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DuHamel: American Honda's Franchise Player

by Dean Adams

Dean Adams

In the mainstream sporting world, a franchise player is someone around whom a team is built. The player's strengths are made stronger with a selection of teammates who can augment his talents just as they are selected to make up for his inadequacies. Accomplished correctly, this is how dynasties are built.

American Honda has built teams around many riders who one might term a "franchise rider," including, but not limited to, dirt tracker Bubba Shobert, motocrosser Rick Johnson, and later, future world champion Nick Hayden. But it's debatable whether any of them have enjoyed the same relationship with American Honda that a certain Canadian has for the past 15 years.

Miguel DuHamel won five 600 Supersport championships for Honda and also the AMA Superbike title in 1995, but his start with Honda was as inauspicious as they come: he was drafted into the Honda squad to sub for an injured Randy Renfrow--then Honda's Superbike pilot who was injured in a test crash at Willow Springs. At the time, Kentuckian Martin Adams was running Honda's semi-official Superbike team and mulled over several different replacement riders. Any ambivalence that Adams had about hiring DuHamel for American Honda's squad waned once Adams spent some time with DuHamel. "It was clear that Miguel was a very special person and rider," Adams said after those first meetings with the Canadian.

Over the following 15 years, DuHamel would become one of the most decorated racers in AMA Pro Racing history, and he would also solidify himself as a true legend of Honda.

While he won the first Superbike race that he entered on a Honda, DuHamel left Honda after one season to try his hand in international Grand Prix racing, and he would take a wayward journey back. DuHamel rode harder than he ever had in his life in GP, but he and the team to which he was contracted seemed to have been operating on two different planets.

DuHamel returned to America in 1994, but not to ride for Honda. Instead, he rode for the Harley-Davidson Superbike team. When his contract ended at the conclusion of that season, it set off a major bidding war between American Honda and their archrivals Harley-Davidson--a battle that Honda ultimately won. DuHamel would be back on winged equipment for 1995 and would put in the hardest season of his life, when he simultaneously fended off the advances of his teammate, Mike Hale, developed the RC45 into a proper Superbike, and tried to win both the 600 and Superbike titles for Honda. He succeeded and was named AMA Pro Athlete of the Year for his efforts.

DuHamel rode a multitude of different models during his time at Honda. The first machine  he rode, the technically interesting and still-coveted-to-this-day RC30, gave him the first Daytona 200 win that he craved, but if you're looking for DuHamel's two-wheeled soul-mate, it's actually the second Honda Superbike that the Canadian rode for Honda--the V-4 rocketship RC45. While not the fastest machine on the grid when it was first released, the fully developed Honda RC45 was both a racing weapon and a harbinger of things to come, showing the way with rumors of traction control, an advanced ECU, and data acquisition system--in 1995.

In many ways, the RC45 redefined the AMA Superbike arms race in a time when the class morphed from souped-up street bikes into state-of-the-art four strokes in thinly veiled streetbike guise. DuHamel and the American Honda crew were able to assist the mighty HRC in getting the RC45 working in the globe's other series in the early days. The familiar sight of the Canadian hunkered down over the purple-and-gold-liveried RC45, getting on the power out of the turn while the rear Dunlop hooked up, is burned into the minds of the era's race fans. Miguel could be leading, or chasing down a rival like Doug Chandler or perhaps Anthony Gobert, but his style in the RC45 era was memorable.

In the run of the RC45 in the US, DuHamel won a championship and came up just short two more times before his Loudon injury in 1998--one that nearly took his leg and, in fact, put his life in very real peril. While it would have been the end of a career for most, DuHamel and the RC45 had unfinished business, winning the next Daytona 200 even though he couldn't even walk without the use of a cane.

Honda replaced the RC45 with the RC51, and Miguel won more races on it, even though he never quite loved that bike like he did the Vee-Four. Miguel was also responsible for more sales of Honda CBR600s than any other Honda rider, and he said that his favorite Honda to ride was the F2 version of the CBR.

While not under contract with Honda at the moment, and with his racing career in limbo, DuHamel still has massive respect for Honda, their relationship, and the accomplishments that they collaborated on to succeed.

About the author:

Dean Adams likes coffee and swearing but counts among his dislikes nearly all forms of television programming.  He has been riding since the age of ten and hasn’t worked at a real job since he walked out of a Malt-O-Meal cereal factory in the mid-1990s to pursue the writing life.  He has owned several classic Honda motorcycles including a cherry red 1974 CB400F and a 1969 CB750 sand cast.  Adams is renowned for a small variety of incidents at racetracks all over the globe, but few more so than the time he picked up the winner’s trophy at an early ‘90s Grand Prix at Laguna Seca and dropped it, breaking it in half (pictured above) just in time for them to hand it to the winner.  Adams has survived over 40 winters in the frozen tundra of Red Wing, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife Leah, three sons, and a slightly deaf Border Collie named Seneca.  He and Miguel DuHamel have collaborated on a book--one that will be published "when we get around to it."”

To access Dean Adams' SuperbikePlanet web site, click here.