Inside Graves Yamaha’s portable garage
“i was Just cruising, doing maybe 60 miles per hour, when it let go,” Mitch Leonard says, unfurling a towel to reveal the offending half-shaft. It’s elephantine, roughly the size of a trench mortar, and mangled. “Thing banged around, took out a few suspension airbags, the lines for the clutch and brakes, then spit out the passenger side. It could’ve knocked a Volkswagen off the road.”
Leonard drives Yamaha Racing ’s AMA Superbike tractor-trailer, a quarter-million-dollar, all-custom 18-wheeler. This isn’t just a motorcycle transporter. It’s a laboratory, a garage, a rolling command center that logs more than 40,000 miles each season. So when that half-shaft quit, en route to Motoamerica Pittsburgh, Leonard went through logistical hell to get moving again. He makes no bones about it: “If the trailer doesn’t get there, we don’t race.”
To that end, Yamaha is something of a pioneer. For decades, AMA Superbike teams ran motocross-style operations out of converted box trucks. But when the factory-backed Vance & Hines crew got a decked-out freighter in 1990, it changed the game. By default, Leonard became the series’ first mechanic-slash-trucker.
“The original trailer, it was magenta,” Leonard says. “Yeah. That started a lot of conversations on the CB radio.” Realizing this might be confused for nostalgia, he clarifies: “Not friendly ones.”
Today, the team’s sonic-blue, 90-foot-long rig is a source of pride. The tractor, a one-off Kenworth, is brand new. Its sleeper bristles with amenities but pales in comparison to the trailer. Built to spec by the specialists at High Tech, it’s modeled after NASCAR transporters, which Yamaha Racing boss Keith Mccarthy studied before commissioning the AMA Superbike setup.
Like a stock-car hauler, Yamaha’s is a split-level design. The “attic” houses four racebikes, plus enough spares to cobble together a fifth. (The team also carries a backup chassis and four extra engines.) The bikes are loaded via motorized lift-gate, like the wheelchair ramp on a city bus. Bespoke mounting points, fixed to the lift-gate platform, make tie-downs redundant. The offloading process takes just minutes.
The trailer’s lower quarters are
even more remarkable. Entering through sliding doors at the rear, you’re funneled into an expansive galley. Waist-high counters run the length of the cabin on either side. They’re segmented into work stations: suspension, chassis, engine, and electronics. Each has dedicated overhead bins for bulkier oddments, like battery tenders and repair manuals. Smaller stuff, like gaskets and linkages, is stashed alongside hand tools inside mechanic’s chests underneath the counters.
The clever bit? Those chests are roll-aways. Vittorio Bolognesi, an Italian expat and Yamaha’s resident Magneti Marelli ECU expert, demonstrates by undocking the electronics toolbox. It’s got separate drawers for sensors, wiring harnesses, and lap timers, plus a retractable 20-inch monitor. Everything he needs trackside during practice. Then he’ll hustle back to the trailer, reattach the toolbox, dump data, and get to fiddling. Meanwhile, the nut-and-bolt guys wheel their chests out under an awning, which deploys from broadside of the transporter, and wrench there. (One exception: New Jersey Motorsport Park, where Motoamerica uses paddock garage stalls.)
Predictably, organization is the crew’s motto and métier. Communal tools are signed in and out. Spares are pre-assembled, bundled whenever possible, and located strategically. Wear items get priority; you’re more likely to find brake pads near the entrance than gauge clusters or swingarms. Team manager Tom Halverson keeps the ship’s manifest, a spreadsheet he updates continuously. He can tell you how many cam sprockets are on board and how many cam-sprocket bolts.
This is military thinking, preparation, and repetition to ensure smooth operation, especially under duress. When calamity does come knocking, there might be 12 mechanics bustling around the transporter. Which brings Leonard to his favorite feature: the private bathroom.
“Back when we started, nobody had these,” he says. “Some teams still don’t. They’re stuck in the motocross days. Roughing it.”
He isn’t saying a toilet is the key to Yamaha’s six consecutive AMA Superbike championships.
But he isn’t denying it either.
Above A dual-level trailer means two stories of stowage. Here, the crew makes quick work of loading YZF-R1 racebikes into the transporter’s “attic.”
LEFT Along with bikes and tools, the trailer also carries hundreds of individual plastic floor tiles. They’re snapped together under the canopy, providing a rigid, level surface for the mechanics and team to work. BELOW The Kenworth T680 tractor is a diesel-powered bruiser. In combination with the trailer, total weight hovers around 80,000 pounds.
LEFT Chassis, electronics, engine, and suspension techs all man their respective stations in the lower galley.