Several years ago, my friend Mike Guerra–who was, for decades, the “right-hand man” for now-retired Yamaha racing boss Keith McCarty–sent me a very heavy box that was packed full of thick, three-ring binders filled with slides, negatives, prints, and even transparencies of various models of Yamaha motorcycles–streetbikes, road racing motorcycles, off-road machines, and dirtbikes–along with hundreds of road racing action shots from Daytona, Laguna Seca, and several GP races in Europe, as well as Supercross and motocross images from around the U.S. Guerra knew how much I covet racing history, and he also knew I would “do the right thing” with his precious archives.
After spending countless hours studying the images with an eye loupe, I finally sent the entire lot out to be digitized. Eventually, I returned the box and its entire contents to Guerra along with a CD filled with digital images that I identified and to which I attached clear, descriptive filenames. Plus, of course, I kept copies of all the .jpeg files for myself, which I affectionately refer to as “The Mike Guerra Archives.”
Lying like a needle in a haystack among all those film-based images was one particular slide that still amazes me to this day. It didn’t take me any time at all to identify Kenny Roberts. It took me a little longer to identify the flat track venue where the photo was taken, and I narrowed down the year pretty quickly based on Roberts’ hair style and youthful appearance. Another clue was the T-shirt that the kid in the photo is wearing. The very first Star Wars movie (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) debuted in late May 1977, and it was that summer’s blockbuster movie, one of the films that actually led to the term “blockbuster,” in fact.
The photo of Kenny Roberts signing autographs for fans was taken at the 1977 San Jose Mile. Roberts was 25 years old at the time.
At first, the mop-haired kid wearing the Star Wars T-shirt and getting his program signed by his hero “King” Kenny was just a face in the crowd during a moment captured in time. I stared at that photo for quite a while and imagined myself also being in that line.
But, that kid. He looks to be about 12 or 13 years old. He had to be from somewhere in central or northern California to be at the San Jose Mile. And that jawline. Where have I seen that jawline before?
That kid is 12-year-old John Douglas Chandler from Salinas, California, known more famously as Doug Chandler, or “DC-10” if you’re into the whole brevity thing.
Doug Chandler is definitely into “the whole brevity thing.” I emailed him the photo, and followed up with a phone call. “That’s me,” Chandler said in his typical, low-key Doug Chandler way. “But…but, how? Why?” I asked. Chandler seemed completely devoid of emotion and had no discernible reaction at all to what I personally considered to be the find of the century. He added, “I remember standing in that line to get Kenny’s autograph.” And that’s pretty much all I could get out of Mr. DC-10.
That 12-year-old kid in the Star Wars T-shirt at the 1977 San Jose Mile grew up to become one of only five people to complete the prestigious Grand Slam by winning races in each of the five different AMA Grand National disciplines (ironically joining Roberts in that elite group). He also became AMA Superbike Rookie of the Year, a three-time AMA Superbike Champion, a World Superbike race winner, and in 1991, he went to Europe to race a Yamaha YZR500 for (ironically, once again) Kenny Roberts’ Marlboro Team Roberts squad in the 500cc Grand Prix World Championship. Chandler finished a respectable ninth in the Championship that first year and he spent three additional seasons racing fire-breathing, two-stroke 500cc GP bikes for Suzuki and Cagiva before returning to the U.S.
What a surprise from The Mike Guerra Archives. And, you may see more from Mr. Guerra’s Archives in future installments of “Throwback Thursday.” Stay tuned.
Editor’s Note: MotoAmerica COO sent a text message that said, “I think that’s my dad (iconic tuner Bud Aksland) on the left (in the yellow Camel hat) and me on the right (the tow-headed kid) behind KR.” We are 100% sure Chuck is correct.