Pop's energy and passion brought the All-Japan Motorcycle Clubman Race to Gannosu. Kyushu riders went on to win the Suzuka 18 Hour Endurance Race.
Gannosu 1965: From the Local to the National
Thanks to Pop's relentless efforts, the 5th All-Japan Motorcycle Clubman Race was held on the 14th and 15th of July 1962 at the Gannosu Air Station.
Tens of thousands came to watch the 5th All-Japan Motorcycle Clubman Race, which was the first major motorcycle race in Kyushu Island. It was more like a festival. Motorcycles and racing were new to many of them.
The race was organized by MCFAJ (Motorcycle Club Federation of All-Japan) and KTA (Kyushu Timing Association), which meant that Pop was in charge of the administration of the race. The race was sponsored by Shell and Motorcyclist magazine (published by Yaesu Publishing, which was run by MCFAJ Chairman Fumito Sakai).
Domestic motorcycle manufacturers had been following the racing events at Gannosu with interest for some time. Following Honda's first Isle of Man TT challenge in 1959, other Japanese manufacturers such as Yamaha and Suzuki entered the World GP scene in order to enhance their prestige. Meanwhile, the top domestic race at that time was held on the volcanic-ash track of Asama. There was a great need for paved race tracks in Japan.
A KTA staff member holds up a pit sign for a racer who accelerates down the Gannosu's back straight, passing aircraft hangers and other base facilities on his left.
The 3rd and 4th All-Japan Motorcycle Clubman Race were held on paved surfaces –––– the 3rd at Utsunomiya Airfield and the 4th at Johnson Air Base (now JASDF Iruma Air Base) –––– but, they were a far cry from a real road race due to their simple course layouts. KTA races at Ashiya Air Base were much the same.
Gannosu, on the other hand, had a long straight section of over 1000 meters and 90-degree corners with two-third of the course on tarmac. The advantage of Gannosu race course as well as the quickness of the Yoshimura-CBs on it had lately been attracting a great deal of factory attention.
Gannosu had 3 long straights and the game was simple. You just need to go faster, hit the late apex and accelerate quicker to win. Both powerful engine and lightened chassis were the assets of the Yoshimura-CBs.
A Honda CR93 production racer (#27) at Gannosu. Diverse production racers began to enter race events at Gannosu since the 5th All-Japan Motorcycle Clubman Race and since then Honda began to supply CR72/77s to Yoshimura.
The 5th All-Japan Motorcycle Clubman Race was consisted of the novice Clubman Race (50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and over-500cc) and the national-level Championship Race (50cc, 125cc and 250cc) which invited the top 5 finishers of the Clubman Race. For the Clubman Race the numbers of entries were: 28 for the 50cc, 39 for the 125cc, 39 for the 250cc, 24 for 350cc and 9 for the over-500cc. And for the Championship Race: 13 for the 50cc, 17 for the 125cc and 11 for the 250cc. A total of 173 bikes entered the qualifying on Saturday and races on Sunday.
In addition to the KTA members (both American and Japanese) and other privateers based in Kyushu, though there was no "official" factory team, makers including Honda, Yamaha, Tohatsu, Colleda (Suzuki) and some foreign makes (represented by import dealers such as Balcom Motors) entered a substantial number of factory/factory-support machines ridden by contracted riders in the race.
Unofficial works and semi-works traveled to Gannosu to participate in the race. Shown here is the Tohatsu works team. Yamaha works machines were hidden under tarps.
Honda brought production racers such as 50cc CR110 Cub Racing and 125cc CR93 Benly Racing. Yamaha entered 250 TD1 racing prototypes instead of modified YDSs, as part of their strategy to beat the CB72s. The TD1 prototypes were always hidden under tarps when not running and were sent back to the local Yamaha dealer as soon as they finished the day's leg.
A KTA member Junzo Nagasue going wide open throttle on a Yoshimura-tuned CB77. A spectator on a roadside tree watches him pass by.
The Clubman Race was dominated by works machines and the podiums were filled by the later celebrated riders/drivers such as Nobukazu Otsuki (on Honda, later joined the Yamaha factory), Ken Araoka (on Tohatsu, later joined the Suzuki factory), Tetsu Ikuzawa (on Tohatsu, later became a Formula 2 Team Manager), Shigeyoshi Mimuro (on Yamaha, later joined the Yamaha factory) and Yoshimi Katayama (on Yamaha, later became a Mazda factory driver).
Factory 2-stroke riders took the top 4 places in the Clubman Race: 1st - Mimuro/Yamaha, 2nd - Katayama/Yamaha, 3rd - Kukidome/Yamaha and 4th - Araoka/Tohatsu. Fukuoka Honda CB72 rider Kiyoshi Kamogawa (at right) of KTA took the 5th place.
Although Kiyoshi Kamogawa and Akira Matsumoto from KTA stepped on a podium, the performance gap between national and local was apparent. Pop himself entered the over-500cc class on a Yoshimura-BSA and crashed while leading the race. Due to his temperament, he stopped riding in road races after that.
Still, the race was successful as more than 20,000 spectators came to watch the race and it drew attention of the factory to Pop Yoshimura.
