The Long and Winding Road to Victory

It took Don Emde more than 200 miles of racing on a Yamaha TR3 to win Daytona in 1972 against steep odds.

| July/August 2019

don-emde 

If you’re seeking balance in the universe, consider Don Emde’s 1972 Daytona 200 win. His ride aboard a privately entered Yamaha TR3 is considered a major upset in Daytona history. Facing an army of factory-prepped 750cc bikes capable of speeds in excess of 170mph on Daytona’s steep banking, Emde’s little Yamaha 350 was good for about 160. And that speed split proved the difference between victory and defeat — in favor of Emde. The events that led to Emde winning that race easily could be turned into a Hollywood screenplay, the opening scene taking place at Ontario Motor Speedway’s garages after the final 1971 race. The camera zooms in on Danny Macias, coordinator for the Triumph/BSA factory race team, as he confidently talks to his young brood of riders, Emde among them, about 1972 plans. In so many words he says to his troops, “See ya next year.” Optimism is shared among the eager team riders as they pack their gear.

Cut to Emde’s driveway the day after Thanksgiving, 1971. Emde and some high-spirited buddies are loading their dirt bikes for a friendly foray to the desert. Suddenly appears the mailman making his daily delivery to the Emde house. The mail he delivers includes The Letter, penned by Pete Coleman, main man at Triumph/BSA’s U.S. distributorship. As Emde relates today, Coleman’s letter “began by stating how pleased the factory was with the 1971 season, but then he eventually got to the ‘but all good things come to an end’ part.” Coleman informed team riders, with exception of Dick Mann (BSA and AMA No. 1 for 1972) and Gene Romero (Triumph and second in 1971 points), that their race contracts were cancelled for ’72. Cue somber music while the scene fades.

emde-damaged-shoulder
Facing rather steep odds and a damaged shoulder, that's Emde, No. 25, just after the start of Daytona 200, in about 10th place.



Emde, only 20 years old at the time, scrambled to find a ride for 1972. He learned soon enough that all other factory-sponsored seats had been taken. What to do? He kept dialing and eventually his quest leads to Bakersfield, California, home of privateer tuner Mel Dinesen, the man Emde rode for in 1969 when he won the prestigious AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists) No. 1 plate. Mel has a brand-new TR3 with a 6-speed transmission that’s slated for Juniorclass racer Jim Evans to ride. Dinesen weighs the options and decides to enter Evans in the Junior race on the older 5-speed bike, leaving the new 6-pack model for Expertrated Emde in the 200-miler. Both riders have sponsorship from Motorcycle Weekly, a racing news journal of the era. Our movie’s soundtrack carries the forceful, victorious beat you’d expect in a Bradley Cooper flick. Something in the universe has aligned for Emde.

Mel also has competitive Yamaha 250s for both riders to enter Daytona’s Lightweight support race. Ironically, and in Hollywood fashion, the 250 bike nearly proves to be Emde’s undoing in terms of not winning the 200; he crashes during Saturday’s 100-mile Lightweight race, severely injuring his right shoulder. The track M.D. tells Emde to rest for 48 hours; the 200-miler starts in less than 24 hours. Scene fades, and with it, Emde’s hopes of winning America’s premier road race.



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