, tube benders, and all manner of race-oriented equipment.
1996 was an interesting season for Yoshimura with the addition of a brash young Aussie named Mat Mladin. After a pretty good season, Mat left for the Ducati team and then in 1998, he returned to Yoshimura. As it turned out, this was the beginning of a great relationship.
In ’98 Mat finished third in the Championship chase but he was just warming up. 1999 saw the first of an incredible run of Seven AMA National Superbike Championships. No one else has more than three titles. No one else has as many race wins, 82 total, and no one else has as many pole positions. To put it clearly, Mladin has dominated the American Superbike scene for quite some time.
From a business perspective, Nabe created growth at a rapid rate. As it turned out the skills Nabe learned as a race mechanic/engine builder translated well into running a business. Nabe’s manufacturing skills are legendary and he provided the leadership and vision to re-define what a pipe manufacturing company was capable of doing. Like Mladin did in racing, Nabe accomplished in manufacturing. The same dedication to being the best permeates Yoshimura both on the track and at work. The results speak for themselves.
Since Mat joined the team in 1998, Yoshimura Suzuki’s have won the AMA Superbike title in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Not a bad record for sure.
In the business end of things, Nabe has stepped down from running the company and is devoting his time to supervising the R&D efforts. Race mechanic turned Team Manager Don Sakakura has been elevated to “President” of Yoshimura R&D of America and is guiding the company into new and exciting times.
The one constant at Yoshimura that always stays the same whether here in the USA or at Yoshimura Japan… is the love of racing. The same passion that Pops had 55 years ago to race and win at Daytona; the same determination from Fujio to win the Suzuka 8 hours; and the same effort put in by Nabe and Don in winning the AMA Superbike titles is what Yoshimura is all about.