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Monday, February 6, 2023

Colin Fraser: Remembering ‘Ski’

Colin Fraser

Former AMA Superbike and Supersport National star David Sadowski died on January 12, reportedly from a heart attack, at his home is Austell, Georgia. He was 58 and is survived by girlfriend Janet Godfrey and ex-racer sons, Matthew and David Jr. Sadowski is most famous for his victory in the 1990 Daytona 200, and his 1990 AMA 60cc Supersport title, both earned aboard works Vance and Hines Yamahas.

Sadowski also earned the WERA-affiliated Formula USA Championship for open class machinery in 1994 and 1997 on Labelle Honda CBR900RR-based equipment built by Mike Velasco.

‘Ski’ is best remembered as an outgoing and opinionated individual, and a successful broadcaster, post-racing, with the long-gone but much-missed Speed Channel and Speedvision broadcasters in the U.S. He provided provide colour commentary for AMA Pro events from 1995 to 2005, but his hard partying eventually led to his dismissal.

That was a shame, since Sadowski was one of the most talented television analysts I have ever had the pleasure of listening to or working with. He had a great grasp of all the elements that contributed to the skillset of an ‘A level’ racer and was more than able to put these considerations into words at just the right time, with considerable flair.

David Sadowski joined the new American Yamaha super team with Vance and Hines for 1990, and was the start of the opening round at Daytona. CREDIT Vance and Hines Yamaha, 1990.

Sadowski was not a fan of corporate speak and was certainly inclined to champion the underdog. Years scrambling to put together programs that would allow him to compete at a high lever had certainly taught him all about the harsh economic realities of professional competition.

Sadowski was one of the first racers focused on fitness, and that led him to return to an early love, ice hockey. We spoke on this topic regularly, and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t share his enthusiasm for in-game fighting, something his rec-league teammates preferred to avoid!

As early as 1984, Sadowski was showing potential in the 250cc Grand Prix National category, but soon switched to the emerging, more affordable, and contingency-driven production-based Supersport divisions. He made the podium at his home track in Loudon, New Hampshire, in 1987 (in 600 action), and then won the 750cc race the next year, competing with an injured shoulder.

I remember talking with ‘Ski’ after that win, and he explained that he needed the Suzuki contingency, more than the prize money, to help him through his season. He had to race.

At the time, road racing was just starting to take off due to the fast-building interest in sports bikes. And a host of rising stars like Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Jamie James, Scott Gray,

Chuck Graves and Sadowski were racing GSX-Rs, Katanas and CBR600s at regional events across the country, hunting the manufacturer payouts.

The end of season CCS ‘Race of Champions’ at Daytona – and especially the WERA ‘Grand National Championships’ at Road Atlanta offered the final, title-deciding races, and Sadowski was a shoot-out hero.

At Road Atlanta, his determination to take all the Suzuki money on offer led to some incredible races, awesome victories and horrible crashes. And, not incidentally, exciting television featuring the outspoken ‘Ski.’

Back in the day, the Daytona 200 had Heat Races on Friday, following the pattern of the NASCAR 500 event. At D.I.S. in 1990, David Sadowski on the works Vance and Hines Yamaha battle for the Friday podium with the Action Honda RC30 of Rueben McMurter. CREDIT Colin Fraser

Eventually, Sadowski got hooked up with Vance and Hines in California, riding their Suzuki Superbike late in 1988. Vance and Hines were the featured builders in drag racing, and were looking to establish their credentials in road racing, too.

AMA Pro went from almost no factory support in 1989 (James and Russell paying for their Yoshimura rides with their Suzuki Cup winnings) to big money teams for 1990. The biggest and brightest was undoubtedly Vance and Hines and their brand-new works Yamaha effort, with FZR600s in the 600cc Supersport category and the legendary OW01 homologation special superbike for the feature class.

Behind the Podium following his victory, David Sadowski chats with media – note the tear in his leathers from a first turn assault by the works Honda Britain RC30 of Niall Mackenzie. CREDIT Colin Fraser.

Back in those days, the Daytona 200 Superbike season opener, in early March, was a very big deal and attracted a large international field for the recently developed street-bike base category. Once of the features of the 200, in 1990, was the works Honda Britan HRC squad of Carl Fogarty, Jamie Whitham and Niall Mackenzie.

At the start of the 200, Mackenzie was confused by the pit lane grid / start set-up, panicked in Turn 1, and clobbered several of the front row starters, including Sadowski. Lucky not to crash, ‘Ski’ worked his way to take a popular win on the lurid purple and yellow Yamaha – bike and rider repaired during pit stops with duct tape!

Unfortunately, Sadowski would have back issues for much of the season, and his focus on the 600cc Supersport title certainly took something away from his Superbike efforts. The Champion in the lucrative Supersport Series, he managed a respectable fourth in the final Superbike standings, top Yamaha just ahead of team-mate Thomas Stevens.

It is worth mentioning that Sadowski, gung-ho in approach and sometimes accused of over-aggressive riding, was frequently in the wars with the top Canuks of the day, including Steve Crevier and Rueben McMurter.

Sadowski sat out 1991 and returned in 1992, leading the works Yoshimura-Suzuki effort. However, Suzuki were still using their old-tech, oil-cooled engines, and results were hard to come by. ‘Ski’ wound up 12th in points, top Suzuki.

By 1993, Sadowski was focused on contingency racing, aboard his own Suzukis, and was avoiding the expense of AMA National competition.

His last big push in the premier division would be in 1994, when he organized a strong, privateer Ducati twin program, under the name ‘Team Desmo.’ Although he didn’t attend all the rounds, he earned a third at Road America, a fourth at Sears Point as well as a trio of fifths.

In his final, self-funded, partial AMA Pro Superbike season, he earned a solid 13th in the final standings.

From that point on, Sadowski focused on Formula USA, a category with considerable attention in the mid-‘90s, including solid television coverage. With an open class of rules that allowed turbos, nitrous and methanol fuels, F-USA attracted plenty of media attention.

Long-time Honda stalwart Velasco was working in the northwest for a dealer who liked racing and decided to focus on Honda’s new, no real race class, 900cc Fireblade. With lots of neat tricks including an air box packed with dry ice, Velasco’s wild creations and Sadowski’s aggressive riding were a perfect match.

From there, Sadowski moved to the broadcast booth, developing a strong following on Two Wheeled Tuesdays. His popularity was not hurt by the fact he also enjoyed a beer or two around the fans’ campfires at the track.

Later, Sadowski ran a race school in China, based at the Zhuhai International Speedway. In 2010, Sadowski came out of retirement to compete in a Pan-Delta series round at Zhuhai, winning his class on a Kawasaki Superbike.

They really don’t make then like David Sadowski, anymore, and he will be missed.

In 1992, Sadowski was leading the Yoshimura Suzuki AMA Pro effort, and at the Daytona 200 season opener he battles with the leading Two Brothers Honda RC30 of reigning CSBK Champ Steve Crevier. CREDIT Colin Fraser.

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