Danny Chandler was a top AMA and world championship motocross racer of the 1980s. His hard-charging racing style won him legions of loyal fans at home and abroad. Chandler was known as one of the boldest riders of his era. He often attempted jumps on his motocross bikes that were previously considered impossible, endearing him to fans and often intimidating his competitors.
Chandler’s list of accomplishments includes numerous national and international motocross victories. His racing career came to a premature end when he was left paralyzed after a crash at the Paris Supercross in December of 1985. Despite his disability, Chandler has become a positive influence on thousands of people by giving talks on his life story at schools, hospitals and other assemblies.
Chandler was born in Sacramento, California, on Oct. 5, 1959. He was born into a racing family. Growing up in the rural Northern California community of Foresthill, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, some of Chandler’s earliest memories were of watching his father race in enduro and scrambles races. As Chandler likes to put it, he was potty trained at the races. Danny started riding when he was 4 and got involved in competition by the time he was 9. Racing in the Chandler household wasn’t restricted to the boys either. Both of Chandler’s sisters raced as well.
Young Danny Chandler progressed rapidly and became so good that he was forced to race against older riders to find challenging competition. Motorcycling was his obsession. He rode his minibike to school and when his friends got their drivers licenses, Chandler would race them home, they on the road in their cars, he on his MX bike on a trail next to the road.
"I always seemed to be riding bigger bikes than other kids my age," recalls Chandler. "My first race bike was a Hodaka 100 then I moved up to a CZ 250. I had to have a CZ since that’s what my hero, Brad Lackey, was riding at the time."
Chandler won in every division he raced in, and by the time he was a teenager, he already had acquired quite a reputation as a top rider in the highly competitive Northern California motocross scene. He turned expert at the age of 14, but had to bide his time racing in club events until he turned 16 and was eligible for AMA professional racing.
In 1976, Chandler earned his pro license and rode in a few nationals. His best showing that year was a 16th-place finish in the 500cc class of the Los Angeles Supercross. In 1977, Chandler began venturing outside of his native California, racing on the pro circuit with limited success. By 1978, Chandler began to come into his own and earned three top-10 finishes on his privateer Suzuki in 125cc outdoor nationals, including his first podium finish, a third at the Trabuco Canyon (California) AMA 125cc National.
In 1979, Chandler signed to ride for Maico in the 250cc class. Unfortunately, the once-powerful Maico team was no longer competitive and Chandler rarely recorded top finishes. However, he did begin to establish his reputation among fans as an aggressive and somewhat wild rider. Chandler would ride the wheels off the powerful but heavy Maico, often making jumps over the heads of his fellow competitors. Crashing was also a frequent occurrence for Chandler. He picked up the nickname "Magoo" from the near-sighted cartoon character that was always running into things. At first, Chandler hated the nickname, but it stuck and fans could be heard trackside chanting "Magoo, Magoo!" when he came past.
Chandler stayed with Maico for the 1980 season, but things were going from bad to worse with the German company. By the end of the season, he quit the team and was looking for a new ride.
The 1981 season proved to be a breakthrough season for Chandler. He had a solid season riding a privateer Suzuki to a ninth-place finish in the AMA 125cc National Motocross Series. He then won the Trans-USA 500cc support series aboard a Honda. His success in the Trans-USA support series led to a full factory ride with Honda for 1982.
Chandler won four AMA 500cc outdoor nationals over the next two seasons, riding for Honda. He finished third in the AMA 500cc MX series in 1983. He also earned the biggest victory of his career when he won the U.S. 500cc Motocross Grand Prix at Carlsbad, California, in 1982.
Roger DeCoster, Honda's motocross manager at the time, lauded Chandler for his charisma and rapport with the fans.
"The fans just loved him," said DeCoster. "He was very approachable. Even though he never won the championship, his riding style generated a tremendous amount of publicity for the team."
Chandler proved that he was a champion among champions when he won ABC’s Wide World of Sports' made-for-television "Superbikers" race in 1982. Chandler upset Steve Wise, who had previously dominated the event, and beat other top AMA riders from road racing, dirt track and motocross racing in that special event. It appeared that Chandler had reached the zenith of his popularity, yet even greater accolades were just around the corner.
At the end of 1982, Chandler was part of the American team for the Trophies and Motocross des Nation international team events. On the smooth and fast racing circuits of Gaildorf, Germany, and Wohlen, Switzerland, Chandler came through and won every moto in both the Trophies des Nations for 250cc bikes in Germany and again a week later in the Motocross des Nations (then for 500cc bikes) in Switzerland. Chandler became the only rider ever to win both motos of both events in the same year. Chandler returned a hero in the eyes of motocross fans everywhere.
Chandler was injured in a practice crash during the off-season after 1983 and, while not fully recovered, managed two top-10 finishes in the AMA nationals in 1984. Chandler was dropped from Team Honda after the ’84 season. During the winter, a call came from Europe and he was given the opportunity to race in the Motocross World Championships for the 1985 season. He first rode for a British Kawasaki team, but after disagreements with the team over team orders to finish behind his teammate, Chandler quit and was quickly picked up by KTM.
With the Austrian manufacturer, Chandler came through to win the French GP. He was solidly in contention in the world championships before a serious crash in Italy halfway through the season ended any chance he had to earn a world title. While recovering from his injuries, an Italian-based Kawasaki team signed him to race in the world championship in 1986. Unfortunately for Chandler, his racing career was about to come to a heartbreaking end.
At the Paris Supercross, Chandler suffered a crash in a heat race that broke his neck and left him paralyzed.
After the accident, Chandler went through a tough period. Within the span of a few years after the accident, he went through a divorce and then suffered even further when both his parents died within a few years of one another.
Spurred on by support from friends and his newfound faith, Chandler worked his way back to being a man of action. He began to promote mountain-bike races and got involved with DARE, a drug-awareness program geared towards school children. Chandler also started coordinating children’s hospital visits by top motorcycle racers through his International Riders Helping People organization. Through his organization, Chandler hopes to generate interest in the sport of motorcycle racing with kids, and also to remind them of the importance of always wearing the proper riding or racing gear if they participate in the sport.
"In the long run the accident has left me a richer and fuller person," Chandler says positively. "Had it not been for that I would just be another guy walking around. Now I have an interesting and compelling story to tell to the kids."