R.I.P Racing Legend Jay “PeeWee” Gleason

Yamaha sent us the press release below today regarding the passing of Jay “PeeWee” Gleason, who those of us who avidly read and/or worked at Cycle magazine back in the day fondly remember as the magazine’s talented drag-strip fast guy. Be sure to read the personal remembrance from our contributor Ken Lee that follows the release:

Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., is sad to learn that Jay “PeeWee” Gleason, an iconic dragbike racer and member of its Yamaha family of racers, passed away over the weekend.

Bob Starr, General Manager of Communication at Yamaha Motor U.S., said, “PeeWee is a huge part of the Yamaha VMAX legend. His talent on a dragbike helped us sell a lot of VMAX motorcycles, and he will forever be associated with the fabled, V4-powered, Sport Heritage machine. Mention ‘PeeWee Gleason’ and a lot of people instantly think of the VMAX, and what he did on that bike. We will miss him, but we will never forget him.”

PeeWee on his Yamaha V-Max. Photo by Yamaha.
PeeWee on his Yamaha VMAX. Photo by Yamaha.

Back in 1986, for a feature story that was published in Cycle World magazine, Jay “PeeWee” Gleason, a well-known and highly talented dragbike racer, climbed aboard a Yamaha VMX12 VMAX at Baylands Raceway, did a rousing and smoky burnout to bring the rear tire up to temperature and maximum grip, and proceeded to post a quarter-mile time of under nine seconds.

That day, the world found out that the VMAX was the fastest, quickest, most powerful production bike ever. It also compelled many customers to visit their local Yamaha dealers and purchase VMAX motorcycles of their very own.

In 2009, more than two decades after his original VMAX quarter-mile run, PeeWee repeated history aboard a 2009 VMAX, on which he ran the quarter mile in 9.513 seconds and at a trap speed of 143.70 mph.

Jay “PeeWee” Gleason was one of a kind; a soft-spoken, yet highly talented dragbike racer. Godspeed, PeeWee.


Jay Gleason Memories

By Ken Lee

The recent passing of dragbike racing legend Jay “PeeWee” Gleason brings to mind some of the good times we shared together in the 1980s when I was a staff editor at Cycle magazine. Even though we had some Very Fast Guys on hand at Cycle to conduct monthly drag strip testing, we called upon Gleason regularly to help out with some special projects. As I recall, Gleason seemed to be good for about a 0.2-second edge consistently in quarter-mile times compared to our regulars—a world of difference. Though known far and wide as PeeWee, the small-in-stature Gleason told us he was not really thrilled with his nickname. So we called him Jay to his face and in print.

Gleason was a very accomplished racer in a number of different venues, but the drag strip was his forte. And his bread and butter. He knew the strip at Orange County International Raceway like the back of his hand, and like the accomplished racer he was, he had an uncanny, almost superhuman way of jumping on a strange bike and nailing the best time it would turn in the first two or three runs.

The one memory that rises above all others was the time we were at OCIR to test the brand-new 1983 Kawasaki GPz1100. Kawasaki had one of their engineers from Japan along to nursemaid the bike; his name escapes my memory, but this bike was his baby. The engineer and I were up in the OCIR drag-strip tower to record times and observe the proceedings. As usual, Jay chose the left lane and he got a tremendous launch on his first run. About 40 yards down the strip he suddenly veered left to hug the guardrail; although the left lane was the faster of the two, there was a slight dip right there so Jay always slewed the bike left at that exact spot in order to run the best time. I was used to his maneuver, but the poor engineer was caught unawares by this sudden swerve and audibly sucked in a big gasp of air through his teeth as he thought Jay was crashing. Eyes big, he continued to watch Jay rocket through the traps. With that, Jay turned the first-ever 10-second run by a production bike in the history of Cycle magazine.* And the Kawi engineer returned home with the magazine’s accolades plus a great story to share with his colleagues.

Cycle magazine cover, February 1983.
Cycle magazine cover, February 1983.

*Addendum: While Jay did make the first 10-second run on the GPz1100, it was Cycle staffer Mark Homchick who was the first magazine editor to do so, and in fact he was the first editor to run any production motorcycle in the 10s. Homchick ran the bike initially, but could only get low 11s out of it. Needless to say, the Kawasaki team was disappointed, since they knew what the bike could do in Jay’s hands. So Homchick agreed to meet them again at OCIR, and KMC brought Jay along to coach him. After watching Jay’s technique, Homchick got the bike into the 10s, which stood as the magazine’s official road test run.

