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AMA: Racers' Racer

17 April 1998

LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY-- Of the more than 250 motorcycle racers who will be at the Honda Challenge of Laguna Seca here this weekend, April 17-19, competing for national championship points, one stands out. Its not because he is a champion, though he was the 1986 AMA Formula One Champion. It isnt because hes the fastest on two wheels, though he says hes faster than ever before. It isnt because he is the oldest rider in the sport with a national title shot, though at 42 he is. It isnt that he has an ego many times larger than his 5 4", 120 lb. stature, which he doesnt..

Randy Renfro, who will ride a Honda in the 250 Grand Prix race here on Sunday, stands out because of an element of his nature impossible to articulate. "Indomitable spirit" is perhaps the best descriptive, though it falls way short of being adequate. "Racing. Its in his heart," say former endurance racing champion Doug Toland. "What Randy has gone through and done, what he continues to do, says just so much about him and motorcycle racers."

After 26 years racing for F1, Superbike, 250 Grand Prix, SuperSport and, in the beginning, Motocross championships, Renfro doesnt have anything more to prove. Away from the race track, hes a successful businessman who can earn more off a race bike than on one. There is absolutely no reason for him to keep going and risk damaging his body more than it has been -- at least none that can be comprehended by anyone who has not experienced the sensation of taunting the devil and walking away to talk about it.

Renfros crashes and the injuries hes endured are legend. After seven years of motocross racing, he retired at 23 because his body couldnt take the pounding any more. Then he went road racing to see if he would like it, and hasnt stopped since. Last year, the season ended early and abruptly for him when he went down so fast and so hard that he suffered two broken legs and some 25 additional fractures.

The crash most talked about, however, happened in 1991. Why Renfros bike went down at 150mph, he doesnt know. But it did and his hand was caught between the bike and the track pavement. His thumb and the tips of two fingers were ground off during a long, torturous slide. He can now hold a coffee cup with his right hand because he had the doctor amputate his right toe and graft it to his hand as a replacement for the lost thumb. Ironically, it is useless for racing because it wont flex enough to help grasp a handgrip.

"I know, sooner or later, Ive got to quit," Renfro says. "But I also know how much I would miss it. There is nothing that could replace what I get from racing. The level of effort to be the best you can be is so high. You push so hard to make the bike go faster and faster. I cant imagine anything else you could do that is so intense -- maybe flying a fighter plane in combat.

"If I were slowing down, there would be more incentive to retire. Im faster now than ever before. I dont take the risks I used to take. I used to live to get the bike over the limit and see if I could save it, two or three times a lap. After the crash where I severely injured my hand, I wasnt sure if I could ride again. I almost quit. The decision to ride at Daytona in 92 (his first race after the accident) was made just two weeks before. Every day after the first one (back on track) I was surer and surer I could do it.

"The scariest thing for me is not knowing why a crash happens. They are all my fault. Im the one who decides to be on the track and I know what can happen on a race track. I just dont take as many risks any more. Ive learned how to ride up to the limit, not beyond it, and be fast."


Racing for: AMA 250 Grand Prix Championship on an Erion Racing Team

Record: 1997 - 5th 250 GP; 96 - 2nd 250 GP; 3rd - 93 600 SuperSport; 2nd - 90 Superbike Championship - 89 Pro Twin; Champion - 86 AMA F1; Champion - 83 250 GP

Born: April 9, 1956 in Booneville, Missouri

Resides: Fredericksburg, Virginia

Event/Ticket Information Call: 1-800-327-SECA

Mailing address P.O. Box 2078 Monterey, CA 93942

Events 1998

April 17-19 Honda Challenge of Laguna Seca featuring AMA National Superbike Championship Round 3

July 10-12 Dunlop United States World Superbike Championship August 14-16 The Chrysler Corporation presents the 25TH Annual Monterey Historic Automobile Races Featured Marque - Porsche

September 11-13 Honda Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Texaco/Havoline 300

October 23-25 Visa Sports Car Championships presented by Honda featuring the FIA GT Championship finale

HONDA is the official automobile & motorcycle of Laguna Seca Raceway

Budweiser is the official beer of Laguna Seca Raceway

Laguna Seca Raceway has been operated by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula since its opening in 1957. SCRAMP is a non-profit organization chartered to benefit local charitable and non-profit groups and to promote economic vitality.

Race events at Laguna Seca Raceway race have resulted in over $8 million being distributed to Monterey Peninsula and Central California groups for youth programs and community service projects, and they have generated more than $1 billion in revenue for area businesses.

Today, SCRAMP is the most important economic and charitable organization in Monterey County.