Cypress California, July 21, 2010 – The stars of the MotoGP World Championship made their way to California this week. They’re headed for Laguna Seca, of course, but on Tuesday you could not have been blamed for thinking the race would be held in Burbank.
The suburb north of LA is normally home to a lot of television and film production and star sightings are commonplace, but on Tuesday it was teeming with motorcycle racers… Fiat Yamaha’s championship leader Jorge Lorenzo, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders Ben Spies and Colin Edwards; Yamaha legends Kenny Roberts Sr., Eddie Lawson, and Wayne Rainey – even AMA Superbike championship leader Josh Hayes and Ben Bostrom were all spotted in the nondescript warehouse district near Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport – not a typical transfer point on the way to Laguna Seca.
But avid motorcyclists know that Burbank is also the location of Jay Leno’s famous ‘Big Dog Garage.’ Leno, host of the Tonight Show, is a member of the AMA Hall of Fame. His garage (actually a 70,000 sq. ft. complex with several full time employees) houses over 200 motorcycles and cars – ranging from pioneer motorcycles like his 1918 Pope to an 800-horsepower ‘Ecojet’ car tuned to run on recycled cooking oil. It’s definitely a garage and not just a collection, since virtually every vehicle is licensed and insured; Jay rides and drives all of them.
The latest addition to Jay’s fleet is fast and exotic, even by his standards – an ex-Eric Bostrom AMA Superbike.
“Last Fall, Jay auctioned off a custom Star V-Max to benefit Bailey’s Cafe, a charity that we both support,” said Bob Starr. “We were thrilled with the results of that auction; it benefitted a very worthy cause. But we realized that when he sold his V-Max, it left him without a Yamaha in the garage.”
“We wanted to make sure that Jay had a unique bike, that reflects his uniquely effective role as an ambassador for our sport,” Starr continued. “This R1 Superbike is not something that can be purchased at any price. It is virtually as-ridden by Eric. We put it into storage at the end of the 2008 season. We just asked Chuck Graves to go through it and make sure it was ready to ride again.” The bike was a surprise gift for Leno, who thought he’d only agreed to host a dinner for Yamaha’s MotoGP riders.
It was hard to tell who was more star-struck. Jay and his garage staff met a ‘who’s who’ of Yamaha racing history. But even legends like Eddie Lawson do a double-take when they see the scope of Jay’s garage and workshop. “There are so many vehicles in here,” said Lawson, “that are just works of art.”
Since all his bikes get ridden, it will be up to garage manager Bernard Juchli to find a place to hang a license plate on this factory superbike. When we asked Bernard how he’d manage to register it, he smiled and replied, “I can’t reveal that.”
The job of going through the ultra-trick R1 fell to Team Yamaha’s Chuck Graves. Graves made a few concessions to making the bike ‘streetable'; swapping the Magneti Marelli ECU for a YEC unit, and the race dash for one with a speedometer. But the engine internals, fork, swingarm and more are pure factory unobtanium. “This bike was built before we homologated parts,” said Graves, “so really, a lot of these components just aren’t for sale, at any price.”
In all, over 100 of Yamaha’s ‘friends and family,’ and representatives from Dorna and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, attended the event, which included a great meal prepared by none other than Yamaha-USA’s own racing boss Keith McCarty. Tim Collins of Alpinestars presented Jay with a custom set of leathers to match the bike, and Troy Lee added a fantastic custom-painted Arai helmet, which included signatures and elements from the designs used by the legends and MotoGP riders at the dinner.
When he posed for photos with Lorenzo, Spies, and Edwards he quipped, “Yeah, this is great – I love being the slowest guy in the room.”
After dinner, as the event wound down, the riders prepared to travel up the coast to Laguna Seca and Jay – who works at his comedy as hard as Ben Spies works at his cardio fitness – went home to write the next Tonight Show opening monologue. Jay couldn’t attend the races, as he was already committed to an event in Detroit this weekend. But it’s just a question of time before he takes his R1 up the Rock Store. If you see him there and think, ‘Wow, that looks like a genuine factory bike,’ it’s because that’s what it is.”