Jay’s coaching was invaluable to Homchick that day. Jay spent countless days at OCIR testing American Turbo-Pak’s various turbo kits, and he was also a great AMA Junior dirt tracker and road racer—one of the fastest two or three in his era. He was one of the best at the strip, perhaps the VERY best when it came to getting a record time from a production motorcycle, which wasn’t easy as power often exceeded the traction afforded by the tires of the era.


  1. Yes, Jay did do a ten-second run on that bike, but, after watching Jay’s technique, I also ran a ten on that bike, which stood as the magazine’s official road test run. It was very sensitive to RPM leaving the line. A few 100 rpm below four grand, it would bog. A few 100 rpm above and it would spin the tire.

    Jay’s coaching was invaluable. One thing that many people don’t remember is that Jay’s father (I believe it was) owned American TurboPak, and Jay spent countless days at OCIR testing their carious turbo kits. He had lots of opportunity to get as good as he was–which was one of the best.

  2. Thank you for calling him Jay! I’ve been a very close friend of his since 1984, right at the peak of his test riding career. He didn’t go on line, he stuck with the wrenches. He had no patience for computers. I was his “go between” if someone emailed him. It went to me, then I would call him and read it to him. He really could not believe so many people remember him even to this day. If he only learned how to use a computer, he would have been blown away. He was amazed when his Vmax video on YouTube got 10,000 hits!
    I know he’s happy you called him Jay. Thanks so much! That’s a really awesome article. He will be sorely missed. There is nobody else like him.

    • Hi wendy I was a close friend of jay’s we rode dirt bikes together just about every weekend when he lived in Orange California with his dad big john. When he moved to Fort Myers/Coral Gables we talked some he was doing mechanic work on water crafts, and boats, but we lost contact with each othee. He was great with wrenches and kept my YZ250 in top running condition. This is my e- mail address. jonweir78@gmail.com. Please contact me I would like to know more about what happened to him. He was the best friend a person could ever have.

  3. What a talent! I really enjoy reading about his accomplishments at the drag strip. I love the vmax and have great respect for him and what he could do on two wheels. What a loss for Yamaha and motorcycle enthusiasts in general.

  4. My distant cousin…..I have his picture in my motorcycle garage on the Honda V-65 Sabre that seems to have been left out of this press coverage on Jay’s passing. I bought that bike because he made it legendary just like he did the V-Max Yamaha. Jay shined. And he could make any bike shine brighter with what he could make them do. He could show the world what a bike was capable of in capable hands. Talent with a Capital “T”.

    • Randy I was a friend of Jay’s when he lived in Orange California with his dad Big John. I was the first person he called when Big John passed away, I lived 5 minutes from him, and was with him when they came and took big John away. He gave a copy of that same poster signed it to give to my uncle who was a big Honda person. I rode dirt bikes with jay almost every weekend rain or shine we rode. My e-mail is jonweir78@gmail.com if you could contact me, I would appreciate it. When he moved to Coral Gables, we lost touch with each other. I have ridden bikes my whole life, and he taught me more than I had learned my whole both street and dirt. He was a legend, and I use to go to magazine testings with him at Carlsbad Raceway in California.

  5. We met at OCIR when I was jumping and what great stories were told (mostly true) ! Later I bought a 1979 KAWASAKI Z1R-TURBO and we meet again at American Turbo Pack and more fun with stories. He was excited when I set a world record in the 1/4 mile on my Z1R-TC BACKWARDS.
    We were so much alike a d kids at heart playing with motorcycles! May he find that special race in heaven !

  6. Jay would light up the room where ever he was. I had the pleasure to ride street with him back in the day and his knowledge and ability are unsurpassed.I Still, remember that V-Max he rode. I’m sorry to hear his passing and know he rides on in all of our lives. A big hug to my good friend and riding buddy…thanks, all the love, Randy W.

  7. Sitting in my uncle’s living room watching a basket ball game, the Honda V65 Magna commercial plays, blew me away as a young teenager. After seeing that I was hooked. Always raced dirt bikes but after seeing that I was consumed with drag racing motorcycles and still am today. Jay always made it look so easy. Those extra hundredths and tenths he could gain. Amazing and very talented individual. He will be greatly missed.

