Two Months Before the 1991 Daytona 200, Miguel DuHamel Didn’t Even Have a Ride
"I just remember screaming so loud in my helmet when I crossed the finish line that I thought my voice box was going to explode."
by Dean Adams
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Miguel DuHamel on the Camel Honda RC30 Superbike in 1991. Like just about everybody who raced one professionally, DuHamel never had any kind of yearning to own an RC30. Did it make a cool exhaust note? Yes. But the list of things it did well ended about there.
Two months before the 1991 Daytona 200, Miguel DuHamel didn’t even have a ride.
In the long history of the Daytona 200 there few story lines as amazing as the one that goes with the ’91 race. The rider that most called the favorite to win the race didn’t even enter the event, while a rider most didn’t know, or rate high enough to win the Daytona 200, dominated the event, scoring a win that put him on the path to racing immortality.
DuHamel wasn’t supposed to be aboard the Honda Superbike in March of 1991—American Randy Renfrow was the top Honda rider back then and the stars were aligning for the Virginia rider. DuHamel had ridden for Yoshimura Suzuki in 1990 and was fully entrenched in the customary hot and cold performance of the riders who put in time there in the 1990s. He sniffed around decent Superbike results but it was Doug Chandler and Scott Russell who stole most of the headlines.
That stopped September 9 of 1990 when DuHamel, on a Michelin-shod GSX-R750, dominated the Superbike race at Heartland Park, in all places, Kansas. Under sweltering heat, that win gave DuHamel street cred not based on being Yvon DuHamel’s son and cleaned up his rep as being too frequent a crasher to ever be a top rider in Superbike.
From Heartland Park the ’90 series went to the sand-blown stretches of Willow Springs where DuHamel’s Suzuki eviscerated itself and Commonwealth Honda’s Randy Renfrow—fifth at Topeka—won the Superbike race. Renfrow had finished a close second behind Dave Sadowski’s Vance and Hines Yamaha in the 1990 Daytona 200; thus Renfrow was looking to step up one place for the 1991 Daytona 200.
The late 1990 and then early 1991 off-pre-season saw tumultuous change in the AMA paddock. DuHamel prepared to race the 1991 season for Suzuki and had the rod removed from the femur he broke in ’89 (don’t ask). He noticed Suzuki US wasn’t returning his calls and when he finally did reach someone there, was told that Suzuki US had decided to go with American riders for the 1991 season. Thanks but no thanks. Seriously. DuHamel didn’t even plan on racing Daytona, and in January was officially unemployed.
Renfrow, with his '91 teammate Richie Arnaiz, returned to Willow Springs in late January for a test. Clearly Honda were building towards a crisp crescendo, Renfrow had nearly won the ’90 Daytona 200 and ran strong for most of the 1990 season, capping it all off with a very popular win at the last round of the series at Willow Springs.
All the promise of success Renfrow had methodically built in a decade of roadracing came crashing down in a horrific—and now infamous—crash in Willow’s bullet-fast turn eight. After Renfrow fell, his right hand became trapped under the RC30s clip-on as the bike ground to a halt from 140 mph. Renfrow suffered catastrophic injuries to his right hand, including the eventual loss of his thumb. He also suffered massive damage to his index finger, in addition to other body contusions. With Daytona less than five weeks away, it was clear that now with only nine fingers, Renfrow would be in no shape to race the 200—or perhaps ever race again. He would sit out the 1991 season undergoing surgeries and rehabilitation.
Commonwealth Honda needed to find a second rider—quickly—as they had scored Camel sponsorship for Daytona and the contract called for two riders to blaze in Camel yellow in Superbike. Team owner Martin Adams already enjoyed a close bond with DuHamel, and since Miguel was the fastest unemployed racer in the US, he was quickly signed to a minimal-paying contract to replace Renfrow.
The 1991 Daytona 200 was still in the period where it drew some of the best racers in the world to the high banks. Yamaha US had Jamie James and Tom Stevens, Kawasaki entered Scott Russell, Two Brothers Honda entered three-time world champion Freddie Spencer; and there were plenty of fast imports as well, including future World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty, then ex-GP man Rob Mcelnea, and Steve Hislop among them. Even the privateers were threateningly fast with Tom Kipp Jr on his Wiseco Yamaha, Jimmy Adamo aboard his Ducati and John Ashmead on a Kawasaki.
And then there was the 800-pound gorilla of early 1990s racing—Doug Polen. Polen was just feeling his way into the domination he would inflict on Superbike racing in 1991.
Daytona ran two heat races back then called the Twin 50s—two fifty-mile sprint races to set the first chunk of the grid. Polen won heat race number one, although Carl Fogarty led it on his Honda. Polen set the pole with a fast lap of 1:53.638, breaking Thomas Stevens' lap record.
Heat race number two saw a massive battle between two men who would go at each other hammer and tongs in 1991—Scott Russell on the Kawasaki and DuHamel on the Honda. DuHamel led the heat race and tried to make a last lap draft pass work but came up short—he passed Russell but only after they’d passed the finish line. The 23-year old finished second, which was amazing considering he had not spent any time on the RC30 before he climbed on it at Daytona.
DuHamel’s week started off in what would become a customary fashion—he won the 600 Supersport race on Friday at the Speed—the race then called the “International Supersport” event. It was his first-ever 600 win at Daytona.
