MX Bob Bike History - Legend 7
1979 Yamaha YZ400
1979-81
Navy Life is a Big-Bore

After two new bikes, I decided to get a used bike this time. I wanted to get a 250 or open bike, but couldn't afford a brand new one. I bought this bike from someone who is now a well-known person in the American motocross industry, but then was a top ten A class rider in Minnesota. I will only refer to him as Bob R. That may or may not be his real name, but in all likelihood, it is. Any more hints would be a sin(asalo).

The bike had blue anodized rims which was pretty trick back then. I think everything but the bars were pretty much stock. He did break or crack the frame and had it welded, but I never I had any trouble with it. Of course, he was 70 pounds heavier and two classes faster than I was, so that may have had something to do with it.

I bought this in the winter and took it down to Norfolk, Virginia where I was now playing sailor on a submarine repair ship. Being a repair ship, it rarely went out, and I was able to spend some time away from the ship, though not nearly as much as I would have liked. At one point, we were working almost 100 hour weeks, counting the time hanging out on the ship every fourth day for duty.

When I first go into the navy, a lowly E-1, I made $419 a month (gross). How do you pay all your bills and race 4-6 times a month on that budget? Most of my food and shelter was from the ship (included in the USN admission). I rented out a 10 x 10 storage space where I would work on my bike and hang out with the motor-heads on the ship that rented space there to work on their cars or trucks. They helped me keep my van running (usually in exchange for beer. They were mostly welders. They really liked to drink).

I'd almost always do all the work on the bike myself. I would usually only drive my van to the races on weekends. I would use my bicycle for most errands. I would never go to movies, would almost never eat out, and would camp for free at the track from Friday night (they had Saturday races) until Sunday afternoon. Looking back, it does seem a bit extreme, but hey, I was tasting some success.


Naval Air Force Base, Virginia Beach, VA   1981 Photo by Art Law
It was just a bit dry that day. Luckily, I was the only rider out there.

Getting the van was a big deal for me. All through high school, I didn't own a car. I spent my money on dirt bikes and bummed my parents' car when I could, a 1975 Pacer with a trailer hitch. Yes, a boy in high school driving a Pacer was pretty traumatic, but after years of therapy, I think I’m finally past it.

When I was on leave from the navy (the thumb-dislocating leave mentioned last chapter), I bought a 1973 Ford Van, drove it down to Virginia with all my stuff, and used that as my bike transporter and portable camping enclosure. I would simply put the bike in the back of the van, go to the track, unload and cover the bike, sweep out the van, put down a mattress, blanket, and sleeping bag, and I was set. Brought a cooler, some food, all my tools, and spare parts. It was just the ultimate low-budget race / home vehicle With all due respect to the late, great Chris Farley, I did live in a van prior to his classic Motivation Guy bit, but to the best of my knowledge, I never parked it down by any river, mostly at tracks, truck stops, and in front of friend's houses.

I started racing in Open C, which was a pretty dead class (eliminated by most districts in the 80s, the start of the demise of the Open class), but since there were so few riders, they would drop us with the 250 C guys. I would usually beat at least half of the 250s and all of the open bikes (all 2 or 3 of them). The bike didn't feel as heavy as I thought it might and I loved the power and not having to shift all the time. I won my way out of Open C by about June and was then in B class for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, because of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, our ship, which normally would only be out to sea for 2 weeks at a time, once a year, was taking a grand voyage across the Atlantic, through the Suez Canal, to an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. To prepare for the big trip, we had to load the ship down with plenty of extra supplies (as it turned out, way too much extra) from the middle of the summer into fall. Of course, lucky me, where did I work? Supply. This prevented me from racing more than twice in B class the rest of the year. I believe there may have been some financial and mechanical difficulties as well.

This bike was the first one that I had at the same time as another (the 1981 YZ125 coming up in the next exciting episode and the KTM in the installment after that). I was having trouble selling it. I practiced on it once a while, but I didn't want to break anything. I raced this and the KTM at the same time once, at the now well-known Budds Creek track. It's a nice track now, but it was really dusty the day I raced there. The muffler fell off in the first moto, and again in the second moto, despite my makeshift attempt at repairing it. It kind of screwed me up to race both on the same day, because they were so different from each other. I decided I wouldn’t try that again.

I ended up selling it to this guy on the ship for $300 down, $300 later (much later as it would turn out. I'm still waiting). He wasn't a racer at all and I was kind of concerned that he might hurt himself with it. He rode it a few times and then got it stuck in the mud. I guess it was really stuck because even with the guy he was riding with helping him, he couldn't get it out. They left it there to get a truck and when they got back, it was gone (You know who you are you 1981 resident of Norfolk who had that YZ400 with the blue rims). I think I got about $50 of the $300 he owed me. Collections has always been a weak point for me.

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Naval Air Force Base, Virginia Beach, VA   1981 Photo by Art Law
I'm a bit embarrassed about the duct tape in this picture, but I guess most of the fork boot was OK.

Revised April 2017