I read today that Danny "Magoo" Chandler died recently, as a result of issues from being paralyzed since a race crash in 1985. I was sorry to read that news and it brought a rush of motocross memories back for me. I haven't ridden a dirt motorcycle since 1981, but remember Magoo from "back in the day." Even though its been decades since I was involved with the dirt bike scene, this news put a personal damper on my day and had me thinking about that era.
As a teenager in the mid to late '70s, I was really into dirt motorcycles - okay, obsessed - as was my small group of like minded friends. We rode every weekend - motocross style on free-for-all practice tracks, through the woods on singletrack - raced some motocross and hare scramble events as well. We followed the pros through magazines and attended pro level races as spectators. Yeah, we were into it.
That era, arguably, was the "golden era" of motocross. Many motorcycle companies involved, many no longer around - Bultaco, Montesa, Can-Am, CZ, Ossa, Maico, Husqvarna - as well as the big Japanese brands - Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha. It was the era of two-stroke motors and classes of 125, 250, and Open displacement.
All this coincided with a dirt bike boom in the U.S. Many kids in my neighborhood had mini-cycles or dirt bikes at the time. For most, it was just something to buzz around the school yard with. For others, including my friends and I - this was our sport, our "thing", and we took it a little more seriously.
I have many memories and images burned into my memory banks from that era. Fun times with friends, trail riding and racing motocross. Images from magazines - photos and stories of pro level racing. Back then, most info was absorbed from the pages of Dirt Bike and Motocross Action magazines. Yes kids - no internet or 150 cable channels back then.
From the pages of Dirt Bike and Motocross Action, we studied photos and read about riders like Roger DeCoster, Marty Smith, Kent Howerton, Bob Hannah, Jimmy Weinert, Tony DiStefano as well as other pros of that era - including Danny "Magoo" Chandler.
Fly on Mr. Magoo. Fly on.
Magoo was a hard charging fearless racer, with a crazy no hold bars style that still won races - or at least fans who loved to watch him race. My images of Magoo are of his days with Maico, the hallowed German company that produced very trick motocross bikes, though maybe a few steps behind the technology advanced bikes from Japan. Seeing the young wild riding American on a Maico was really cool. Besides being fast, Magoo was also infamous for spectacular crashes, photos that often graced the pages of magazines as well.
Unfortunately, at a Supercross race in Paris in 1985, Magoo crashed hard with serious injuries, resulting in being paralyzed and ending his career. A sad and scary ending for a very popular rider and racer.
Even while paralyzed, Magoo later gave back to the sport through his MX safety school. From what I've read, his life was not easy after that crash in '85 and he fought through it with the same determination as he did racing.
People who engage in motocross or other high risk sports, know the risks or can block them out in order to succeed. Nobody wants to get hurt. In some ways, racers who are seriously injured (or even killed), paid the ultimate price for their sport - or art if you will. Is it worth it?
That's a very personal question that only every individual can answer. As someone who's dabbled in the sport of motocross (though nowhere near that intensity), this kind of thing hits closer to home.
In any case, what Danny "Magoo" Chandler brought to the motocross table, combined with the fun and excitement it brought to fans, was very cool indeed. As was the sobering aftermath that life goes on even after a debilitating injury, and that positive things can result from that as well.
Danny Chandler R.I.P.