50 Years Ago, Don Emde Made Daytona 200 History on a Yamaha TR3

Proud dad: Floyd Emde poses with son Don at the 1972 Daytona 200. They are the only father/son duo to earn Daytona 200 wins. Floyd won it in 1948 on an Indian, and Don in 1972 on a Yamaha. (Image courtesy 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 publisher, but there was a time when a young Don Emde was a rising star in the universe of pro motorcycle road racers.

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

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

Don Emde Daytona 200
Don Emde at 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 any Yamaha up to 1972 was by the Yvon Duhamel in 1968, when Duhamel’s Yamaha YR2 finished second to Cal Rayborn on a Harley-Davidson KRTT.

Let’s see—Emde was going to ride a privateer 350cc two-stroke twin sponsored by Motorcycle Weekly, tuned by Mel Dinesen against a raft 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 truly felt in my heart that I was going to win the race. I don’t mean that I thought I could win, but I felt that I would win. The feeling, which is difficult to describe, actually started many months before Daytona. It stayed with me all the way to victory, even though there were many events along the way that challenged my confidence. I had felt for so long that I was going to win, that the victory was almost anti-climactic.”

Somehow, it’s tough 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 ’72, Emde had crashed out of the 250cc lightweight event on Saturday, resulting in a very sore shoulder. Despite that, Emde says he still had the feeling he would win the 200 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 on an Indian in 1948, Don’s tuner, Mel Dinesen, and Don Vesco, owner/tuner of Smith’s machine. (Photo: The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race)

Emde’s victory was not only the first-ever Daytona win for Yamaha, but it also proved to be the first of a skein of 13 victories for Yamaha that continued until 1984. It wasn’t until 1985 that Freddie Spencer knocked Yamaha off the top of the podium on a Honda VF750F. Emde’s victory was also the first Daytona 200 win for a two-stroke engine. His TR3 had the smallest displacement for a winner in event history, averaging 103.35 mph). It remains the only win resulting in a father/son duo of Daytona 200 champs.

Don Emde made quite a bit of history on that Sunday at Daytona. What was he thinking? He was thinking he would.

The 80th running of the Daytona 200, America’s most historic motorcycle road race, held at Daytona International Speedway, is scheduled for March 12, 2022, during Bike Week.