After five miserable seasons, four different teams, three championships, and a plethora of broken bones, Doug Chandler finally proved he can still win a motorcycle race.
Last week, at his home track, Laguna Seca Raceway, Chandler won the AMA Superbike race -- his first win since 1990. His fans hope it is just the first of many.
One of only four men (Kenny Roberts, Dick Mann, Bubba Shobert and Chandler) to have ever won a race on all three types of dirt riding -- flat track, motocross and TT steeplechase -- as well as on road circuits, Chandler seems to have experienced a renaissance of sorts. He is familiar with American bike racing and how it works, but was missing that crucial link -- a recent victory, in any class.
He already holds a Superbike title from 1990, as well as four straight year-end top five series finishes in dirt track racing. Although the titles and his dizzying speed made him a good draft into Grand Prix racing, even by his own accounts he didn't do as well as expected. He won no races. Much of it he blames on the headaches of being a foreigner in a foreign series.
Although his return to American racing really began last season riding for the new Harley-Davidson team, he broke his collarbone at the first 1995 race, then rebroke it while testing. He was out for more than half the season.
Now riding a street-based Kawasaki Superbike and racing at places with names such as Pomona and Daytona, Chandler and Team Muzzy expected to win races.
"I'm shooting for the (AMA Superbike) championship," he said with quiet confidence prior to his race in Monterey, "And I'm shooting to stay here at home as one of the top guys. The bike is good, and I think if everything goes as we expect it to, I'll be right there."
And there he was just a few days later, sitting on the top of that victory podium, smelling of spilled champagne.
Although the win came at the expense of Miguel DuHamel, reigning AMA Superbike champion, when DuHamel fell while leading due to an unforced error, Chandler led the race for most of its 28 laps, then had a mechanical problem which seemed to sort itself out. Chandler was making a run back at DuHamel when he crashed.
To say Chandler was ever uncompetitive would be an insult. It was also be wrong. Chandler was always competitive, but he had bad luck. Things didn't go right and opportunities didn't present themselves as they had in the past. Perhaps confidence was lacking for the tall, amiable Californian.
But now 30 years old, with a wife and three kids, Chandler has moved from being an international star and is back home. Racing is more as a business than a lifestyle; winning is the measure of success. And he has started putting his successes back up on the dusty shelves of Superstardom.
Doug Chandler's win at Laguna Seca recently did something else for him: it moved him from top-ten to number one in the championship, displacing DuHamel back to sixth in the process.
That means that Chandler's renaissance may have a championship in the cards if he does what he says he wants to do, and rides the way we know he can.