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A day at Yamaha USA’s Race Team Headquarters (AKA “Area 51″)

Published January 7th, 2000

by Chris Rotberg





It isn’t everyday that I get to venture out beyond my keyboard and 17 inch monitor to break bread with some of the best racers in the world. So when Yamaha offered the chance to leave the office and participate in a tour of their secret race facilities, I jumped at it.




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Bikes on hydraulic lifts







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Jimmy Button’s four-stroke engine







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Jimmy Button’s YZ 426







After arriving at Yamaha, I registered and began the wait to see what this mystery tour would bring. As time passed, other press people started trickling in … people from print magazines and web-sites, and a well known guy from a yet to be revealed new publication. Eventually, we were greeted by a Yamaha marketing representative and escorted back through the long halls of Yamaha until we reached the door of the room where it all happens.




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Close up of David Vuillemin’s YZ 250 engine







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Yamah team members signing autographs







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Engine room work bench







As the door opened and we stepped in, we were immediately greeted by a fairly large entourage of guys and girls wearing blue Yamaha shirts. The race shop is 5,000 square feet of cement floors that were so clean you could eat off them. And perched on their hydraulic lifts were the bikes of the top riders at Yamaha: Jamie Hacking’s R7 Superbike, Jeremy McGrath’s YZ 250, David Vuillemin’s YZ 250, and Jimmy Button’s YZ 426. Next to the bikes were the mechanics and several of team Yamaha’s top riders. Looking around the room I could see David Vuillemin and Jamie Hacking, Yamaha of Troy’s Casey Johnson, Stephane Roncada, Justin Buckelew, and Ernesto Fonseca, and Tim Ferry of Team Chaparral. The tour began with a brief statement from Yamaha executives and then some words from motocross team manager Keith McCarty. He explained that he wanted to give the press a sneak peak at the race shop and a glimpse at how the team functions on a daily basis.




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Shop area main room







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Tool storage in suspension room







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Inside tool storage drawer







The shop was very, very nice, …. if only I had the budget of Bill Gates, and could convince my wife that I needed such a workshop! (instead of my garage full of cheap cabinets) Everything was clean and well organized, they had separate rooms for each of the major components on the bikes. There was an engine room, complete with cleaning tanks and an engine that was taken apart and set upon a work bench like a surgeonís instruments. One of the mechanics told me that they take each race bike completely apart and put them back together on a weekly basis, so they know every part like the back of their hand.




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MX Team Manager Keith McCarty







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Jimmy Button’s bike







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Jeremy McGrath’s YZ 250







Following the motor room, we moved into the suspension area and I had a chance to talk with Yamaha’s “suspension guru” Jon R. If only I had this guy in my garage tuning my suspension, I might even attempt the big triple without the fear of being rebounded over the bars (or maybe not!).



Next the tour progressed to a room that had to be the most organized and well stocked inventory of parts that I have ever seen. And the next room had a setup with computers to monitor the engine performance, and there were other rooms that were used to test stationary engines and to fabricate unique parts.




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The guys signing autographs for employees







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Dyno







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The guys signing autographs for employees







Along the tour we were allowed to talk with the riders and mechanics. Everyone was friendly and answered all of my questions. At one point I was looking at Jimmy Button’s 426 four-stroke and was startled to see Jimmy Button actually walking up behind me. I could tell by the way he looked at his bike, sitting up on the lift, that he was anxious to get back on the big four stroke. He proceeded to talk to his Yamaha buddies, and I circulated around to check out the rest of the room. We spent a good 30 minutes just looking at the bikes and workshop before we were directed outside where the Yamaha big rig was set up for lunch. As we started to walk to the truck I was thinking that one thing was still missing: Jeremy McGrath. That mystery was soon solved; I had just turned the corner to head outside when Jeremy stepped into the Yamaha building. Now the full team was there. We exchanged pleasantries and then we were off to lunch.




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The guys signing autographs for employees







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Suspension room







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Close up of front forks







Lunch consisted of hot dogs and chicken (your standard barbecue fare), we all sat down in tables that were arranged under the race truck canopy. It was interesting to eat with all of the guys that you have almost no chance of ever running into at your local restaurant. Normally, I go to the races and I am just one head among thousands in the crowd. The riders are very hard to catch even if you are lucky enough to get through the long autograph lines. And here I am eating lunch with all of these guys, how great is that?




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Lunch time!







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The truck and lunch setting



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After lunch we all headed up to the staff cafeteria, where all the riders were going to sign autographs for the employees of Yamaha. From what I was told by one employee, this was a once a year event, and they were expecting the lines for autographs to be fairly long. Being the diligent father that I am, I could not imagine telling my sons that I ate lunch with all of the racers and didn’t get any autographs. So I slipped into the line and waited until it was my turn to give each rider the names of my three sons for them to write on their glossy poster.



And then it was over – the press day was done. It was an exciting four hours. I came out of there feeling very impressed with the entire operation. Team Yamaha looked like they were really interested in keeping everyone happy. I also realized that there is a lot of hard work that goes into racing, not just what we see during the races. It’s not a surprise that they have won a few more championships this year!

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