Then and Now: Keith Mashburn

Former Yamaha racer Keith Mashburn gives insight to early Yamaha racing.

Keith Mashburn at Daytona

Keith Mashburn (#19) at Daytona in 1972 with the rest of the Yamaha team.

Photo By Gary Phelps

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Today Keith Mashburn is a Simi Valley, Calif., city councilman, but he still rides his Yamaha Super Tenere when he gets the chance. “I’m not on the Yamaha because of my past with the company,” Keith says of the bike. “I had a Suzuki V-Strom before the Tenere, and I liked it a lot. I also had a Yamaha FJR, and I didn’t care for it at all. I’m mostly interested in whichever motorcycle works for me.”

Keith’s father rode street bikes, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s the pair would attend races at Ascot Park. Eventually, Keith said he’d like to try racing, and Mashburn Sr. supported his son’s efforts. In 1967 Keith was 17 years old and riding Bultacos. He was the top local sportsman in short track events in the Southern California area. That’s when Yamaha approached him to campaign DT-1 250cc Enduros for the 1968 season at Ascot TT races.

“I wasn’t much of a negotiator, but I told them I’d race only if they provided me with a twin for the half-mile tracks,” Keith says. Yamaha obliged, and Keith was provided a Dennis Mahan-prepped TD1-C flat tracker.

“For me 1968 was a year of winning that nobody could believe. It was just a great season,” Keith says. He started working with Yamaha as well as racing for them, but when he had to start road racing in order to compete at the national level he knew he just wasn’t quick enough to make No. 1.

“Every once in a while I’d pull off a fast race, but in terms of National Champion I wasn’t going to be a contender,” Keith says. “I was a much better dirt tracker than a road racer.” After completing the 1972 season aboard the featured TR3, Keith learned in December that he’d been dropped from the Yamaha team when he read about it in Cycle News magazine.

“Funny thing was, I’d been talking to Harley-Davidson earlier in the year and I decided not to go with them because they couldn’t offer me what Yamaha was paying,” Keith chuckles.

He raced a few tracks as a privateer, but soon decided he needed a life change. He became a fireman with the Ventura County Fire Department and retired from the service in 2005. But motorcycles never left his system after he quit racing. As noted, Keith still rides, and for eight years he was president of the TrailBlazers Motorcycle Club — an organization of pioneer motorcycling enthusiasts who have been meeting annually since 1940. Don Emde is currently president.

“It’s never easy to sever a relationship like we did with Yamaha,” Keith concludes. “But I have huge respect for them and wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything. I’m grateful to this day.

“Oh sure, I went crying the blues to my dad, thinking if I’d gone with Harley-Davidson I’d be winning races. He put it into perspective, though. He said, ‘Yeah, or you could have gone out in the next race and been killed.’ My life just went in another direction, and I’ve had a wonderful career.” MC 

Read about one of Keith Mashburn’s bikes in Yamaha TR3 Racer.