The 1991 Daytona 200 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Daytona 200. Daytona put a nice dress on the old girl to celebrate with a marching band, Air Force jets in the sky, an honor guard and plenty of the red, white and blue. Polen sat on pole for the Sunday race, run under warm sunshine, and was easily the hands-down favorite. Mostly because no one outside of the Ferracci Ducati camp yet had a clue as to how much of a grenade with the pin half-pulled the 851/888 could be in endurance racing.
Incredibly, Polen’s race was over almost before it started. He launched too hard and the chain stretched after his launch into turn one. The chain flopped around on the banking and Polen tried to coast the Ducati into the pit lane. It died far away from the Ferracci pit and he pushed it to the crew who took over and pushed it the rest of the way down the pit lane. Polen both comically and tragically was running down the pit lane when the pack streamed by for the third lap. He would re-enter the race but was soon out of the 1991 Daytona 200 with mechanical problems caused by the chain misadventure.
Randy Renfrow was at Daytona in 1991, helping the Honda team as best he could with one arm bandaged heavily. After the race he sort of looked like someone who had been punched in the face unexpectedly by a friend.
Tom Kipp led the 200 for the opening lap and then Russell took over and he and Kipp draft passed each other until lap 13 when Jamie James on the Yamaha took the lead on his OW01 Superbike. DuHamel made it into the lead on lap nineteen and would stay there until the lap count hit the low 30s. DuHamel was able to pull ten second advantages over the pack at will, it seemed, but each time he’d get a major lead the pace car would have to be brought out as Daytona cleaned up after incidents. Three times the pace car saw action that day.
DuHamel relinquished the lead on lap 33 with Jamie James in front for two laps, and then James' teammate, Tom Stevens, took over for five laps but could not hold off DuHamel and the Camel RC30. DuHamel retook the lead on lap 40 and was never headed, leading all of the remaining laps until the checkered flag. Scott Russell had played his pit stops well and would have been in a position to make a strong challenge at the end, but thought he had a tire going down late in the race and made an inadvertent pit stop. Jamie James was in position to challenge DuHamel as well, but the Canadian made a deft move in traffic late in the race that left James with nowhere to go. He would finish second with Tom Stevens behind him.
DuHamel’s first Daytona 200 win was met with screams of joy from the Honda pit, he crossed the finish line with his hands in the air. Superbike racing in 1991 was a hardscrabble, scrappy affair—the factories used teams as contractors so there were no real factory teams. Winning races didn’t just mean success—it meant everybody got to keep their job for the foreseeable future.
DuHamel was the first Canadian to win the Daytona 200 in 40 years. While many said it was DuHamel’s first try at the 200 he had entered and practiced for the 200 in 1990—but had hit the wall and injured his hand and didn’t race the event.
Randy Renfrow was at Daytona in 1991, helping the Honda team as best he could with one arm bandaged heavily. After the race he sort of looked like someone who had been punched in the face unexpectedly by a friend. Life had served him up a nasty plate of discomfort and unfortunate circumstance, but he was genuinely happy that DuHamel and Honda had won it.
I asked DuHamel for his remembrances of the 1991 Daytona 200, about a race that really changed his life. Before the race he was viewed as a fast rider who lacked consistency but afterward he challenged for the Superbike championship and received GP offers (he would race GP in 1992). “It definitely put my name on the big board,” DuHamel said, “but that’s the beauty of Daytona. I just remember screaming so loud in my helmet when I crossed the finish line that I thought my voice box was going to explode. It’s like any Daytona 200 win, it just puts you over the moon. My dad had tried for so many years to win the 200 and then for me to do it, I thought that was great, I completed what my dad started, you know?
“When I think of it now, I’m of course happy with the accomplishment, but feel a bit sad that Randy didn’t get what might have been his best chance at a 200 win. That’s a tough one, especially when we all know that he later died so young. Still I smile when I think of that race.”
After securing victory in Topeka on his Suzuki, triumphing over Doug Chandler, the speedster of the class, DuHamel confidently anticipated his place on the Yoshimura Suzuki team for the 1991 season. In the days just following Christmas, he dialed up the Yoshimura race shop in California, eager for updates. "What kind of support can we expect? Any hints on the bike's color scheme? We sticking with Michelin or making the switch to Dunlop?"
He chose to undergo a groundbreaking surgery, where his big toe was skillfully removed and transplanted to replace his missing thumb. He underwent surgery at the UCLA Medical Center in April of 1991.
He was met with an unexpected response, "Oh, by the way, we forgot to give you a call. We're exclusively fielding American riders next year, so there's no spot for you."
In the world of racing, some often say, "It was a classic case of Yosh."
Yoshimura Suzuki riders Tommy Lynch and Britt Turkington did not win a single race in 1991.
Randy Renfrow's remarkable racing comeback stands as one of the most extraordinary in the sport's history, following a devastating crash during a test session at Willow Springs. After the accident led to the amputation of his right thumb, Renfrow faced a pivotal decision. He chose to undergo a groundbreaking surgery, where his big toe was skillfully removed and transplanted to replace his missing thumb. He underwent surgery at the UCLA Medical Center in April of 1991. This groundbreaking procedure paved the way for Renfrow's triumphant return to the track, and just one year later, he found himself on the podium during the 600 Supersport race at Daytona.
— ends —