“The most dangerous ride of my life”
Kenny Roberts tells PS: “Yamaha had me riding an XS750 four-stroke twin and you didn’t win on that thing, you just fended off as many Harleys as you could. You weren’t going to win a mile on a Yamaha. So I told Kel [Carruthers, his crew chief and 1969 250cc world champion] to build me something faster. First time I saw the TZ was when we turned up for the Indy Mile in August 1975. I took it out for practice, gassed it up and it was pretty crazy. They’d stuck a kill switch on the thing that cut the spark on one cylinder, so if I couldn’t find any traction I’d hit the switch and I’d be on three cylinders and the tyre would try to hook up again. If you could’ve cut two cylinders it would’ve been about right.
“We had it geared for 150mph on the straight. In the main event I was running it into the fence in turns two and three because I was looking for some grip. There were a couple of Harleys ahead of me. Coming out of the final turn I got some good drive, the tyre stopped spinning and I won the race by a wheel.
“Looking back, it was probably the most dangerous ride of my life. In fact, it was a real nightmare. I mean, if I saw one of my kids doing that I’d try to stop the race. After I’d won I could see my mechanics were removing bits of wire from the side of the bike, from where I’d been catching the hay bales mid-corner, simply because that was the only place where I was finding the grip.”
“After that the AMA were pretty quick to ban the TZ and it was the right thing to do, because I could see someone getting hurt. The problem was that it was 20mph faster than the Harleys down the straightaways, so it was just dangerous, plus you had to throw it sideways to get it slowed for the corners and there weren’t a lot of riders who could throw it sideways at 150mph”.
“That was the only bike I requested from that era. The Yamaha racing manager said there’s been a big mistake, that bike got crushed. In fact he pushed it out the back of the building and sold it.”
Roberts was one of the very few riders who stood a chance of surviving the TZ750 experience on dirt
Smokey – and they banned it. Rightly so, says Kenny