Amazing Career of Doug Chandler
by dean adams
With the 2000 AMA Superbike season
now wrapped up and UPS'd to Mat Mladin's new house in Australia, there
are several things to dwell upon, but what strikes me as flat-out amazing
is a story probably not very well recognized by some. With Willow Springs
perhaps being the last race of former AMA and World Superbike champion
Scott Russell, Tom Stevens retiring a year ago, Jamie James now a full-time
restaurateur and father, it's clear that some of the veteran riders and
best known faces in the paddock are fading away.
One face that is resistant to fade
is that of Kawasaki's Doug Chandler.
Chandler's involvement with AMA roadracing
actually pre-dates Superbike being the premier class in the roadrace series.
Chandler made his first initial forays into AMA racing in the old Formula
One class, the headliner back then, entering his first pro-level roadrace
at Loudon, on June 17, 1984 on a Honda RS500 triple. Chandler, born in
1965, was a lifelong dirt tracker at that point and had come up through
the ranks to the top level of dirt track, and needed more points in the
old Grand National championship, which awarded the top prize to the rider
netting the most roadrace and dirt track points. So he decided to give
roadracing a try. Chandler actually roadraced a few times in 1983 in several
AFM races at Willow Springs, and then went to Loudon in 1984, finishing
sixth in his first ever roadrace national. (Others in that event: Rich
Oliver finished ninth, and racer turned announcer Rich Chambers tenth).
Chandler made frequent returns to
the roadrace scene from that point on, racing a factory Honda Superbike
in the late 1980s, and nailing his first national in 1988, wining the Mid-Ohio
Pro Twins race on Martin Adams' Commonwealth Honda, a bike powered by a
Honda RS750 dirt track engine (the bike is still sitting in Adams' garage
Chandler had known about Robert 'Rob'
Muzzy from his dirt track days (Muzzy was a force in west coast and national
dirt track racing long before he started building Superbikes). They hooked
up in 1989, found a very common bond based in a distaste for, well, bullshit,
and won the Superbike title in 1990 for Kawasaki.
After that, Chandler decided that
his future was in Grand Prix racing, so he left the US in 1991 to race
a backdoor Roberts Yamaha. Muzzy was about as pleased as you can imagine
him being. After one season with Roberts, Doug raced for Suzuki and Cagiva
in Grand Prix, narrowly missing out on several GP wins, but getting to
the podium six times in those ultra-competitive years.
After Cagiva left Grand Prix after
the 1994 season, Chandler returned to AMA Superbike on the Harley-Davidson
VR1000. After struggling with a twice broken collarbone, Chandler bailed
from the Harley squad and most thought he would retire. Instead, the next
year heralded the third chapter in his seemingly never-ending career: Muzzy
and Kawasaki welcomed him back and together they dominated the Superbike
championship for two years, with Chandler becoming one of a very select
number of men who have won the title three times. He remains with Kawasaki
today, teamed with longtime Scott Russell and John Ashmead tuner Gary Medley.
The secret to Chandler's successful
longevity is simple: he doesn't over-ride the equipment, abhors riding
like a mad-man, and always keeps the championship points table in the back
of his head when racing. He's not the most exciting rider to watch for
some spectators, because only rarely is the bike crossed up or sliding
sideways; but if you've raced, and know what it takes to be fast for 29
laps, he's amazing. Smooth as calm water, you can barely detect the fork
legs sliding back when he gets off the brakes going into the corner. Put
a stopwatch on him in a race sometime and you'll see that there are no
peaks and valleys in his lap times, he knows how fast he can go until the
end of the race, and does so. He makes so few riding mistakes they can
probably all be counted on one hand. In ten years of watching him ride
I cannot recall him blowing a corner in practice and riding off, something
that is actually quite common, especially at new racetracks. When he highsided
out of the horseshoe at the Dunlop tire test three years ago, everybody
who follows the series stood and looked at each other like a Mars probe
had just touched down in the pit lane. Chandler made a mistake. Wow.
