Laurent Laurent | October 3, 2021
Cycle news Archives
This Cycle news The Archives column is a reprint of the December 5, 2007 issue. CN has hundreds of archive columns passed through our files, too intended to be archives themselves. So, to prevent this from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting old Archives articles while planning to keep new ones coming soon -Editor.
Roberts ruined this man’s career
Former world champion Kenny Roberts is known for many things: he is America’s first 500cc Grand Prix road racing champion, a grand AMA national champion, three-time Daytona 200 winner and owner of the rare Grand Slam. in AMA races. One thing Roberts is considerably less well known for is being the man who ruined Keith Mashburn’s racing career.
Mashburn was the promising young rider of Yamaha’s AMA Grand National in the early 1970s. As a full-time Yamaha employee, Mashburn tested prototype road bikes by day and competed on prototype racing bikes. the weekend. It was a good life for the fast kid from Simi Valley, Calif., But it all ended abruptly when an even younger and unmistakably faster kid from Modesto, Calif. Named Kenny Roberts entered the scene. .
When Roberts joined the ranks of the experts in 1972 and started winning from the start, it became clear where the factory was going to put its main efforts. Mashburn was relegated that year to the factory’s guinea pig pilot, testing and helping to perfect the machines Roberts would eventually win.
Although eclipsed by the new young gun, Mashburn was not entirely unhappy with his situation. He was still racing all over the country and had some great races every now and then, especially if the tracks were rough.
“I knew Kenny was a special talent,” Mashburn said. “But I was loyal to Yamaha. They were the ones who gave me my first big break and I was happy to follow the program.
After Roberts’ impressive season of rookie experts, the teams came to call. If Yamaha were to maintain the best AMA racing prospect for the 1973 season, they were going to have to pay, and pay dearly.
“Kenny had a manager, and no one at the time had a manager,” Mashburn said. “With his talent and a manager, he was able to secure a large chunk of Yamaha’s total racing budget. Yamaha decided to eliminate their existing team and form this new one with Roberts and help Don Castro a bit. discovered that I had lost my trip in Cycle news. I told Yamaha they were crazy to put all of their eggs in one basket, but obviously it turned out to be the best thing they could do. It was amazing how amazingly good Kenny was.
“And, of course, that was the same year that BSA and Triumph stopped having a factory racing team, and I had turned down an offer from Harley a year before, so there was no way to go out and pick up a last … minute ride to the factory.
Mashburn emerged from the nascent TT racing and TT racing scene as a young racer in the mid-1960s. He became a factory-backed Bultaco rider and won numerous District-37 races in various disciplines. He was so good he beat Roger DeCoster, Joel Robert, Dave Bickers and the rest of the European stars in a debut 125cc motocross race at Castaic Park.
“At the time, Cycle News was offering a $ 100 reward to the first American who could beat the Europeans,” Mashburn recalls. “The 125 class really had no respect back then, and they told me they meant it had to be in the 250cc class. So this is one of the claims to fame for which I have never had any credit. “
Yamaha recognized the talent of young Mashburn and hired him to ride his new DT-1 in TT races at Ascot Park, where he may have earned the dubious distinction of becoming the lowest paid factory rider in the world. all the time.
“I was paid $ 20 per race, and they would match the purse up to $ 20,” Mashburn says with a laugh. “So the maximum I could get from Yamaha was $ 40 per race. But I was 18 and I had factory leathers, and all I had to do was show up to the track. They gave me the best tuner in the world in Dennis Mahan.
Mahan and Mashburn’s relationship didn’t start off on the right foot.
“In retrospect, as good a tuner as Dennis was, he was probably a little put off by the fact that he was building bikes for a novice,” says Mashburn. “I told him I wanted a passenger cushion on the rear wing and he said no. I told him that I was the pilot, that he was the mechanic and that I wanted a passenger bag. He said the bike was designed to keep the rider in one place. I told him I wanted a passenger pad and he said, ‘Well you’re not going to ride that bike.’ So I did not have a passenger cushion.
Riding bikes tuned by Mahan, Mashburn was almost unbeatable as a novice. He even beat the experts in the short track program at Daytona.
Yamaha hired Mashburn as an R&D test rider where he worked with Don Dudek. He tested prototypes of Yamaha in the vast desert around Las Vegas to keep things a secret.
“We would come back to the hotel at night and the Japanese engineers would go to the casinos and leave miners like me behind,” Mashburn recalls.
One of the motorcycles Mashburn tested was Yamaha’s first four-stroke, the XS-1, a 650cc vertical twin. In 1970 he drove the XS-1 to its first victory in a Yamaha Gold Cup race at Ascot Park.
“This first racing bike was built from the top down by Ray Hensley of Trackmaster,” said Mashburn. “I never rode the bike until it was delivered to the track by Ray on the night of the event. Shell [Thuet] later, I built a road racing version of the 650, and being Mr. Loyal, I agreed to drive it to Daytona. The motorcycle ripped apart after just a few laps.
Mashburn discovered early on that road racing would never be his forte.
“I used to see how fast I could overcome the quick left hand turn in the infield at Daytona as a guide to how well I was adjusting to road racing. He said. “One day in training I went through this and thought I was really pulling the ass. Now I’m starting to understand this, I thought to myself. Just then Dave Smith walked around me on the outside and tapped me on the shoulder.
Mashburn has scored six top-10 AMA Grand Nationals ending his rookie season, including a podium on the Half Mile in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In another race, a chain broke on his bike during practice and he hit Bart Markel’s back while he was coasting.
“I had heard all the stories about ‘Black Bart’ and his boxing career and what he did to people,” Mashburn said. “I decided to go back to my pits to keep my helmet in case it hits me. I walked the longest with the helmet. I finally took him off and had the courage to go to his stands to explain to him what had happened. He was sitting there and looked at me and said, “If I was going fast enough, you couldn’t have hit me.”
In the end, racing Yamaha’s many prototypes often hurt Mashburn’s results over the next two seasons.
“Whenever Yamaha wanted to test something, I was the first to raise my hand,” he said. “The result was a lot of quitting as Yamaha tried to perfect their new four-stroke against the more established Harley-Davidsons.”
After being abandoned by Yamaha, Mashburn half-heartedly tried to stay in the race in 1973, but when someone offered him decent money for his Triumph racing bike, he jumped on it. It was difficult for Mashburn to race as a private driver after four years as a factory driver.
Mashburn became a fire investigator and was totally removed from motorcycling for over a decade. It was Skip Van Leeuwen who encouraged him to come back and be a part of the sport that had been such a big part of his life. CN