  8. He was my hero in those early days of fast production bikes. Sitting in Johannesburg in darkest Africa reading my cherished Cycle magazines I always read and re-read the tests that included Jay. Even to this day my nickname is PeeWee, named after Jay. RIP, dude.

  9. I was fortunate enough to be in my mid-teens during the early 1980s. In other words, during the early days of the sportbike revolution and the top speed, horsepower and QM wars that the Japanese manufacturers were waging. My friends and a I were all of 16 years old and would wile away our hours by reading the motorcycle rags, and debating the relative merits of our favorite brands. And at that age “relative merits” revolved mostly around who was the fastest. For us, the Mr. Gleason and what he did was the great equalizer and ultimate arbitrator. Various editors and writers might make us well informed about how a given machine was on the track or in the real world, but they all brought their biases. Mr. Gleason on the other hand. Let’s just say that we all believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the numbers he produced on any bike were the best numbers possible on that machine and that there was no bias involved in his testing; no ambiguity. Just a trip from A to B in a expeditious a manner as possible. Been a number of years since I’ve ridden, though it still lives in my soul and the sound of a bike on the cam will still turn my head. Not sure what brought Mr. Gleason my mind today but I’m saddened to learn that he has long since passed. My thanks to him was long overdue.

  10. I was the kid that lived across from you on Tula Rosa .
    You Rode Wheelies with me on the back 1 thru 5 . I thought it was so cool knowing that i knew
    The fastest motorcycle rider in The WORLD. And remember when you jumped the railroad tracks. I love and Respect you “Jay Pee Wee Gleason”
    Jerrett Jacobsen

    • Jerrett I remember you. I was Jays dirt bike buddy when he lived on Tularosa, and had the Race shop set up aka his garage. Please contact me

  11. So something caused me to look up Jay Gleason and saw he passed. He was a true legend. I was a teenager in the 80’s with a subscription to cycle world. I remember them calling him Jay ” I set the records gleason.

  12. What a wonderful rememberance of my son,Jay. Numerous times I have scoured all the reports of his records in his field and I feel he was loved and appreciated too by so many followers. I never heard him “toot his own horn” –he was humble and sometimes “shy” when it came to his accomplishments. He beyond “loved” his passion and had his “heart” into anything he pursued. As many times, it has been consoling to “go” into all the blogs about him–thank you, Jay’s mom, Joan Scott.

    • Joan I was Jay’s friend when he lived in Orange California with Big John. We rode dirt bikes together. He told me about you all the time, and showed me pictures of you with Mike Tyson at the dentist office you worked at. Jay was a great friend, and after he had to move from Orange after Big John passed he stayed at my house for a while before he moved to Coral Gables where you were at. Please contact me at jonweir78@gmail.com He was my best friend, and was at my wedding, but when he moved to Florida we eventually lost contact with each other. I am so sad to hear about this

  13. I dated Jay PW Gleason # 57~~ 3 different times @16 @19 and after 21 yrs. old from the mid 70’s early 80’s. I remember he would call me from Fremont, CA a lot then. I was on the back of his bike he did a wheelie with me on it in Anaheim Stadium when he did his fire burnout. Then over to Convention Center. …We would go to Glamis in his coppery colored custom van…with “bunkbeds” 😌 spent quite a lot of time with him in Orange and his first Siamese cat where he made the best steak and grilled onions. Just letting ya all know he was the fastest on a bike, but he was a funny goofy guy he was a kind and caring man as well…. I was proud to call him my friend.
    The last contact was right when Ft. Myers got hit before his passing I never heard from him again.

  14. Denise I am Jon Weir and I knew him also when he lived in orange we were neighbors on Tularosa and you words describe him perfect. We use to load our dirt bikes up in my truck or the van you described perfectly. He stayed with me before he moved to Florida then we lost touch. He was the best friend a person could ever have. He always kept my YZ250 in perfect running condition, so when rode we could carve out a good track to race on. Would really like to hear from you. Please contact me at jonweir78@gmail.com

  15. After reading the comments I’m convinced the internet is a great thing. None of these people would of ever had the chance to talk to each other without it.

  16. I own a cb750 with an ATP kit that the first owner purchased directly from Jay’s Dad. I hope to have it running again soon.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here