67LY9jYP Kawasaki drag racing
Kawasaki drag racing

Bazza had a thing for bikes

Two motorcycles, a quarter-mile drag strip, first across the line wins. The quick and the dead. It’s as elemental and pure as motor sport gets.

I creep my front wheel forward, activating the electronic staging beam. The guy in the lane beside me does likewise.

Clutch in, rapping throttle on and off, vibration courses through the twist grips, a chainsaw-like rasp rips from the triple exhaust pipes. A whiff of two-stroke smoke hangs in the air.

First amber on the ‘Christmas tree’ (starting lights) flashes, a Nano-second later another, then a third and, in the instant the green activates I dump the clutch.

The engine screams as the tacho needle stabs into the 7000 rpm redline and the front wheel soars skyward. 

Bang, we touch down and the bike attempts to break into a St Vitus Dance. I boot the gear lever up into 2nd and the front end goes light again.

Back to earth, nudge 3rd, then 4th, throttle pinned to the stops except for a split-second on each clutch-less upshift — tunnel vision to the finish line.

We flash through the timing beam and it’s only then that the howling Honda 750/4 with its Yoshimura-kitted 810cc motor-vation catches me.

Too late. Winners are grinners, and I’m beaming.

It was a great time to be alive, those crazy days of the mid-70s. And a little hazy too, if you’re into smokin’.

That could be the whacky baccy type or, in my case, blue exhaust cloud left in the wake of a big Kawasaki three-cylinder two-stroke. 

At 22, I’m living in the moment; career, marriage, family responsibilities can wait. For now, I’ve got all I need: tiny, rented flat shared with a live-in girlfriend I’m crazy about (later life-long spouse), rattly fridge to keep a long-neck bottle of beer cold, Led Zep and Purple on 33-rpm vinyl and a plastic stereo on which to play ’em.

A zany circle of drop-in, drop-out friends and a fortnightly wage, just enough to pay the bills – and give the H2 750 a work-out at Surfers (Paradise International Raceway).

I’d aspired to owning a manic Kawasaki ’stroker ever since I saw one, a Peacock Grey Mach III (H1) 500 in 1970.

The low-slung, twin chromed pipes on the right side – looking for all the world like the barrels of an over-and-under shotgun – blew me away.

Peak power arrived in a rush from 6000 rpm and to see a Mach III wheelstand away, full of bad manners, from a set of traffic lights added an exclamation mark to, ‘Man, I’ve gotta have one’.

At just under a grand new, the H1 500 was great value. Problem was, I didn’t have that sort of money and, being just 17, needed a guarantor in order to apply for a loan.

There was no way my elderly parents were having anything to do with – what they saw as – aiding and abetting my suicide, so it was eons (an exaggeration; four years) before I came of adult age (21) and could borrow the money. 

By then, big brother – the H2 Mach IV – had crashed the scene. The claimed 74 horses (14 up on the H1) and 750cc capacity endowed it with a broader spread of power than other previous two-stroke motorcycles. Enough poke to make it the fastest-accelerating street motorcycle in production with a claimed standing quarter-mile time of 12.0 seconds neat.

To put that into some sort of four-wheel perspective, the 1971 Ford Falcon Phase III GTHO was clocked at 14.4 seconds. 

Queensland distributors for Kawasaki, Brisk Sales, had a well-used (4000-mile!) demonstrator on sale for $900, some $500 less than new.

Kawasaki drag racing 6
Track day at Lakeside, 1974.


Sales manager Wally Pushkey, a former A-grade rugby league star, local legend at Surfers drag strip on a V8-powered exhibition bike called Krazy Horse and all-round cool guy, took the money and I took home one of just two 1973 H2A Candytone Purple models to come to Queensland (supposedly nine in Australia). 

The switch from weekday workhorse to weekend warrior was easy. I’d ride to the track, strip off anything superfluous such as rear-vision mirrors, change the standard NGK B9HS plugs to warmer B8HS, drop the rear tyre pressure and screw on a pair of racing number plates (#204, incidentally – the same number as US legend Don ‘Big Daddy’ Garlitts). 

I got near to the factory’s claimed 12.0 sec. time, but in drag racing near enough ain’t close enough. The benchmark was another Kwaka 750, expertly modified to full extent of the B/SB class rules by a mechanic who worked for a Kawasaki dealer, knew what he was doing and was a very good rider to boot.

Trailered to the strip and immaculately presented in livery to match its name, Clockwork Orange held the national class record in the low-mid 11 seconds. 

