Doug Polen - Checkers

Doug Polen, The Thinking Man's Racer

After winning the 1991 and '92 World Superbike Championships, and racing part-time in the U.S. in the latter, Doug Polen and tuner Eraldo Ferracci set their sights on the AMA title, which Ducati had never won. Though early Ferracci-tuned 851s had proven fragile, factory development improved the breed, so when the pair returned to America, it was with a highly developed 888cc Desmoquattro featuring then-novel carbon brakes and a slipper clutch. Add to that the fact that period rules gave twins 1000cc and a weight break while limiting fours to 750cc and you had the recipe for a runaway.

Not that Polen did. Knowing that flaunting his advantage would attract close scrutiny, the Texan played it smart. During the Road Atlanta race where this photo was taken, the savvy Texan waited until the penultimate lap to pass leader Mike Smith on the Camel Honda RC30. Employing that strategy throughout the season gave him six wins in 10 races and the '93 series title.

Polen's tactics would have been less controversial had he not raced with an on-board video camera and sold tapes to the public. At home in their living rooms, viewers watched Polen short-shift until late in the race, when he revved the desmo V-twin to 12,000-plus rpm to unleash all 140 horses.

Not surprisingly, the AMA subsequently repealed the twins' weight advantage and banned carbon brakes, and Polen left for the seemingly greener fields of Honda's RC45 World Superbike effort. Today, twins and fours all run at the same weight and displacement limits, though Ducati is petitioning the AMA and FIM to allow 1200c twins beginning in 2008. The more things change, the more they stay the same.