One of the best motorcycle racers to fly the jumps of Baja was Danny Hamel, who, at the peak of his career, was killed on the outskirts of Ensenada by a careless off-duty policeman.
Hamel was a very likeable guy, everyone's favorite competitor, according to his Kawasaki teammates, and just about anyone else that knew him at the time.
He was barely 5 miles into the 1995 Baja 500 race just after a dawn start. He was first vehicle on the road when he collided into the side of a car, which suddenly turned onto the track. He and his bike slid under the side of the vehicle, and he was taken to a hospital in Ensenada, where he was pronounced dead of internal injuries. He was only 23 years old.
“Danny was a very talented rider, a great kid, super smart. He was much like Kurt Casselli (who died at the 2014 Baja 1000), both possibly the most talent ever and both cut short in life”, said Larry Roeseler, who has the title of the most Baja 1000 class wins of all time. “It was an honor to ride with Hamel and a tough day when I had to race against him, and I miss him for sure”.
A couple years earlier, Hamel was teamed with Ted Hunnicutt at the '93 San Felipe 250, but Hunnicutt had burned both his left arm and left leg while testing a bike in Lucerne Valley a week earlier, and Roeseler was drafted to fill in for Hunnicutt. The wining combination of Hamel-Roeseler was created which won the race after a heated battle with the Honda team, and many other races after that.
But Hamel wasn't 100% at this event, “I have tendonitis on my right arm, which is my throttle arm. Every time I twisted the throttle there was pain, so I just held the throttle in one place, which took care of the pain. When I got on the bike I charged ahead and picked up a three minute lead on the Honda guys, By the time I made it to Borrego (pits), I had seven minutes on them,” Hamel said in a post-race interview.
Obviously Hamel had set the throttle on the 'fast' setting and left it there.
But the competitive drive of both Hamel and Roeseler further came to light, when the media press book for the event revealed their post race schedule: “We are flying from here to Tijuana pretty soon”, Hamel said, “Then we will cross the border and board another plane to San Diego”. Roeseler added “After that race, which is a 100 miler, we head for Oklahoma for the 6-Day Qualifiers. Roeseler wasn't concerned about stretching himself too thin, when he added “We get a few days rest after the Utah race. I'll take lots of vitamins, aspirins, and liquids”.
Until his untimely demise, Hamel was defending off-road champion in the motorcycle class, a two-time winner of the Baja 500, the three-time winner of the SCORE Class 22 (over 250 cc bikes) Championship, 3 time winner of the Baja 1000, and competed in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Gran Prix UltraCross events.
Tom VanBeveren was a field reporter and photographer for Cycle News. “I was the last person Danny spoke to before the crash, at the start line of the '95 500. I wished him good luck, and he took off. He was exremely talented, and had excellent eyesight, which is a big plus. He made what he did look easy”
Twice AMA Supercross Champ Ricky Johnson summed up Hamel's track career: “Danny would always try something new, something nobody else did out there. He was tops in the desert”.
High praise indeed.