50 years ago, Don Emde made Daytona 200 history on a Yamaha TR3

Proud dad: Floyd Emde poses with his son Don at the 1972 Daytona 200. They are the only father/son duo to win Daytona 200 victories. Floyd won it in 1948 on an Indian and Don in 1972 on a Yamaha. (Image courtesy of Don Emde)

Don Emde rode a 350cc Yamaha twin against 750cc triples and fours in the 1972 Daytona 200 – What was he thinking?

Today, Don Emde is an award-winning author and editor, but there was a time when a young Don Emde was a rising star in the world of professional motorcycle racing.

The son of 1948 Daytona 200 champion Floyd Emde, Don had already won dirt and pavement races when he entered his Yamaha TR3 twin-cylinder 350cc two-stroke in the prestigious Daytona 200 in 1972.

Two years earlier, Dick “Bugsy” Mann had won Daytona on Honda’s mighty 750cc four-stroke four-cylinder at an average speed of 102.69 mph. In 1971 Mann took it again, taking victory on a 750cc BSA Rocket III triple at an average speed of 104.73 mph.

Don Emde Daytona 200
Don Emde at high speed on his Yamaha in the 1972 Daytona 200. (Photo: The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race.)

The best finish ever by a Yamaha until 1972 was Yvon Duhamel’s in 1968, when Duhamel’s Yamaha YR2 finished second behind Cal Rayborn on a Harley-Davidson KRTT.

Let’s see – Emde was going to race a privately sponsored 350cc two-stroke twin weekly motorcycle, tuned by Mel Dinesen against a series of factory-backed 750cc multi-cylinder monsters, apparently believing he had a chance to win. What was he thinking?

Here’s what Emde believed: “I really felt in my heart that I was going to win the race. I don’t mean I thought I could win, but I felt that I would like to earn. The feeling, hard to describe, actually started several months before Daytona. It carried me through to victory, although there were many events along the way that tested my confidence. I had felt for so long that I was going to win, that winning was almost anti-climactic.

In a way, it’s hard to imagine winning the Daytona 200 as anti-climactic. On the other hand, maybe in the case of Don Emde it is possible. After all, Emde had ridden one of those BSA factory bikes to third place in 1971 behind Mann’s BSA and Gene Romero’s Triumph. However, in 1972, Emde had withdrawn from the 250cc lightweight event on Saturday, which caused him severe shoulder pain. Despite that, Emde says he still had a feeling he would win the 200m on Sunday.

Don Emde Daytona 200
Emde in Daytona’s Victory Lane (#25) and runner-up Ray Hempstead (#9). To Emde’s left is his father, Floyd, who won the Daytona 200 over an Indian in 1948, Don’s tuner Mel Dinesen, and Smith’s machine owner/tuner Don Vesco. (Photo: The Daytona 200-The Story of America’s First Motorcycle Race)

Emde’s victory was not only the first ever Daytona win for Yamaha, but it also turned out to be the first of a streak of 13 wins for Yamaha that continued through 1984. is that in 1985 Freddie Spencer knocked Yamaha off the top of the podium on a Honda VF750F. Emde’s victory was also the first Daytona 200 victory for a two-stroke engine. His TR3 had the smallest displacement for a winner in the event’s history, averaging 103.35 mph). This remains the only victory resulting in a father/son duo of Daytona 200 champions.

Don Emde made history this Sunday at Daytona. What was he thinking? He thought he would.

the 80th edition of the Daytona 200America’s most historic motorcycle road race, held at Daytona International Speedway, is scheduled for March 12, 2022, during bike week.

Wiley C. Thompson