It was not the first time Randy Renfrow been cut out of his leathers, but there was no choice. Nine broken ribs, a broken right knee, broken right ankle, and shattered right foot. Somewhere between 23 and 28 bones were fractured in his foot, depending on how you counted the tiny pieces that were left. Plus internal bleeding and nerve damage. The pain was severe. To counter it, he bit on a dampened washcloth.
"How're you doing?" he was asked, as if the answer wasn't obvious. "Not too bad," he answered, "I'll be OK."
Randy Renfrow never fully recovered from those injuries he suffered back in March 2002, when he was rammed off his John Lassak-tuned Honda RS250 on the warm-up lap of a Championship Cup Series race at Daytona. Renfrow was competing in the CCS races in order to be ready when the real racing began in the AMA National races the following week. He'd been off all winter and wanted to get the edge back.
Instead, a simple household accident would be his undoing. Five months later, while still on crutches, 46-year-old Renfrow fell down the stairs in his parents' house, and suffered severe head injuries from which he would never recover. Mick and Edith Renfrow ended up making the most difficult decision parents could ever face in agreeing to remove their child from life-sustaining equipment. He passed quietly on Sunday morning, August 11, the day of the final race of the AMA calendar at VIR, a track only a few hours from his Fredericksburg home. Before the accident, Renfrow had planned on coming to the track to watch the race, although how patient he'd have been as a spectator was questionable.
On August 13, Randy Renfrow was laid to rest in a set of racing leathers and wearing the yellow Dunlop cap of champions. Never was it more appropriate. Randy Renfrow was a champion-three times in fact-but he was also one of the toughest, most resilient, and most determined riders ever.
"The most brutally honest man I've ever worked with," was how Martin Adams, one of his former team owners, described him. In the late '80s, Adams decided to lead Honda back into American roadracing, a discipline they'd largely abandoned. Adams freely admits it was a fool's errand, made mostly out of chutzpah, ego and navet. The vehicle was a home brew, a Honda RS750 V-twin dirttrack engine in a frame custom built to Honda RS500 specs in England, with various parts from other Honda models grafted on, and even others built from scratch by Ray Plumb, now the crew chief for American Honda.
Though they were facing the Fast by Ferracci Ducati 851, which was coming into its prime in America, it was, both Plumb and Adams agree, the time of their lives
"I would say that the best race and the best championship was on the twin," Plumb says. "Professional to the T," he adds, when describing Renfrow. "Not a whiner. You didn't have to babysit him. He was just a regular guy."
The 1989 Pro Twins championship fight between Renfrow and Dale Quarterley, on the Ferracci Ducati, came down to the final race in Topeka, Kansas. Plumb remembers he "had to work on that bike all the time. It was a constant. I'd bored it, sleeved it. Had a [five speed] gearbox (Ed. note: The original dirttrack engine was a four-speed), clutch, intake. Everything was kind of custom, not one of these modern-day Superbikes. To put all that work into it and win that last race and the championship was probably the highlight of what I did anyway. Randy was the guy that made it happen."
Adams said that Renfrow's honesty tended to reinforce the desire of the crew to find a mechanical solution. But if that wasn't enough, Renfrow would do the rest. "I honestly believe there are too many people who look for a mechanical solution, but there's only so much of an edge you can put on a razor blade," Adams says. "The really great ones know how to get a little more out of the mechanical package than is in there, and see the checkered flag first while doing so."
The twin was not without its problems. Despite grafting on works forks from a VFR750, and bracing the front end, there was a persistent front end chatter. "I was frustrated," Plumb remembers, "and he (Renfrow) just said, 'Ray, it's just kind of got its own style. The bottom line is you're going to do the best you can with it and the rest is up to me.' He made you feel like the rest is on his shoulders and you don't have to go off the deep end. He'd go out and win on the thing. He was always able to push it just a little bit more to make it do more than it would do. He would always save a little in reserve for the race."
Without being prompted, both Adams and Plumb separately recounted a story from the same race, Road America in 1989, to make their point. They were well behind Quarterley in qualifying, so Renfrow hid in the team's box van with a yellow legal pad. When he emerged, he'd drawn out every single problem on the track, and how to do it better. Adams saw the yellow legal pad sitting on the driver's seat and curiosity got the best of him. "There were about 12 or 13 things on that page," one in four was about mechanical solutions, the others "were all intensely personal notes, many of which I didn't understand and [made me feel] really invasive after I'd looked at it. I had no intention of reading anyone's diary. I didn't want to think any more about it. Intensely personal observations that he obviously used as a motivational tool to reach down in himself to find a sixth gear [when the bike actually] had [only] five gears."