In­side Graves Yamaha’s por­ta­ble garage

Motorcyclist - - Garage - BY MAX PRINCE

“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.

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