Auto racing is Eddie Lawson's main priority these days, but when you've won four world road racing championships on a motorcycle, it's difficult to turn down a good ride.
Lawson, 35, came out of a short retirement last March to win his second Daytona 200, the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s premier road race, and Sunday he will return to Daytona International Raceway to defend his title in the opening event of the AMA Superbike series.
"No way will I go back to motorcycles full time," Lawson said Wednesday after testing his Yamaha on the 3.5-mile circuit. "As soon as Daytona is over, I'll head for Phoenix to test my Indy Lights car with the Tasman team."
Lawson will take over the car driven last year by Bryan Herta, who won the series by capturing seven of the 12 races. Herta is moving up to Indy cars this season.
"I won't have any excuses now," Lawson said. "I'll be in a winning car, with the top team, and Bryan (Herta) is going to help me with my driving."
This will be Lawson's first full season in Indy Lights. He drove his first race in the final event of 1992 at Laguna Seca, and last year he had five top-10 finishes in six races, including a second at Laguna Seca and third at Vancouver.
Lawson, who also won the Daytona 200 in 1986, won last year's race by running down leader Scott Russell, the national champion, on the final lap. At the finish, Lawson and his Vance & Hines Yamaha 250 were 0.051 seconds ahead of Russell's Kawasaki.
"We're basically on the same bike this year," Lawson said. "It's updated, of course, but it's pretty much the same. If anything, they've found a little more power. We'll need it because I know the other guys have made improvements, too.
"Last year, winning was a surprise. I had no idea what to expect. I wondered what I'd be able to do, but the bike was good and I guess I'm not too old to race with them.
"It will be very difficult to win again. Everyone wants revenge, so I know I'll have to ride harder this year. At the same time, I think everyone will still have to race with me. I'm not saying I'm going to go out and (dominate), but I am saying I think they'll know they've been in a race when it's over."
The field will be one of the strongest in the 53 years of the Daytona 200. The entries include Russell, who went on to win the world Superbike championship last year; Doug Polen, a two-time world Superbike champion who won the national championship in 1993; former Superbike champion Fred Merkel, who will be Russell's Kawasaki teammate; and former Daytona winner Miguel Duhamel, on a Harley-Davidson. A Harley has not won America's premier race since 1973, when Cal Rayborn won.
Lawson, who had 31 Grand Prix victories while winning world championships in 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1989, retired after a 1992 season in which he helped develop the Cagiva bike. He scored Cagiva's only GP victory in Hungary, then announced his retirement at the end of the season.
"I still love riding the bike in a race, but after 10 years I decided I needed something else," he said. "I had thought about car racing for a long time and now that I've made the change, I couldn't be happier. I'm really looking forward to this season with (car owner) Steve Horne and the Tasman team."
The Indy Lights season will open April 10 at Phoenix International Raceway in conjunction with the Indy car race.
"It's funny about cycles and cars," he said. "You use the same principals, but there are still some radical differences. The one I notice most is that I can't move the car around with my body, like I do with the bike. Body movement can compensate for handling problems on a bike, but moving your body in the car doesn't do much. You've got to have it right before you take off.
"Another thing is the difference in how deep you can take your equipment into a corner before braking. You can really go deep on a bike, but you wouldn't believe how deep you can go in an Indy Lights car. As an example, on a bike you might go to the 300-foot marker and touch the brakes, while in an Indy Lights car you go past the 100 marker and just brush them.
"It's a matter of getting your brain to readjust to the different check points."
Lawson still has a home in Upland, where he was raised, but he spends most of his off-track time at Lake Havasu, Nev., where he keeps a boat for cruising on the Colorado River.
MOTORCYCLES--World speedway champion Sam Ermolenko, recuperating from a broken leg and bruised back, showed he is about ready to race again when he defeated former national champions Mike Faria and Brad Oxley in a match race during last week's Spring Classic at Costa Mesa. Ermolenko will return to the British League later this month. The weekly Friday night season at the Orange County Fairgrounds will start April 1.
STOCK CARS--Blythe Speedway will open its third season as an asphalt track Saturday night with sportsman, pro stocks and hobby stocks, plus an MSRA pro-four touring series race. . . . Sportsman, pro stocks and factory stocks will race Saturday night at Imperial Raceway as part of the California Mid-Winter Fair.