Doug Chandler built a well-earned reputation as one of the most versatile racers of the 1980s and ‘90s. Chandler is one of only four riders in AMA racing history to win the AMA Grand Slam, representing national wins at a mile, half-mile, short track, TT and road race. Chandler went further and won an AMA Supermoto Championship race late in his career. He became a three-time AMA Superbike Champion during the 1990s and was also a leading competitor in the 500cc Grand Prix World Championships (now called MotoGP).
Chandler was born in Salinas, California, in 1965. His family rode motorcycles for fun and Doug began racing a Honda Trail 50 at the age of 6. He finished second in his very first race on a short track at the Monterey Fairgrounds. He tried motocross, but Chandler’s parents weren’t happy with the number of riders on the track and the seriousness of the racing, so they went back to flat track racing.
As a junior, Chandler began winning titles in the highly competitive AMA District 36, and before long he was earning amateur national championships by the late 1970s.
In 1983, Chandler turned expert pro and immediately made an impact in the AMA Grand National Championship by winning the third race he qualified for, the Short Track National at Santa Fe Speedway in Hinsdale, Illinois, on July 22, 1983.
“As a racer, you have to have that feeling that you can win even against the best,” Chandler said of his first national victory. “That night in Santa Fe, I was on a Honda 250cc, two-stroke short-track bike. It didn’t have a lot of power, but that track was a slick little groove and you didn’t need that much power. I think I got off the line third and raced with [Randy] Goss and [Ted] Boody. I got around them and just told myself not to make any mistakes and I held on to win.”
At just 17, Chandler became one of the youngest riders ever to win an AMA Grand National. His performances in 1983 earned him the prestigious AMA Rookie of the Year Award.
Chandler became part of Honda’s factory Grand National team and steadily moved up the ranks in the series. In 1984, his first full season in the series, Chandler finished ranked fifth in the championship and won the TT at Ascot Park in Gardena, California. It was also during that season that he got his first taste of road racing.
“The Grand National points were combined then and I did the road races to earn extra points,” Chandler explained. “My first national road race was at Loudon on a Honda VFR750-based 850cc special. They decided that Loudon was like a giant TT track and that would be a good introduction to road racing for me.”
Chandler finished sixth in his first road race, showing the potential he had on the pavement.
1986 and ’87 were solid years in the Grand National Championship. He finished third both years and won five nationals during that period. His victory on the San Jose (California) Mile and wins on the Half-Mile at Ascot Park put him within a road race win of winning the AMA Grand Slam, something that had been done by only three riders in the history of AMA racing.
Chandler’s final victory in an AMA Grand National Championship race came at on the Ascot Park Half-Mile in May of 1989. By that time, his sojourn into road racing for extra Grand National points had turned into a full-blown career change. In 1988, Chandler scored a slew of podium finishes on a SuperTrapp Honda and finished third in the AMA Superbike Championship. That performance put Chandler in serious demand in the road racing world and he was signed by Muzzy Kawasaki in 1989.
In August of 1989, Chandler earned his first AMA Superbike victory at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, completing the AMA Grand Slam by winning nationals on all forms of flat track racing tracks and a road race national. Only Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts and Bubba Shobert had managed the feat before Chandler.
1990 was a watershed season for Chandler. He earned the AMA Superbike Championship, tallying four wins along the way. In addition, Chandler won World Superbike rounds at Brainerd, Minnesota, and Sugo in Japan. With his stock at an all-time high, Chandler had a major decision to make. Kawasaki wanted him to contest the World Superbike Championship and Kenny Roberts offered Chandler a ride in the 500cc Grand Prix World Championships.
For Chandler the choice wasn’t hard.
“The opportunity to race the GPs, if it comes at all, may only come around once a lifetime,” Chandler said. “I might have had a good chance to win the World Superbike title, but when the offer comes to race at the highest level, as a racer you’ve got to take it.”
Chandler raced four seasons in the 500cc Grand Prix World Championships – one season each with Yamaha, Suzuki and two with Cagiva. He never scored a victory, but crafted a solid career earning six podium finishes during his tenure and ranking in the top 10 all four seasons, including a highest ranking of fifth in 1992, riding for Suzuki.
In 1995, Chandler returned to America to race for Harley-Davidson in the AMA Superbike Championship. Chandler was injured much of the season and scored a season-best seventh on the VR1000 at the round at Gateway International Speedway in Fairmont City, Illinois.
“I was disappointed with the way things turned out at Harley-Davidson,” Chandler admits. “They had a great group of guys and they worked really hard, but with my injuries I wasn’t able to help make that bike better.”
With his confidence at an all-time low, Chandler reunited with Muzzy Kawasaki for the 1996 season. “I knew at least going back to Muzzy that the bikes would be good,” Chandler said. “I figured it would take me about half the season to get back to where I needed to be. But I had a good finish at Daytona and things came back into place pretty quickly.”
In his first race back with Kawasaki, Chandler scored a fifth at Daytona, then a third at Pomona. By the third round of the series at Laguna Seca, Chandler was back. He won the race and, in one of the best battles in the history of the Superbike series, dueled with defending champion Miguel Duhamel the entire season. The championship came down to the final race in Las Vegas between Chandler and Duhamel. Chandler won the race earning his second AMA Superbike title by just five points over Duhamel.
In 1997, Chandler went on to open up an early series lead and cruised home to a third AMA Superbike Championship, following in the footsteps of Reg Pridmore and Fred Merkel as the only three-time champions of the series to that point.
In 1998, Chandler finished runner up to Ben Bostrom in the AMA Superbike Championship. He also scored six wins in the AMA Supersport Championship and ended the year second in that series as well.
1999 was the last year of the pairing of Chandler and Rob Muzzy. One of the most successful relationships in all of AMA Superbike racing continued to bear fruit with Chandler scoring three wins on the Muzzy Kawasaki. His victory in the series finale at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colorado, on September 19, 1999, proved to be Chandler’s last AMA Superbike victory. At the end of 1999, Chandler’s 12 career wins placed him eighth on the all-time AMA Superbike wins list.
Kawasaki took its Superbike racing team back in-house in 2000. Chandler remained on the team for two more seasons, but was never fully comfortable with the handling of the bikes, which were developed by Japanese riders on smoother tracks in Japan and didn’t translate well on the bumpier and more technical road racing courses in America.
Chandler’s last full-time season in AMA Superbike was 2002 on an HMC Ducati. He scored three podium finishes and ended the season ranked eighth in the championship.
In 2003, Chandler tried his hand at Supermoto racing in the inaugural season of the AMA Supermoto Championship. In an amazing show of adaptability, Chandler scored victory in the AMA Supermoto race on September 1, 2003, in South Boston, Virginia.
Chandler will forever be known for his silkly smooth racing style, his laid-back disposition and the ability to race and win on just about any type of motorcycle.
Chandler continued to race at select events and operated a racing school when inducted to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2006. He lives in his hometown of Salinas with his wife, Sherry, and their children, son Jett, and daughters Rainee and Quincee.