Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura started the company “Yoshimura”, fifty-five years ago in Japan. Pops was trained as an airplane mechanic during the war and afterward made quite a reputation working on the BSAs and Triumphs 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 Los Angeles. 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 move done 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.
In 1981, Pops went back home to Japan placing son Fujio Yoshimura here to take Yoshimura R&D of America to the next level. Through the late 70’s and early 80’s, Fujio’s creative foresight and innovative design helped Yoshimura R&D of America Inc. to become a leader in the art and science of sportbike performance technology.
Pops meanwhile concentrated on growing Yoshimura Japan, but would still come out for Daytona every year. In his later years, Pops enjoyed his success and accomplishments – but he never lost the passion to create performance and win races. Pops passed away in 1995, but his legacy will live forever in the history of Superbike racing.
Senior Vice President, Don Sakakura, has been running the racing efforts for many years now. Starting as a mechanic, Don rose through the ranks to the level where today he is running one of the largest racing efforts in America. Don oversees the day to day operation of the Team Yoshimura Suzuki Road Race Team with riders Mladin, Hayden, and Young. Don also oversees Yoshimura’s motocross and supercross collaboration with Team Suzuki, Team Honda support, Team Rockstar Suzuki and Team 199 with rider Travis Pastrana. Don has been instrumental in the many championships that Yoshimura has won over the years and there are many more to be won on the horizon.
When Pops decided to retire, Fujio headed back home to run Yoshimura Japan. In his place, Suehiro Watanabe, or “Nabe”, became the head of Yoshimura R&D of America. Nabe was not only an accomplished mechanic but he had an intuitive understanding of the manufacturing process. He has developed many new manufacturing techniques, which have helped put Yoshimura at the forefront of the aftermarket exhaust industry.