Recently I got one of my most amazing e-mails in the “classicyams” history!
Out of the blue appeared Jack Coulson, Yamaha team member of the 1958 Catalina G.P.!!!
Jack Coulson wrote me this:
I was lucky to be chosen as one of the pit crew for Fumio Ito at the Catalina Grand Prix in 1958.
I have tried to locate Fumio after I spotted him on the 250 at Catalina in a Yamaha advertisement of a few years ago. In fact I am in the photo to the left of him in a dark shirt with sun glasses.
The last I heard he was driving a cab in New York, but as I said that was a few years ago. Earl Wilson, one of the other riders at the Grand Prix and I still are in contact.
Can you help me locate Fumio? Thanks, Jack, USA
So, dear readers, here out of the blue comes Jack Coulson, probably one of the earliest Yamaha Racing men in the world!
(I e-mailed Jack-San back and sent him my article about the sad end of Fumio Ito)
Thanks for the interest in my note. A little more about my dealings with Yamaha at Catalina and Fumio Ito.
As you know “Martys Foreign Motors” (BMW) was the sponsor that got them here.
Well it started right after that. Tha AMA (American Motorcycle association-at that time) had rules regarding the equipment on racing bikes.
Tires was a major concern as the Yamaha’s arrived with road racing tires. One of your photos shows them after the change to "knobbies". There were other things and the sponsor decided he didnt want to upgrade 5 bikes plus spares worth of tires. (Ludy: it seems there was already a budget-cut right then…!
“Long Beach Triumph” took over the job and gave them what they needed to race.
Earl Wilson and I raced the desert in Southern California in the 50's and Earl Rode a Triumph and I a Maico. We rode for a club named “the Prospectors” and that is how we met the Yamaha Team.
We helped them with getting the bikes ready and did a little testing on the bikes for them. On the road the remote float bowls of the carburettors were O.K., but in the dirt they would slide down and mess up the carburetion. A little tie-wire stopped that. (The factory dirt machines used the same carburettors as on the early road racers…)
The Maico was a 250 and in the desert it was pretty fast and it would have stayed with the Yamaha because of the suspension, but when I rode that thing (the Yamaha racer) on the street it scared me!
It would not run very well under 5000 RPM and free rev to 12500!! Earl and I had an occasion to visit with the Yamaha Team guys at Earls' house and we sat across from each other and talked in fingers and smiles, but we had a good time anyway. Mr. Kawakami, the then President, was also with the group.
And that is when they gave us a gold "tuning fork" pin- which I still have!
During the Catalina Grand Prix Fumio Ito was a sight to behold---- 2 wheel slides on the asphalt corners and wheelies out of the corners. Getting second was a major achievement because all the other guys in the race had many years of desert experience. Earl (one of the US Yamaha riders) did not finish because of clutch problems (I think) because they had a screw type clutch release mechanism and it seemed to be made of very soft metal. I talk with Earl sometimes, but he is not doing well.
My experience with Yamaha was the highlight of my motorcycle racing days. I am sorry about Fumios passing and I think you have a great web page. Keep up the good work. Please continue emailing if you like.
(P.S. here are the links to the relevant articles)
I asked Jack to explain a little about his motorcycle life and here is what he wrote down for all of us:
O.K. Ludy...........here goes.
My motorcycle career started in 1953 with a hand shift James 2 stroke. Believe it or not I actually raced the sucker and it beat the crap out of me (1953 remember!). The racing continued up to 1960, (with Catalina in there.............we will get to that later), I got married and unmarried. In 1968 I bought a Yamaha 360 enduro and rode some enduros (it got stolen). Got married again and unmarried again. In 1973 I bought a Suzuki GT750 "water buffalo" and a buddy and I took a 4000 miles trip (in 1973 that was a long trip). It was a smooth running bike. Sold that bike and bought a Honda XL 350 and tricked it for scrambles, sold that and bought a 1974 RT360 Rokon. Went back to street in ‘76 with a Kawasaki 900 and it got stolen. Bought a Suzuki GS750 and put a fairing and bags on it and tripped all over the place. Sold that and bought an ‘86 Suzuki Cavalcade. Rode that until 1997 and it decided enough was enough. I was heading for a 500 mile tour and on the freeway at about 65 mph I had an accident with it that was not my fault. I landed in the median strip and the footpeg smashed my ankle. 13 titanium screws and a titanium plate. I am as good as new.fortunately but the bike was of course a total write-off. All the bikes I had after the James were new.
My contact with Yamaha started with Earl Wilson. He rode out of Long Beach Triumph and he was asked if he wanted to ride one on Catalina. We had been going to Catalina since the beginning and he asked me to be on his pit crew. Of course I said yes. We got involved with the team and we tested the bike at a closed Navy housing area. It had all the surfaces of Catalina. Boy could Fumio Ito slide! As I said earlier the float bowls of the carburettors were mounted on a bracket and they kept sliding down from vibration. The team solved the problem. They also had a problem with clutch release. As I remember the action was a screw drive with a spring return. The material of the lever or the case was not very strong and it would slip the screw drive and not return. Again it was fixed and good enough to go. I had a chance to ride Fumio’s bike in a drag race. It would not idle below 5000 rpm and I could tweak it to 12500 rpm. The race was with a Honda 200cc Cub that was tricked out for flat track. Not a race. It was me from the start to whatever speed I shut off. I was riding a Maico at the time in the dirt and it had leading-link forks and Girling shocks and it went really well in the desert. I didn't like the Yamaha because it did not have much shock action. But Fumio made it work for him. We all gathered at Earl Wilsons' house one night after playing with bikes all day and sat around smiling and doing sign language. After a few beers we all started laughing at each other. And I cannot forget the gold tuning fork pin. Fun time.
Catalina came and we met the bikes at the harbour. I did not have much to do at the get-ready except fuelling. After the line up and as you see in the picture I was standing by watching Earl and Fumio Ito. The mechanics were on the other side. Fumio was really exciting to watch and people in the crowd were asking me about him and Yamaha because they saw me standing by them in the line-up. He was the star of the show especially in a 2 wheel slide on asphalt. I am not sure if we saw them again or they were off to another race somewhere else.
That is all I can recall. Earl is still here, but he does not have a computer and does not get around much (82) I am 75. His wife says he still has the tunic he wore at the race.
All those years I worked for Howard Hughes at his Aircraft Company in Southern California. I was a design engineer and worked on radar, fibre optics, lasers, test equipment and satellites. After 36 years I retired and moved to Northern California.
Kind regards and thanks for the compliment.