It’s been one week since the news of Danny ‘Magoo’ Chandler’s passing. I’m not sure why, but it’s had a profound effect on me. Although I didn’t really know the man, our paths crossed numerous times in the late seventies and early eighties.
I was a motocross racer turned mechanic and over the years I watched Danny’s career blossom. From local venues in Southern and Northern California to the national scene in 1982 when I was a mechanic for Scott Johnson on Team Maico, Chandler was one of the fastest, and most fearless riders I ever had the opportunity to watch.
Chandler earned a reputation as a crasher but truth be told, that came out of an intense desire to be the fastest guy on the track. With ‘Magoo’ (the nickname he eventually learned to accept), there seemed to be only winning – or crashing in trying. And the guy tried.
On numerous occasions I witnessed Danny fall down, pick himself up in last place, and then put on a display of speed and daring that virtually spooked the other riders as he poured every ounce of heart and determination to get back to the front.
The vision of Danny, having pulled off his signature Scott goggles and face mask, exposing his unprotected freckled face to the roost of 500cc bikes, picking off riders one by one as he moved up through the pack, is solidly imbedded in my mind.
Long before the freestyle guys, before Jeremy McGrath unveiled his "nac-nac", Danny Chandler was dazzling fans with his amazing aerial antics. First of the pre-jumpers, Danny was the first rider to routinely clear doubles and found more air than any other rider. He did things on a bike that didn’t always seem to be contained by the laws of physics (and remember, this was with old-school suspension).
As a mechanic, trackside, it was always easy to know when Danny was coming around. There would be the sound of a bike completely pinned, resonating above the others. You’d swear someone’s throttle had stuck wide open. Then round would come Danny, feet off the pegs, the bike bucking beneath him, using every square inch of track to go as fast as possible.
It didn’t matter if Danny was leading or playing catch-up, he managed to hold a throttle on longer and harder than any rider I have ever seen. It was truly amazing. Perhaps what inspired me the most about Danny was his ability to project a true desire to win. You could see it in his riding style, the determined set of the head, the aggressive arch of the back. He wanted to win so badly you could taste it.
Chandler had some incredible achievements in his career. He remains the only rider to have ever swept all four motos of the Motocross and Trophe de Nations. He won the Carlsbad USGP in 1982.
In 1983 I was wrenching at the USGP when Danny shocked everyone by blasting a full two seconds off the next fastest rider in qualifying-on the only 4-stroke in a field of exotic 2-stroke prototypes no less. Quite an accomplishment.
Danny Chandler was a true original. After his career-ending, life-changing crash in Paris the racing community was mortified. Suddenly, Danny was living every racer’s nightmare; he was in a wheelchair.
Although I didn’t know the man well enough to reach out to him, I understand he managed to find a revelation about it all. He said in an interview that the accident had actually made him a richer man.
He devoted a good portion of his time to anti-drug programs for kids and he promoted a number of racing events, staying active in the sport he had helped evolve. Being a part of the AMA circus in 1982 I would occasionally encounter Danny in a hotel hallway or we would pass one another at the track.
We never exchanged more than a polite hello. I regret not taking advantage of one of those encounters to talk and get to know the man a little. Danny ‘Magoo’ Chandler will be missed.