One of the proudest moments in American road racing came at Brainerd International Raceway on June 10, 1990. That is when Doug Chandler showed the world just how good of a racer he was. Chandler’s turned in an awesome performance in the U.S. round of the World Superbike Championship where he won the pole and one of the rounds. But for an oil leak on his Muzzy Kawasaki in the first race, when he was pulling away with a nearly three-second lead, Chandler would have dominated both races.
Just thinking about that weekend in Brainerd still gives me goose bumps. There was a huge crowd numbering close to 40,000, the biggest ever to see a motorcycle race at Brainerd. Chandler and his fellow Americans proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Superbike racing in the United States was world class. Chandler made American pride at Brainerd swell when he won the pole by qualifying at a record 1:42.158 (105.719 mph) on his Kawasaki ZX-7 Superbike. U.S riders dominated qualifying with seven of the top ten riders being from the States. They included World Superbike regular Fred Merkel (2nd), Scott Russell (4th), David Sadowski (5th), Jamie James (6th), Thomas Stevens (8th), and Randy Renfrow (10th).
In race one Chandler chased down leader Raymond Roche on the factory Ducati bringing Stephane Mertens on a Honda with him. A few laps later Chandler built his lead over Mertens to 2.7 seconds. Unfortunately an oil leak developed on Chandler’s Kawasaki and his rear tire was being sprinkled with the oily mist from the leak. That slowed Chandler’s pace by three seconds and Roche and Mertens zipped past. Mertens crossed the finish line leading for the first time at the checkered flag. Roche came home 2.1 seconds later and Chandler limped in his Kawasaki to third, almost being caught by fourth place Terry Rymer (who had worked up from 23rd place on the first lap) on the final lap.
The second race was a battle of survival. Brainerd’s tarmac was really heating up at this point of the sunny summer day and recently resurfaced corners went soft. This made for some spectacular slides coming out of turns. Chandler’s flat-track experience really began to pay off in the conditions.
“It felt a lot like a dirt track surface,” he said. “The long wheelbase of the Kawasaki made it easy for me to stay on the gas and get the back end kicked out pretty far. Only once did I get it a little too sideways. I was looking back behind me in a turn to see where Mertens was and I wasn’t paying much attention, got hard on the gas and was almost staring Mertens in the face with the bike completely crossed up.”
With five laps to go Chandler drafted into the lead past Yamaha’s Terry Rymer on Brainerd’s long front straight. While he was in the pack Chandler’s bike began to overheat. “I think it was because my radiators weren’t getting enough air, because I was always behind someone. As soon as I got out front the engine cooled off.” Chandler explained.
Chandler went on to win perhaps the biggest roadrace of his life by 2.6 seconds. He was greeted by a cheering mob at the winners’ podium, and stood proud at the playing of the national anthem.
Mertens echoed the sentiments of many of the series regulars after the race. “If I would have wanted to really push it, I think I could have stayed with Chandler, I don’t know. He was here for one race, I have the entire series to think about. Still there is no doubt that he was very good rider, and his machine was very fast.”
Chandler proved his Brainerd win was no fluke. Later that summer he and the Muzzy crew went to Sugo for the Japanese World Superbike round, where Chandler won again.
The Brainerd and Sugo victories served as a launching pad for Chandler. He was in high demand and it put him into a position of having to decide where to go.
“Kawasaki really wanted myself and Rob [Muzzy] to do World Superbike,” Chandler remembers. “And then Kenny [Roberts] came with his GP offer. I look back on it and figure I might have been able to win the World Superbike Championship in 1991, but like I told Kawasaki then, a MotoGP offer may only come along once in a lifetime and when it’s there you’d better take it.”
So Chandler turned his back on a much better shot at a world title, to pursue motorcycle road racing at it highest
level. After riding in the GPs for four seasons Chandler returned to American and eventually won two more AMA Superbike titles.
To this day he looks back with a lot of satisfaction on his 1990 World Superbike victories.
“I already knew AMA Superbike racing was on par with World Superbike,” he said. “I think my wins at Brainerd and Sugo really helped the rest of the world see that.”
I’m loving this website I found out about today. Great photos of customs and cafe bikes.
What in the hell happened to Supermoto? It seemed like just yesterday when the old AMA Pro Racing (the one actually owned by the AMA, not the new DMG version) held a press conference at Daytona International Speedway announcing the launch of the AMA Supermoto Championship. The series had good buzz for a few years and before you knew it was gone, off the radar of just about every motorcycle website save for the Supermoto sanctioning body itself and maybe Cycle News.
