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The 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 in Louisville).

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 Superbike needs.

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, "No. Why?".

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 rear tire. 

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 all. 

Ends
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? Rainey
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 is Jet.
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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