Yvon Duhamel, truly one of motorcycle racing's legends, even in his own lifetime, passed away on August 17th at the age of 81.
The tough little French Canadian that was Yvon Duhamel began his career on British machines like Triumph twins and BSA Gold Stars before being signed by Yamaha Canada, for which team he won the 250cc race at Daytona in both 1968 and 1969 and took a 350cc version of that Japanese twin to the first-ever 150mph lap of the Florida track’s famous banked speedbowl. He will, however, be best remembered for his years with the Kawasaki USA team from 1970 to 1978.
A hero to fans in his own country and a popular and respected racer south of the border in the USA, at one time he was also probably the most popular motorcycle racer with fans in France despite living an ocean apart and only racing in Europe a handful of times each season! And he also earned the respect and admiration of British fans by sharing the individual top scorer honours in the 1973 Transatlantic Trophy series, racing against Britain’s best on tracks he had never seen before.
What made Yvon so popular worldwide was undoubtedly the fact that even the jaded men of the motorcycle media were just as awestruck by his ‘total commitment’ riding style – and they said so! If you read a motorcycle magazine anywhere in the world during the first half of the 1970s, then you knew exactly what to expect from Yvon Duhamel if you were lucky enough to see him race.
As well as being fast, Yvon was also one of the most versatile of racers. Early in his career he was Canadian Champion in every two-wheeled discipline from road racing and drag racing to flat-track on dirt ovals in the summer and frozen lakes in the winter, motocross and even the slow speed ‘balancing act’ sport of observed trials. Another winter pastime was snowmobile racing in which, almost inevitably, Yvon became not only several times Canadian champion but even a World Champion as well…!
Two wheels, four wheels and even skis! Provided the vehicle concerned also had an engine, whether motorcycle, car or snowmobile, then Yvon would race it – and race it hard. So hard, in fact, that Randy Hall, Yvon’s long-time friend and crew chief for eight years at Kawasaki, once memorably described the tough little French Canadian’s approach to racing as being either “go, blow, or punch a hole in the fence!”
Certainly, the career of Yvon Duhamel did include more than a few crashes but it was more the spectacular nature of them rather than the total number that made this aspect of his riding approach so memorable. As far as blowing up his machines went, however, it was a fact that if there was any weakness in their engine or transmission, then Yvon’s ‘all or nothing’ style would certainly find it. There is little evidence of him nursing an ailing machine to the finish!
When it came to having ‘the go factor’, however, Yvon had that in spades and was always obviously and awesomely fast. Even when he had a machine that had a speed advantage over its rivals, he never reined in its performance to win comfortably at the slowest possible speed. As the flag dropped, so would Yvon Duhamel drop the hammer on the opposition and as often as not would speed into the distance unless stopped by mechanical failure…and the occasional crash, of course!
In 1969, Yvon won the Daytona 250cc race for the second year in succession. Fellow Yamaha riders in Victory Lane are runner-up Rod Gould (right) and third man, Ron Pierce.
At Ontario Motor Speedway, California in 1973, Yvon led a clean sweep of the Victory Lane places for Kawasaki. Second was Gary Nixon at left with Art Baumann (right) in third.
Battling for the lead with eventual winner, Jarno Saarinen, in the 1973 Imola 2oo race.
In close company with Steve McLaughlin on Z1 Kawasakis in a US Superbike race.
Winning a F750 race at Magny Cours in France on the Kawasaki 750cc two-stroke triple.
Head down and 'under the bubble' to extract the maximum speed potential of the Kawasaki,
Yvon kept busy in the Canadian winters by winning World Snowmobile Champiomships.
For more information on Yvon Duhamel check out the extensive two-part feature by Bruce Cox in the June and August 2021 issues of Classic Racer magazine. And for a race-by-race account of his years with Kawasaki suggest you read the book by his long-time friend and Kawasaki USA team manager, Randy Hall - 'Lean, Green and Lime Green - The Two-Stroke Years'. Available as a print book or e-book from www.themotorcyclefiles.com.