Eddie Lawson’s Honda NSR500

On his way to back-to-back titles in 1988-1989, Eddie Lawson defeated two young rising stars of American roadracing, while taming a motorcycle many thought unwinnable, the Honda NSR500

Photo by Phil Aynsley

Eddie Lawson’s epic back-to-back titles for rival manufacturers in 1988-1989 was a world first. On his way to victory he also defeated two young rising stars of American roadracing, while taming a motorcycle many thought unwinnable.

Much has been written about the mercurial and complex character that is four-time world 500cc champion Eddie Lawson. He’s been described as a calculating collector of race points, not wins; a master of mind games on the starting grid; introverted and arrogant; distrustful of journalists and hangers on but happy to use them to unsettle his rivals; and a perfectionist with a clinical approach to both life and racing.

Very little has been written about how Lawson’s single-minded determination to achieve greatness, coupled with a love of riding the world’s fastest motorcycles at their limit, was the driving force behind his greatest achievement.

Basic instrumentation gives a window into a simpler world before sophisticated engine management systems. 
Photo by Phil Aynsley

And exactly what was the motorcycle he rode into the history books that year? A combination of cutting-edge carbon-fiber/aluminum wizardry and carbureted 2-stroke technology based on half a decade of development, it was now a Frankenstein. And only Lawson was the freak rider who could tame it.

In 1989 Eddie Lawson became the first rider to win back-to-back world 500cc championships on two different makes of motorcycle. Lawson left Giacomo Agostini’s Yamaha team for Honda, taking a pay cut in the process and moving from a bike praised for its all-round rideability to one later described by the 1988 runner-up Wayne Gardner as “evil”. Even Mick Doohan, the tough guy of the 1990s who would go on to win five world 500cc titles, has described how he had to summon up the courage to actually ride the 1989 Honda, let alone race it.

Only Lawson seemed to be able to survive race after race without frequently crashing while quietly pocketing points and the occasional race win to end up a most unlikely 1989 champion.

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