I couldn’t match such completeness of effort and ability, but fitted a set of street-legal Bassani expansion chambers and went one tooth down on the front sprocket in search of eclipsing that fabled 12.0 mark.

At the 1975 Drag Bike Nationals, I did it – 11.77. This still wasn’t quick enough to qualify for the final, but not half bad for a bike ridden to and from the track and run on the smell of an oily (two-stroke) rag. I went home pretty happy.

Going hell-for-leather wasn’t confined to a straight line on a drag strip. This was, remember, the 1970s. There were times where a twisty bit of road began to unfold and you really needed to be on your game.

I hadn’t heard of the word ‘understeer’ back in those days, but in hindsight this was one of the Mach IV’s anti-social traits. Get too greedy into a decreasing-radius corner and it would defy attempts to turn in, wanting to stand up instead of maintaining the lean needed to come out the other side.

A hydraulic-steering damper helped temper things a little, but caution and a lighter right wrist were way more prudent.

Of course, all this only served to further perpetuate the hairy-arsed legend that was the Kawasaki H2 Mach IV (and its little bro).

Looking back, it was the motorcycle for the times; back when sex was (comparatively) safe and pinning the throttle to the stops (could be) dangerous.

I’m so, so glad I was there. Even gladder that, all these years later, I’m here telling this tale. 


For someone who grew up with a rabid interest in car racing, you might think it a little incongruous that my first six sets of wheels were two, not four.

The reason – Easy Rider. What 17-year-old male of the early-70s failed to be captivated by Captain America and sidekick Billy’s voyage of discovery on a pair of wild, gleaming, chromed-to-the-max Harley choppers?

My peer group fantasised about setting off on our own freewheelin’ experience, a lap of Australia. We didn’t get far, just 160km from home.

Instead, we settled quite happily for party central, a rented flat above a corner hamburger joint called Kelly’s Poolroom in pre-gentrified Paddington, Brisbane. 

More to the point, only a few of us actually bought a bike, mine being a 1959 Triumph Thunderbird 650.

With forgiving handling and relatively little power, it was ideal in those times well before Learner Approved Motorcycle regulation.

I taught myself to ride, and did well – the first bout of gravel rash didn’t come until four months later. 

Then followed a sweet-and-sour experience owning a rough-and-ready Triumph Trophy-engined Tiger 110 café racer. It ran out of oil, lunching the engine.

Rebuilt, I crashed it when a suit failed to give right of way, the Trumpy drilling the front side of his Austin 1800 and me landing on the bonnet.

Game over for bike ownership until the Mach IV entered stage right, what seemed an eternity (actually, a little less than three years) later.

I moved the Kwaka on to go dirt bike racing, using the money to buy, in succession, a vintage girder-forked, J.A.P. speedway frame fitted with a Yoshimura-kitted, 125 Honda four-stroke single, Honda 125 enduro bike and Yamaha MX250.

Plan was to get experience on local short circuits (sump oil-sealed, decomposed granite surface), hope someone spotted my ‘talent’ and give me a full-on, twin-valve Jawa speedway bike to race. Then, it would be only a matter of time before a British Division 1 or 2 Speedway League team signed me. Yeah, right. 

I did get that H1 Mach III I long lusted after. By then, what with the warm lap of domesticity (recent marriage) and onset of a little frontal brain development, I was no longer riding like there was no tomorrow.

Then came a break from motorcycles of about five years, before venturing back into ownership with – you guessed it – another stroker, Honda’s MVX 250 street-legal production racer. 

And that’s where the story was meant to end, except that I went and bought another motorcycle. Call it old-life crisis, whatever, but 50 years since I laid down $300 for the T-Bird, an immaculate, low-mileage (14,000km) nine-year-old Triumph Thruxton 900 SE proved simply irresistible. 

Gone might be the sharp reflexes, agility and derring-do of old, but the trade-off is a half-century more life experience and resultant smarter attitude.

Consequently, those great mountain and country roads I’d road-tested a multitude of cars on in recent years in my day job as motoring writer have taken on a whole new challenge on the Thruxton.

I’m enjoying every moment.

Kawasaki H2 Mach IV specs

Price: $900 (used, 1974)

Engine: 748cc, air-cooled, two-stroke, transverse 3-cyl

Power: 55kW @ 6800 rpm

Torque: 78Nm @ 6500 rpm

Transmission: 5-spd, chain drive

Weight: 205kg

Frame: Double tubular steel cradle

Suspension: Telescopic hydraulic forks, twin shocks, swing arm

Brakes (F/R): Single disc /drum

Wheels/tyres (F/R): 3.25 x 19-inch, 4.00 x 18-inch


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