The following is the seventh in our 21 in ’21 features that highlight one of the 21 AMA Superbike Champions each week as we move through the 2021 MotoAmerica season – the 45th year of the premier class championship.
Jamie James was the epitome of a slow-talking, fast-riding motorcycle racer and one of the most popular riders in the AMA Series during a career that culminated with him winning both the AMA Superbike Championship and 750cc Supersport title in 1989 on Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750s.
“It was enjoyable to win those championships in 1989, especially in Superbike,” James told Larry Lawrence in a 2017 interview. “But it was something I wanted to do again, really bad, just to prove… you know how racing is, you’re only as good as your last race. That’s the way it was, especially back in those days. These days it seems they understand that it’s more important to keep the big-name riders around longer to help build the sport.”
After winning those titles with Yoshimura Suzuki, James went looking for something else and he found it when he hooked up with Eraldo Ferracci and his Fast By Ferracci Ducatis. James had brought money to the team, via a sponsorship deal with Yokohama tires. New team, new bike and tires that no one else in the Superbike class was using. It wasn’t easy.
James scored three podiums in 1990 with third-place finishes at Road Atlanta, Road America and Mid-Ohio. He also dominated the AMA Pro Twins class, winning six races en route to his third AMA National Championship. The deal with Ferracci also enabled James to take part in a few World Superbike races, and he finished second in both races of the Canadian round at Mosport. Ducati liked what they saw, and they hired James to help Raymond Roche win the World Superbike Championship.
And that he did, finishing behind Roche like he was supposed to and helping the Frenchman win the title while earning himself three second-place finishes in his limited World Superbike schedule.
The following year, James switched gears again and signed with the Vance & Hines Yamaha team. He would be there for six successful years, including winning the 1994 AMA 600cc Supersport title and very nearly earning a second AMA Superbike Championship.
That 1994 Superbike Championship was most definitely the one that got away. The title chase came down to the final round: James vs. Aussie Troy Corser. In the race, James was battling over second when his Yamaha started to falter, the Louisianian fighting to keep in the hunt. On the final lap, he was in position to take the championship but when Corser passed David Sadowski, and that was that. Corser had taken the title. By a single point.
James ended his AMA Superbike career riding a Harley-Davidson VR1000 for Don Tilley and would later say, “I wouldn’t trade my time traveling the country in that box van with Don Tilley for nothing.”
As for being a fan favorite for all those years, James was doing it exactly the way he wanted to do it. And the fans loved him for it.
“I realized why I was there,” James told Lawrence in an interview in Cycle News. “If there are no fans, there was no sport. I know a lot of them committed a lot of their own time and money to patronize our sport. Hell, I was known to get out and party with them from time to time. I enjoyed being with the fans and the kids. I loved that part of the sport.”