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.”