The series has practically disappeared and probably only gets any support these days because of its inclusion in the X-Games.
Quick… anyone know who won the most recent round of what is now called the XTRM AMA Supermoto Championship in Las Vegas? Do you think you could even attempt to answer that without doing a web search, where it still may take some time to find? The answer by the way is Derek Costella. No offense, but I’d never heard of Derek and I follow motorcycle racing about as closely as anyone.
It’s not Derek’s fault that no one knows who he is of course, that’s the job of the sanctioning body and the promoters to make stars out of these riders, but frankly Supermoto may be too far gone to make a star out of anyone.
I talked to Andy Leisner not long ago to ask him his thoughts on the downfall of the series. Leisner was a Vice President at AMA Pro Racing and was largely responsible for the exciting launch of AMA Supermoto in 2003. Leisner cited the lack of sponsorship (Red Bull was series sponsor in the early years and did a ton of promotion for the series), non-existent TV package and the lack of an energetic and hard-working point person to manage the series.
“Chris Bradley and a fair number of support staff spent almost all their time working on Supermoto in those early days,” Leisner said. “Chris was young, enthusiastic and just plowed forward and made things happen. I mean he was setting up races in the middle of downtown in places like Columbus (Ohio), Dallas, Las Vegas and Reno. Can you imagine the red tape he had to deal with to get those races coordinated? It was a tremendous undertaking and after Chris left the AMA no one ever really stepped in and had the passion and the energy to work the series like he did.”
In addition Leisner agreed that the more technical the tracks got – with large dirt and man-made jumps – the less it attracted road racers and flat trackers to compete against motocross racers who were used to going large on jumps. So the early days of having Kevin Schwantz, Aaron Yates, Ben Bostrom, Joe Kopp, Nicky Hayden, Jake Johnson and other top road racers and flat trackers going up against motocross racers like Jeff Ward, Kurt Nicoll, Doug Henry and Mark Burkhart quickly went by the wayside.
Also in the early days of Supermoto, big-name riders like Doug Chandler, Jeremy McGrath, Travis Pastrana regularly raced the series. Those riders attract fans and media attention no matter what they race, that wasn’t the case when the series matured. Within a year or two Supermoto specialists like Mark Burkhart, Ben Carlson and Jurgen Kunzel emerged and got so good that the McGraths, Pastranas and Chandlers of the world could no longer be expected to win. And as good as they were fans had a tough time warming up to the new generation of Supermoto stars.
A big blow came when the sport lost one of its two premier riders (Jeff Ward being the other) when Doug Henry was paralyzed in a regional event. Then Carey Hart’s younger brother, Anthony Hart, died in a Supermoto practice session in Connecticut. Suddenly the lax safety measures of the sport were exposed and the fun series suddenly turned a lot more serious.
Finally the venues that were successful went away because of the complications involved running them. The biggest crowd ever to see an AMA Supermoto race was certainly at the AMA Red Bull Supermoto-A-Go-Go in Reno in October of 2005. Police estimated the crowd at 40,000. The catch was no one paid to see the race since it was free. Nevertheless the Reno race marked a high-water mark for AMA Supermoto and provided a template for how the series should proceed.
Supermoto in America is not dead, but it’s on life support. Somehow the current promoter needs to figure a way to parlay the popularity of the X-Games and take the series back to the streets of cities and towns summer and fall events. If the fans get to watch for free, so what? They’ll buy tons from concessions and it will provide added value to any municipality’s annual festival and sponsors.
I saw photos from the most recent round in Las Vegas and it made me sad. There were no fans. Let’s hope the series can be revived someday. It still has the potential to get everyone excited like they were back during the origin of the sport in the 1970s when the ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers first hit TV screens, and like they were when the series was re-launched as a national championship in 2003.
Being an Indianapolis native, the most exciting time of the racing year for me has become when the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix comes to town. I was looking at the calender today and noticed the race is just a month away. Last year was terrible because of the remnants of Hurricane Ike ruined the proceedings.
I’m hoping that the weather is kind this year and the race can catch the excitement again that it had going into last year’s event.
I didn’t get photos at last year’s race, but here’s one of Ben Spies during tire tests weeks prior to the race last summer.