Archives: Battle of the Supersport Titans

Larry Lawrence | March 3, 2020

Archives: Battle of the Supersport Titans

It was a race that had reporters reaching for the AMA record books. The epic AMA Pro Honda Oils 600cc Supersport Series race at Laguna Seca Raceway in April of 1996. It was a showdown between two of the all-time greats in the history of Supersport racing – Miguel Duhamel and Mike Smith. The pair was one and two respectively on the series all-time wins list and now here they were, on the beautiful road racing circuit in Monterey, California, going wheel to wheel for the victory.

Archives: Battle of the Supersport Titans

Mike Smith (68), here leading Ben Bostrom (No. 11), Miguel Duhamel (No. 1), Thomas Stevens (No. 2) and others at the Laguna Seca AMA Supersport race in April of 1996, broke DuHameI’s 10-race win streak in 600cc Supersport competition in a classic duel. (Henny Ray Abrams photo)

At the checkered flag it was Smith, on the Muzzy Kawasaki, edging Duhamel and his factory Honda for the win.

Why were writers scrambling for the record books? They were trying to figure out the last time DuhameI lost a 600cc Supersport final. Turns out it was ten races earlier. Ironically, at Laguna Seca Raceway. Further, the last time a Kawasaki won a 600cc Supersport race prior to Smith’s victory, was nearly three years earlier in August of 1993 at Sears Point and it was DuHame1 who rode that Kawasaki to victory. Even more amazing was the fact that it had been nearly two years since a non-Honda won a 600cc Supersport race.

All of these points of trivia came up after Smith managed to put a stop to Duhamel’s historic 10-race win streak with his scintillating victory at Laguna.

The fact that Smith was battling for a 600cc Supersport victory was a bit of surprise on its own. Smith had been an early star of Supersport racing. The Georgian was a rising club-racing star, but little known in the pro ranks when he came out of nowhere to win take an unexpected victory in the Road Atlanta AMA Supersport race in 1988, just the second year of the series. It marked one of the very few times in history a racer had won a road racing national event in his pro debut.

Even after winning his AMA Pro Road Racing debut, it was a few years before Smith got a full-time ride in the AMA. Instead he was riding for Team Hammer in the WERA Pro Series and earned the 1990 WERA Formula USA Championship. Finally, in ’91 Smith got the call up to the AMA ranks with Yoshimura Suzuki to race AMA Superbike.

Mike Smith celebrates his 1996 Laguna Seca AMA Supersport victory on the cool-down lap. (Henny Ray Abrams photo)

After a year with Suzuki he was signed by Camel Honda in ’92 and he did double duty in Superbike and 600cc Supersport (not uncommon in those days). He immediately picked up where he left off and became one of Supersport’s elites. Over the next few years he won a slew of Supersport races, yet couldn’t quite nail down the championship.

The 1994 season was a standout for Smith. He won a class-leading six of the 10 Supersport rounds in the championship that season, riding the factory Honda, and looked to have the title in the bag until a crash at Sears Point, in the penultimate round, basically handed Yamaha’s Jamie James the series crown.

Eight years after scoring that surprise first victory at Road Atlanta, Smith had been bouncing around riding for Suzuki, Honda and Ducati before landing with Muzzy Kawasaki in 1996. By that time his last road race victory was two seasons earlier and Duhamel, on the factory Honda, looked almost unstoppable in Supersport racing.

It’s true that Smith’s ’96 Laguna Supersport win over Duhamel carried historical significance, it is mainly remembered mostly for being one of the classic 600cc Supersport battles of all-time, a war fought between the two titans of the class.

Smith and Duhamel were glued together for the entire 17-lap, 38-mile race with each taking his turn at the front. Late in the race, the pair were joined by Kinko’s Kawasaki’s Thomas Stevens in his most inspired ride in recent memory. The three then battled their way to the finish. Stevens’ bid was thwarted in the closing laps by lapped traffic. Then on final lap Duhamel, leading, ran into the Corkscrew too hot, locked the rear while downshifting, wasn’t able to get the Honda slowed in time to make the corner. He was forced to jump the curbing down the left-right combination corner. Smith wasn’t able to take full advantage since he’d missed a shift going in, and the pair emerged almost side by side. Smith, though, was in the lead and he held on to the finish.

Mike Smith. (Henny Ray Abrams photo)

Smith was obviously pleased with his effort.

“It was a very good race,” the Georgian said. “Riding with new teams each year is liking putting on a brand-new pair of motocross boots: It takes a little time for things to get worn in and get a feel for what’s going on. My point is, these guys are so competitive that this is no cakewalk. These guys are some of the best motorcycle racers in the world. To get on a new team and beat these guys is a tall order – for anybody. We just worked really hard and things are starting to come together for us. By no means do I think I’m going to have a big winning streak because these guys are going to keep me honest.”

Smith was right about that final point. Ultimately his thrilling Laguna Supersport victory would prove his last ever in Supersport. Duhamel rebounded and went on another winning streak to pull away to win the 1996 AMA 600cc Supersport title. For Smith the ’96 season proved his last as a full-time factory rider. He would continue road racing through the mid-2000s as a support rider and privateer and even filled in as a sub for the Harley-Davidson factory team a few times. He again came up just short of winning an AMA National road racing title in 2000, when he mostly dominated Pro Thunder on a Duc Shop Ducati, yet still finished second in the championship. Smith then race select AMA Supermoto Championship events for a few years before retiring.

In all Smith won an impressive 18 road race nationals in all classes, but the thriller at Laguna in ’96 will forever be one of his career highlights.

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Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.