French Canadian Yvon Duhamel was a top road racer during the 1960s and '70s. He is perhaps best remembered as a member of the Kawasaki road racing team in the early 1970s who rode the temperamental and brutally fast Kawasaki H2R, a 750cc three-cylinder, two-stroke racing machine, in AMA road race nationals. Duhamel competed in every style of motorcycle racing from motocross to dirt track to road racing and drag racing. He was even a leading snowmobile racer, racing factory rigs during the winter months. Duhamel also competed in numerous world championship motorcycle races. His sons, Miguel and Mario, became renowned road racers during the 1990s, with Miguel winning the AMA Superbike title in 1995 and becoming the all-time leading AMA Superbike race wins leader in 1998.
Duhamel was born in Montreal on October 17, 1939. An avid bicyclist, Duhamel established a small bicycle shop when he was just 13 years old. In the course of running the shop, he became the owner of two Whizzer bikes (bicycles with small motors attached to them). He rode the Whizzers all over Montreal, getting his first taste of motorized transportation.
At 15, a friend gave him a ride on his Triumph and Duhamel was so impressed with the acceleration of the machine that a week later he went out and bought his first motorcycle, a 500cc Triumph T-100. In 1957, when Duhamel was 17, he began ice racing. The next year, he tried his hand at dirt-track racing and by 1959 he began racing in earnest on a BSA Gold Star. Soon, Duhamel was racing in all forms of competition and quickly established a reputation as a hard-charging rider. He supported himself and his racing in the early days by working long hours at his brother's service station.
By the mid 1960s, Duhamel began competing in the United States at races such as the Daytona 200 and the Laconia Classic in New Hampshire. In 1967, Fred Deeley Yamaha offered Duhamel a chance to race at Daytona in the Lightweight (250cc) class on one of the new Yamaha GP bikes. He finished eighth. In 1968 and '69, Duhamel returned to Daytona and won the Lightweight class both years. He also won the 250cc class at Indianapolis in '69. Meanwhile, in Canada Duhamel dominated nearly every class he was racing.
In the 1968 Daytona 200, Duhamel, riding a Deeley Yamaha 350, finished second behind Harley-Davidson's Cal Rayborn. Duhamel, along with fellow Yamaha rider Art Baumann, became the first two-stroke riders to finish on the podium in the 200. In 1969, Duhamel earned the pole in the Daytona 200 with the first-ever qualifying lap above 150 mph (in the days when qualifying consisted of a one-lap dash around Daytona International Speedway's NASCAR oval). But he was forced to retire from the race that year with engine trouble.
During the late '60s, Duhamel also occasionally raced in AMA Grand National dirt-track events, as well. His best showing on the dirt was sixth in the 1968 Sacramento (California) Mile on a Yamaha, but uncompetitive dirt-track machinery kept Duhamel from ever seriously contesting the Grand National championship. By the 1970s, he was considered a road racing specialist and focused his attention in that area.
Helping to solidify his reputation as a road racer was the fact that Kawasaki hired Duhamel in 1971 to be one of its factory riders. The company was known for making fast, three-cylinder, two-stroke racers, and Kawasaki needed an expert rider to handle the explosive and narrow powerband of the bike. Duhamel proved to be one of the few riders in the world who could tame this wild beast of a machine. He gave Kawasaki its first AMA national victory in September, 1971 at Talladega, Alabama. From 1971 to 1973, Duhamel was the winningest rider for Kawasaki, earning five national victories for Team Green during that period. From 1974 to 1976, Duhamel continued with Kawasaki, but a series of crashes and mechanical problems kept him from winning.
By the mid '70s, Duhamel was busy racing overseas, as well. In 1975, he gave Kawasaki its best finish of the year in a world championship 250cc Grand Prix when he took fifth at the Dutch round. He was also a factory world endurance racer competing in the famous LeMans and Bol d'Or 24-hour endurance races on highly modified versions of the popular KZ1000 street bike.
In the United States during the mid '70s, Duhamel won slew of production races for Kawasaki on its Z-1 in races that would eventually become AMA Superbike. By the late '70s, with Duhamel was in his late 30s and he began to scale back his racing schedule, even though he still turned in occasional top performances namely in the Canadian round of the Formula 750 world championships, where he finished second to Gregg Hansford.
His sons were beginning to get involved in racing and Duhamel wanted to give them as much help as possible. However, Duhamel never completely retired from racing. In 1988, at the 24-hour world championship endurance race in Bol d'Or, the Duhamels (Yvon, Mario and Miguel) became the first father-and-sons team to compete in that historic event. During the mid 1990s, Duhamel returned to racing in the AMA Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Series. He earned a few top-10 finishes, proving that he could still be competitive, even in his 50s.
When inducted in 1999, Duhamel and his wife, who live in a suburb of Montreal, continued to enjoy attending most of the AMA Superbike races to watch Miguel and Mario. Yvon still competes in vintage racing and was still soliciting offers to race once again in the Daytona 200.