Yamaha Celebrates 50 Years of the YZ

Friday, July 21, 2023 | 7:00 PM


Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA (YMUS) is excited for this weekend’s global kick-off of a year-long celebration of the YZ and its 50 years of excellence. Commemorating the occasion on track this weekend, the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team will be sporting a special throwback livery from the 90’s era at the Pro Motocross Washougal National. The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP and MX2 Teams will also be donning the 1993 purple and white colorway at the MXGP of Flanders in Lommel, Belgium, as part of the global celebration of the iconic off-road model line.

The YZ was born in 1974 when the YZ250 began production. With its roots in the groundbreaking 250cc DT1, Yamaha brought championship-proven technology from the race track to the production line. Symbolic of the brand’s reputation for innovation and moving the industry forward, the YZ story is an integral part of Yamaha’s history. A look through the timeline shows advancements in technology over the years that have shaped the industry. Notable innovations like monoshock suspension, which paralleled with the YZ’s origin, liquid-cooling, which was first introduced on the 1981 YZ125, and the first power valve system, which was introduced on the 1982 YZ250 and YZ125. Then in 1997, the YZM400F – a modern four-stroke prototype – made a victorious debut in competition at the Las Vegas Supercross. It was quickly followed by the first production four-stroke - the YZ400F, which changed the off-road motorcycle sport. In keeping with the trailblazing YZs in the past, the 2001 YZ250F was the first production competition 250cc four-stroke on the market. All of these innovations eventually became the norms, giving the YZ a unique legacy in the sport of supercross and motocross.

In addition to the YZ line being legendary, some of the best riders on the planet have been a part of that story. It’s an A-list of Hall of Famers and future ones that together have notched countless victories and multiple championships aboard YZs both here in the U.S. and abroad.  In 1974, Pierre Karsmakers found early success aboard the YZ250, winning the inaugural 250cc AMA Supercross Championship. The following year, Jimmy Weinert took home the crown in the AMA Motocross 500cc Championship, and in 1978 Rick Burgett took top honors in the 500cc category. From 1976 to 1979, Bob Hannah would reign supreme, earning six titles with Yamaha – the 1976 AMA Motocross 125cc Championship, the 1977 AMA Supercross 250cc Championship, and both 250cc AMA Motocross and Supercross titles in 1978 and 1979. Broc Glover began his reign in the late 70s as well, with three-consecutive AMA Motocross 125cc titles from 1977-1979. 

Moving on to the 80s, Mike Bell would kick off the decade with the 1980 AMA Supercross 250cc Championship. In AMA Motocross, Glover added another three championships to his tally in the 500cc category (1981, 1983, and 1985) for a total of six national titles with Yamaha. In 1984, another one of the sport’s greats, Rick Johnson, took home the outdoor 250cc crown. 

Leading into the ’90s, Damon Bradshaw won the 1989 AMA Supercross 125cc East Championship. In 1992, Jeff Emig would also earn top honors aboard the YZ125, winning the AMA Motocross 125ccc Championship. Then Yamaha went on to a four-year win streak in the AMA Supercross 125cc divisional championships. It started with back-to-back 125 West victories for Kevin Windham (1996-1997), the 125 West Championship in 1998 with John Dowd, and then a 125cc title in the East for Ernesto Fonseca in 1999 to wrap a successful decade for the YZ125. In the premier class, supercross legend Jeremy McGrath won three-consecutive AMA Supercross 250cc titles with the YZ250 (1998-2000). 

In 1997, Doug Henry really shook things up with the YZM400F, taking the checkers in its debut race at the Las Vegas Supercross. The following season, Henry and the YZ400F made history, winning the AMA Motocross 450MX Championship on a four-stroke, which later proved to be a game-changer for the sport. Then after the YZ250F made its debut in 2001, Fonseca also found success straight away and made history as the first to win an AMA Supercross Championship aboard a four-stroke with his 125 West title. The following year, Chad Reed also enjoyed success aboard the YZ250F, securing the AMA Supercross East Division title, and then later Jason Lawrence in 2008 in the SX Lites West Championship. In 2004, Reed added an AMA Supercross premier-class title to his resume. The championship-winning tradition continued with the YZ450F, as Grant Langston secured the AMA Motocross 450cc title in 2007 and in AMA Supercross with Reed in 2008 and James Stewart, Jr. in 2009.

Fast forward to the recent decade, the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing squad has enjoyed resounding success aboard the YZ250F, amassing 14 titles in the professional ranks. It started off with Jessica Patterson securing the AMA WMX title in 2010. Then Jeremy Martin clinched back-to-back AMA 250MX titles in 2014 and 2015, followed by back-to-back 250SX West Championships for Cooper Webb (2015-2016), who also secured the 2016 250MX crown. In 2018, Aaron Plessinger completed a successful campaign, winning 250 titles in both championships. Dylan Ferrandis carried on the team’s winning tradition with back-to-back 250SX West Championships (2019-2020) and the 2020 250MX Championship. In 2021, the reign continued with a sweep of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross 250 class championships, with Justin Cooper topping the West and Colt Nichols the East, and last year Christian Craig was crowned 250SX West Champion. That success carried over to their debut in the premier class, with Ferrandis securing the 450MX Pro Motocross Championship in 2021. Then in 2022, new signee Eli Tomac enjoyed a landmark year with both 450SX and 450MX Championships, for a total of 51 titles for the YZ in AMA Motocross and Supercross.

Yamaha is excited to share the story of the YZ, starting with the first YZ to the current model year family. Stay tuned for more as we look back at iconic moments during this year-long celebration of 50 years of the YZ.

Derek Brooks - Motorcycle Product Line Division Manager, Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA
“With racing and performance at the heart of the Yamaha brand, there’s no better place to kick off the 50th Anniversary of the YZ than at the racetrack. There’s also no better way to pay homage to the iconic YZ than with this iconic era of design. The 90s was a special era for me as a teenager racing on the weekends and watching my hero, Damon Bradshaw. He set the world on fire, not only with his riding but also with the style of his bikes and gear. We look forward to sharing more stories of the YZ’s evolution and groundbreaking innovations during this year-long celebration.”

Jim Roach – Yamaha Racing Department Manager, Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA
“We’re excited to kick off the celebration of 50 years of the YZ this weekend at the Washougal National. Both our Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team and the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory teams in the MXGP World Championship will be running a special throwback livery from the 90s to pay tribute to the YZ. With its roots in racing and its history of success in the sport, there’s no better place than an outdoor national to celebrate this legendary Yamaha off-road model line.”