In September following the race at Gannosu, the nation's first all-paved closed race course opened in Suzuka, and in November, the 1st MFJ (Motorcycle Federation of Japan) All Japan Road Race Championship was held there as the opening event. In 1963, the Suzuka Circuit hosted the first Japanese Motorcycle Grand Prix, in which Yoshimura rider Kuniomi Nagamatsu with the support of Pop entered the GP125 class on a Honda RC145 DOHC 8-valve parallel twin factory racer (the machine that won all 1962 GP's) and finished in 7th place.
Nagamatsu then took 5th place in both GP50 and GP350 in 1964 (he entered 1965 GP350 on a Yoshimura-CB77 but retired from the race). The success of a "Gannosu rider" in the World GP proved that Pop had a discerning eye for discovering talents. Sometime during these years, Pop rode his BSA all the way from Kyushu to Suzuka to visit Nagamatsu and Koutake at Kenjiro TanakaÅfs racing school. It was a long, rough ride on partially unpaved roads (he did not have a license to drive a car) but later he recalled the trip as "fun".
Ex-GP racer Kenjiro Tanaka was also from Fukuoka, Kyushu. He had worked his way up from an Auto Race (gamble motorcycle racing) rider to become a Honda factory rider for the 1960 World GP and then was put in charge of the Honda-sponsored racing school. Pop had been asking Tanaka to look after the Gannosu riders and Tanaka in turn had accepted Nagamatsu and Koutake.
On the 20th and 21st of July 1963, the Gannosu Air Station hosted the 1st Kyushu Road Race which was, unlike the previous year's Clubman Race, an event organized by KTA and local MFJ branches for local Kyushu riders. Pop had a vital role as the Chief Official of the race, and the Gannosu riders –––– including Yoshimura's Koutake, Nagamatsu and Kuradome, and Fukuoka Honda's Matsumoto –––– swept the podium.
Suzuka International Racing Course, also known as Suzuka Circuit, was opened in 1962 as Japan's first fully-paved international race track. Here is a view from the final corner, looking toward the main straight.
Kuniomi Nagamatsu, a proud Kyushu-born Yoshimura-bred rider of the Honda factory team, is here seen on a RC145 in Suzuka, at the first Japanese Motorcycle GP in 1963. Pop was asked by Honda in the same year to tune their production models.
In 1964, the Suzuka Circuit hosted the 18 Hour Endurance Race that became a turning point for Pop and his company. The race started at 20:00 on August 1st and ended at 14:00 the next day. Pop was the team manager of two KTA teams: Yoshimura and Fukuoka Honda. Yoshimura team entered Kuradome, Watanabe and Koutake in the 250cc class riding a CB72. Fukuoka Honda team entered Matsumoto, Ogata and Aoki in the over-251cc class riding a Yoshimura-tuned CB77.
In the Suzuka 18 Hour Endurance Race, both Yoshimura and Fukuoka Honda competed against Honda R&D team. Yoshimura-tuned CBs were quick. After the Yoshimura team retired from the race, the Fukuoka Honda team overtook the Honda R&D team which then retired from the race with engine trouble. Along with Fukuoka Honda riders, Pop stood on the top of the podium as team manager and made Yoshimura's fame national.
Yoshimura team entered a CB72 in the Suzuka 18 Hour Endurance Race. Here he leads the pit-work on the #18 which unfortunately retired from the race later on.
Yoshimura-CB72 coming out of Suzuka's hairpin. The Suzuka 18 Hour Endurance Race was organized by the Motorcycle Federation of Japan and was the predecessor of today's Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race. 14 years later in 1978 at the same location, Yoshimura won the 1st Suzuka 8 Hours.
The winning machine of the 1964 Suzuka 18 Hour was this CB77 of Team Fukuoka Honda. It was also fully tuned by Pop himself.
The 1964 Suzuka 18 Hour was won by Gannosu riders. The crowd cheered wildly as the KTA team manager Pop stood up on the top tier of the podium.
The incredible performance of the Yoshimura-tuned CB72/77s in the Suzuka 18 Hour had made a greater impression upon Honda, which had sent its own GP team staff members to Zasshonokuma in the previous year (1963) to ask for performance tuning service for its Junior-class production machines. Pop happily accepted the commission as a sign of his respect for Soichiro Honda.
At this point Pop was already planning to leave Kyushu and move to Tokyo or to the United States. His business environment was then undergoing a rapid transition
U.S. military bases were closing or shrinking in Kyushu and many of his American customers had either been transferred to bases near Tokyo or returned to the U.S.. He had been delaying the move to help local racers and tune their machines, but the time had finally come. In April 1965, Yoshimura moved to Fussa, Tokyo.
Pop had Nagamatsu enter the 1965 Japan GP with a Yoshimura-CB77. Although the team had to retire from the race, he proved his tuning capabilities.
The Honda-sponsored racing school (known as Kenjiro School) at Suzuka Circuit recruited selected individuals from all over Japan. Back row from right to left: Kuniomi Nagamatsu, Pop, Morisuke Yamashita (later became a Honda factory rider/driver), Fukumi Koutake, Payne (or Paine, from Itazuke AB), Kenjiro Tanaka, Beaver (or Beever, from Itazuke AB). At the right end of the front row is Takashi Matsunaga (killed in '69 Suzuka 12 Hours car race, at a corner which was later named after him). The man between bike #32 and #33 is Masahiro Hasemi (later became a Nissan factory driver).