He's stubborn, or perhaps a better
term would be that he knows what works and what doesn't, and isn't interested
in trying to use what doesn't. He sat out the Dunlop tire test almost two
years ago in a dispute with Muzzy over direction of the team, and this
season struggled with the new direct from Japan works Superbike until the
last race of the year at Willow. Dale Rathwell, a freelance suspension
engineer who has worked with all of the major AMA Superbike teams and has
also worked in Grand Prix and World Superbike, said once that of all the
many riders he has worked with, Doug Chandler and Tom Kipp were the only
two who he felt completely understood how a motorcycle works and what a
Calm, soft-spoken and polite, Chandler
can also become as hard-edged and competitive as the rest if backed into
a corner; we saw that at Vegas in 1996 when he decimated DuHamel and Honda
for the Superbike championship. For the most part though, he's just as
big a motorcycle enthusiast as you or I, most Friday nights on race weekends
you'll find him wearing a sweat-shirt, and talking with his mechanics as
they work on his bike under the tent.
Chandler said in 1993 that he only
wanted to race a few more years and then retire to a nice little family
run motorcycle dealership, but according to those closest to him, Doug
Chandler has become more transfixed on racing as the years pass, not less
as most veteran riders, and he wants to race at least another two years,
or more. He wants to become the only four-time winner of the AMA Superbike
championship. He really would like to win the Daytona 200.
He's proven that for all of his pragmatic
ways and dependable nature, he can still be unpredictable. After spending
a decade looking like an all-American, blue-collar boy, wearing jeans and
a t-shirt, with hot-rods, pick-up trucks and dirt bikes a plenty, he showed
up at Atlanta this year with his hair bleached, wearing big shorts and
riding of all things, a skateboard. Mars probe number two.
Did you lose a bet or something,
I asked him when he, um, skateboarded up to chat. Stone faced, he replied,
Moreover, he's a former dirt track
star, was known as primarily a dirt track racer for the first third of
his career, so you would think that he likes to slide the bike and loves
the way the Dunlop slicks slide. He doesn't. He confessed a few years ago
that he prefers the stay-in-line on the exit qualities of the Michelin
Doug Chandler started his professional
roadrace career in another era, truthfully, and before Kevin Schwantz,
Mick Doohan, Carl Fogarty and many others started theirs, others who, like
those three, were exciting to watch, but saw their careers cut short from
riding in a fashion that Chandler feels is unnecessary.
Two-time AMA Superbike champion Mat
Mladin will be headed home for some time off in Australia soon. When he
leans his head against that seat in the jet that will take him home, you
can bet he'll be thinking championship number three.
He'll also be contemplating the fact
that Chandler seemed to have the Kawasaki fixed at Willow, and if that
is the case, championship number three may be the hardest to obtain of
|Stuff you probably didn't know
about Doug Chandler:
|1. Born in Salinas, raised in Salinas,
lives in, yes, Salinas, California
|2. Real name, John Douglas Chandler
|3. Member of the very exclusive
Grand Slam Club. Other members: Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts
|4. Loves to camp, loves to pack
up the wife and kids, motorhome and a trailer filled with dirt bikes and
other things he "needs" and just go off camping. Is probably camping right
now, in fact.
|5. Was a very successful AMA amateur
dirt track rider from age ten up.
|6. Raced against Chris Carr and
Fred Merkel as a lad, among others.
|7. Wife, Sheri, is daughter of former
head of dirt track racing at Honda, Jerry Griffiths.
|8. Has more muscle cars, trucks,
shifter karts, dirt bikes, Jeeps and misc. toys than pretty much anyone
on the planet. Example: is said to own seven shifter karts.
|9. Wayne Rainey is his racing hero.
|10. Youngest daughter's first name?
|11. Oldest son's first name: Jet
|12. Almost won the Suzuka eight
hours endurance race. Partner? Kevin Magee.
|13. On race weekends, almost always
eats Sat night meal in his hotel room.
|14. At that one warehouse in Salinas
where they race pocket-bikes and motorized skateboards, the quiet fast
guy in the corner is Chandler.
|15. The fast kid on the pocket bike
|16. When Doohan is in town to get
his leg made longer/shorter, if he can walk, he usually comes down to Doug's
place, crashes all of his dirt bikes, then leaves. They're pals.
|17. Not entirely enthused about
riding his ZX9 on the street, but will do so if provoked. All the way to
Laguna Seca, which is a short ride from his garage, er, house. If further
provoked at Laguna will do impressive fourth gear wheelies up the front
straight to break up the monotony.
|18. Was sponsored as a dirt tracker
by Freddie Spencer.
|19. Was the first American to win
a World Superbike race on American soil, at Brainerd 1990.
|20. Probably won't be starting a
Salinas chapter of the John Kocinski fan club any time soon.
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