Yvon Duhamel, one of the greatest Canadian motorcycle racers of all time, has died. He was 81 years old.
Duhamel first gained recognition in regional ice racing and dirt track events in Quebec, quickly racking up award after award in CMA-managed competition through the 1960s. Duhamel won at everything he tried: trials, motocross, ice racing, flat track roadracing. Along with Canadian events, Duhamel started racing AMA flat track in the late 1960s. He also hit the US roadracing scene with the Deeley Yamaha team, showing immediate success at Daytona and earning a reputation outside his home country.
That reputation brought a job offer from Kawasaki, where Duhamel focused on roadracing and rode on the factory squad in AMA competition. He started in the days of Kawi’s legendarily hazardous two-strokes, and moved on to the four-stroke/four-cylinder machinery when that became the norm. Along with success in AMA races, Duhamel also proved capable of holding his own overseas, with a fifth in the 250cc category at Assen in 1975 (Kawi’s best finish for that season). He was points leader in 1973’s USA-vs-UK Match Race series, and also built himself a strong reputation in the Formula 750 series aboard Kawasaki’s four-cylinder two-stroke homologation specials.
With teammate Gary Nixon, Duhamel made Kawasaki the bike to beat in that series, cleaning up wins between them despite reliability issues. That was actually a recurring theme for Duhamel through his career; on better bikes, and with the ability to focus on a single series in a mainstream market, Duhamel might well have been even more famous. As it was, as Kawasaki’s front-man, he had an international reputation as a master of speed.
Duhamel also had a hot snowmobile racing career, winning in Canada and the US, taking top spot in the 1970 World Championship Snowmobile Derby and also winning the Winnipeg-to-St Paul 500 race. He even had a 10th-place finish (working his way up from a 15th-place start) at a 400-mile NASCAR race in 1973, driving a Dunlavey car.
As the ’70s turned into the ’80s, Duhamel dialed back his race efforts, helping his sons get their race careers started. He entered the Bol D’or with sons Mario and Miguel in 1988, the first father-sons team to participate in the 24-hour race. He ran a Sportster in AMA competition in his 50s, and also took part in vintage racing events.
Because of Duhamel’s time with Kawasaki’s factory team, there’s plenty of footage of his racing prowess on YouTube, and we’d suggest you take a peek through there to see just how fast he really was.