Chandler Has Put Life Back on Track : Motocross: A quadriplegic since 1985 accident, former champion keeps busy with variety of activities.


For four months in 1982, Danny (Magoo) Chandler was the finest motocross rider in the world.

From 1977 to 1985, he was--if not the best--certainly the most spectacular rider in the sport. Chandler’s showboat way of ending a race, one hand off the handlebars and the bike nearly horizontal to the ground--”as flat as a pancake,” he called it--was a crowd-pleaser from the Coliseum to Paris, from Carlsbad to Japan.

It all came to a crashing end one December night in Paris in 1985 when Chandler was temporarily blinded by photographer’s lights as he pancaked high above the finish line at Bercy Stadium. He had just won his heat in the Paris Supercross.


“I can’t remember anything about the accident, but I’ve studied it a hundred times in super-slow motion,” Chandler said. “I can see the flashes going off and I’m coming down and I don’t land right, like I couldn’t see.

“I’d done the pancake so many times for so many years that I thought I could do it blindfolded, but this time I never got my hand back on the handlebar before I hit. The bike crashed into some hay bales that pitched me off, and I hit a cameraman before I landed headfirst on the concrete floor.”

The impact broke his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic.

“At first, my body felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds, gravity was pushing me down,” Chandler said. “It was two years before I could reconcile what had happened and I was halfway normal.”

Friends know, though, that he was never “normal.” A hyper, freckle-faced redhead from Foresthill, Calif., a mountain town between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, Chandler came pancaking out of Placer County to become a cult hero to the young motocrossers who loved his daredevil image. His slogan was, “If you don’t crash once in a while, you’re not going fast enough.”

In that four-month span in 1982, Chandler won the U.S. Grand Prix at Carlsbad, all four races of the Motocross des Nations in Europe against the world’s best 250cc and 500cc riders, and came back to Carlsbad to win the Superbikers, a motorcycle decathlon involving champions from all types of cycle competition.

“I felt like all I had to do was throw my leg over the bike and I had everybody covered,” he said. “Looking back, my biggest problem was that I didn’t give a darn about winning championships. All I wanted to do was win races, have fun and give the crowd a thrill. There were times when I’d rather jump higher than anybody ever jumped off a ramp than lead a race.”


In the nine years since Chandler’s crash, he has had his ups and downs--more downs than ups.

“The worst part (of being paralyzed) was realizing that life wasn’t going to go on like it had,” he said. “There’s no way you can be prepared for the shock that you’re never going to do what you used to do. And no one can tell you.”

When he realized what a helpless feeling it was, Chandler helped produce a 30-minute video that he hoped would help explain to paraplegics what it was going to be like.

“Not long after (the accident), my wife left me and my mother died,” he said. “I hit the bottom then. I started hanging out in the local bars and felt like life was not worth living. Losing my wife and my mother hurt worse than the injuries, but sometimes you’ve got to hit the bottom before you start climbing out.”

The climb out started when Chandler met Brenda Beechler in a Foresthill bar. She was a little down on her luck too, and they decided to battle back together.

“I think the hardest thing about being crippled, after some time passes by, is admitting to yourself that you’re never going to be independent,” Chandler said. “You have to have someone with you. I tried hard to do it by myself, but now that Brenda’s with me, I know I need her.”


Chandler, with Brenda at his side, will take part this weekend in the “Legends of Motorcycling” feature of the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show at the Anaheim Convention Center. Along with Don Emde, the 1972 Daytona 200 winner, and Jim Holley, the 1982 world supercross champion, Chandler will show film clips of his races and be interviewed by master of ceremonies Larry Huffman.

For the last two years, Chandler’s life has been full of mountain bike racing, which he promotes on the High Sierra ski runs near his home in Foresthill, learning to ski in his wheelchair and designing a wheelchair that will allow him and other paraplegics to race on mountain trails.

“Mountain bikes are about where motocross was 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s easy to attract a lot of riders, but I keep busy going to city hall meetings, working with the forest service and the environmentalists to keep areas open for competition. . . .

“Someday, I’d like to promote a major league motocross, like the ones I used to race. I still enjoy motorcycles. I owe a lot to the sport and I feel a need to tell young kids how important it is to take some responsibility in keeping it on the right track.”

Chandler, 35, can’t do the “pancake” anymore, but he’s still as competitive as ever.

“It gets pretty gnarly out there,” he said of his mountain bike courses. “And I still crash. I always fall out of my chair once or twice a week. The guys who’ve never been around wheelchairs much say, ‘You’re crazy.’ I think that’s cool.”