He Was the Hottest Thing on 2 Wheels : Danny Chandler Is Back at Carlsbad, Where His Incredible Streak Began
For one stretch of four months in 1982, Danny (Magoo) Chandler was the greatest motocross rider in the world.
It all started here at Carlsbad Raceway in June, when the 22-year-old redhead from Foresthill, Calif., won the U.S. Grand Prix, upsetting world champion Brad Lackey. Then he went to Europe and won all four motos of the Motocross and Trophy des Nations against the world’s best 250cc and 500cc riders. No one, not even five-time world champion Roger DeCoster, did that before. In October, Chandler returned to Carlsbad and won the Superbikers, a motorcycle decathlon-type affair in which he beat not only motocross riders but also champions of flat track, speedway and road racing.
“I couldn’t do nothing wrong,” he said. “I felt like all I had to do was throw my leg over the bike and I had the field covered. I could do anything I wanted.”
Things were different in 1983. Late in a disappointing season, just when it appeared Chandler might be getting his act together, the worst happened. He almost killed himself in a crash that no one saw. Even Chandler has no recollection of what happened.
“I’d been riding with a buddy in the hills around home (Foresthill is a High Sierra community of less than 1,000 about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe),” Chandler said. “He was putting his bike away when I decided to do one more loop around the place. They found me with my head smashed against a fence post.”
Chandler’s jaw was broken in two places, and he had a fractured skull and a severed nerve that has left him with no feeling on the right side of his face and no hearing in his right ear.
“I don’t remember anything that happened for two, three hours before the accident and nothing for a couple of days after it,” he said. “I was scared, really scared. At first, if I moved my head real fast, everything got blurry. I didn’t know if I’d ever ride again, or even if I’d be right again. I broke down and cried. I cried a lot during those first three months.
“I’d had plenty of other accidents before and ended up with things like a broken collarbone, smashed fingers or ribs banged up, but I was always back on the bike in a few days, riding with a cast or all taped together. Not this time. I was so scared I wouldn’t touch my motorcycles. They sat in the garage collecting dust. I’ll admit, I was afraid to ride.”
When Chandler did return to riding, in 1984, he tried to do too much, too fast. He was in Atlanta for a stadium race--his fourth race back--when he saw David Bailey and Johnny O’Mara doing a triple jump over a series of high ridges during practice.
“When I saw them clear all three, I thought, shoot, I can do that,” he said. “I was crazy. I wasn’t 100%. I wasn’t even 60%. I didn’t have my rhythm and I hadn’t enough time back on the bike for a jump like that but I tried it anyway. I caught the rear wheel on the last ridge and went end over end.”
The result: a broken collarbone.
Another result: Honda did not renew his contract for 1985.
“I don’t blame Honda,” he said. “I hadn’t produced after ’82, and they want riders who produce. I had a bad year in ’83 and I only rode six races in ’84. I gained a lot from three years with them, though. But it was tough looking for a new team. Because of the accident, everyone was afraid of me. I decided I was going to Europe and ride, no matter what happened. I had a support ride with Kawasaki, but it didn’t work out. Then KTM (an Austrian manufacturer) said they’d give me bikes and nothing else.
“The first Grand Prix was in Austria, and when I finished fourth they added three mechanics and a truck. The next week (in France) I won, and they called me back to the factory and gave me a big bonus program. I’m still not on salary, but it’s a lot better deal than I started out with.”
Chandler’s win on the KTM was the first world 500cc championship victory by a non-Japanese cycle in six years. It was also Chandler’s first win in two years on any kind of a bike.
“I didn’t win it the way I wanted to win,” he admitted readily. “I lucked into it. I earned second, but David Thorpe should have won. He broke in the first moto when he was ahead and then won the second one.”
Thorpe, the British champion, led Chandler by 17 seconds with two laps to go when his factory Honda quit with a broken gearbox. In the second moto, Chandler finished second behind Thorpe to win overall.
After the first four rounds this season, Chandler was fourth behind three Honda riders, defending world champion Andre Malherbe, Eric Geboers and Thorpe. In Italy, the old Chandler bugaboo--crashing--did him in.
“I had moved up from seventh to third and was chasing Thorpe and Geboers when a shock broke on a downhill jump. I did an end-over-end and dislocated my shoulder again. I missed the last two rounds in Spain and Holland.”
Round eight is today, the Nissan U.S. Grand Prix at Carlsbad Raceway, and Chandler hopes his ailing shoulder will permit him to ride full tilt in two 40-minute motos over the twisting, one-mile hillside course.
“The shoulder feels pretty good now,” he said after a practice ride. “I spent most of last week down at the river swimming. Our place is between the north fork and the middle fork of the American River, so there’s plenty of swimming holes. I know the shoulder is a lot stronger than it was when I got home. And it’s nice to be racing at home where I can read the papers, listen to the radio and watch TV and know what’s happening.”
Chandler, 25, found that living in Europe and traveling from one country to another with his pregnant wife, Tracy, was a frustrating experience.
“At first, maybe for the first six weeks or so, it was exciting, seeing all sorts of new things and meeting new people, but after that it got rough. I’d never been away from home that long and I missed my friends and my dogs. I just got homesick, especially after I got hurt. When you can’t read anything and don’t know what you’re listening to on the radio, life can be pretty miserable.
“It wasn’t the racing that got me down, it was the living. Racing’s racing, no matter where you go. The European riders are as fast as the Americans on a given day, but they’re a little bit more cautious. I think an American will win Sunday. I thought for sure it would be me before I hurt my shoulder. Now, I don’t know.”
After today’s race, Chandler will return to Austria to live near the KTM factory. His wife, who is expecting their firstborn in seven weeks, will stay home with Danny’s mother.
“The season doesn’t end until Aug. 20,” he said, “and then there’s the European stadium supercross series that KTM wants me to ride, so I’ll miss being with Tracy when the baby’s born, but they’ll probably travel with me next year. My dad’s going back with me next week. He’s done a lot for me and he’s never been out of the States. He’s earned a trip to Europe.”
It was the elder Chandler who started his son riding when Danny was 5. “When I was nine I rode my first race on a new Yamaha 60 Mini Enduro that dad bought me. When I won, dad quit riding and spent all his money on me.”
His father also gave him the distinctive nickname “Magoo.”
“He had a name for everybody in our family,” Chandler said. “He called my mother ‘Big Red.’ My older sister was ‘Little Red.’ He called me ‘Magoo’ because he said I always wandered around on my minibike like I couldn’t see where I was going, like the comic character Mr. Magoo.”