We are great Moto GP followers, and since long. Moto GP has seen some of the most incredible Motorcycle Racers through its history. There have been stories of brilliantly close championships, of races that have attained eternal status for their shear incredible outcomes. Moto GP has also seen riders going to great heights in their careers and the achievements, and then Moto GP has also seen its share of dark days. The Premier Class of Motorcycle racing has always been and will always be one of the most dangerous sports there can be, and the riders who go out to race every race weekend have no dearth of shear bravery running through their veins as they all are aware of the risks the sport they all so dearly has.
Today we will talk about one such Motorcycle Racer, who rose to staggering heights in his career as a Moto GP racer and who at the peak of his career, met one of the most devastating accidents in the history of Moto GP. Wayne Rainey, is a man, a racer, whose story is full of grit and of shear strength in will, his story is of a Man who has become a living legend in the racing world.
Wayne Wesley Rainey (born October 23, 1960 in Downey, California, United States), the oldest of go-kart mad Sandy Rainey [a construction worker] and his wife Ila's three children. His father's love for all things motorised, combined with a desire to redesign almost everything he raced, soon rubbed off on Wayne, and when Sandy turned his attention to the new motorcycle craze sweeping the USA's west coast it wasn't long before he'd built his six year old son a 'minibike' to play around on. By the age of nine the undersized Wayne was racing at the emerging local dirt tracks, built to feed the exponential off-road motorcycle rise sweeping the area.
Rainey quickly advanced through the amateur dirt track ranks, eventually moving up to a 125cc two-stroke Yamaha by the age of 15 – and winning just about everything he entered in So Cal. It was soon time to take on the other districts of the western state – some of which were arguable even more competitive than the south, and he soon earned a name for himself among the racing set.
When he hit 16 year's old [in 1976], Rainey was old enough to race in AMA competition – the route to national and international stardom. At this stage his sights were still set on dirt track glory and climbing the ladder to the prestigious 750cc AMA Grand National championship, where speeds topped 120 mph. He reached Grand National level at 18. His first year in the championship came as something of a shock to the constantly winning Rainey; suddenly he was up against the best dirt track riders in the country, and his small size was a distinct disadvantage when it came to hauling the 750s around the ovals. His first season also ended with an out of character crash at the San Jose Mile – and for the first time in his career he was hurt. Amazingly, given his career achievements, he would never win a Grand National event.
In 1981, he finished the Grand National season as the 15th ranked dirt track racer in the country. Following his success in the Novice 250cc road race class, Kawasaki hired him to compete in the 1982 AMA Superbike Championship as a teammate to the then defending National Champion Eddie Lawson. The following year, Lawson moved to the Grand Prix circuit and Rainey took over the role of leading rider, earning the 1983 National Championship for Kawasaki.
In 1984, he accepted an offer to ride for the newly formed Kenny Roberts Yamaha squad in the 250cc class of the Grand Prix World Championship. A less than successful season (1 podium and difficulty push-starting the bike) saw him returning home in 1985 to join the Maclean Racing team in U.S. 250 and Formula 1 classes, and then on to the American Honda team from 1986 to 1987 where he raced Superbike and F1. It was during the 1987 Superbike National Championship that his intense rivalry began with Kevin Schwartz as the two battled it out for the title. Rainey won the Championship, but the fierce rivalry between the two competitors was just beginning. So intense was their rivalry that they continued their battle during the 1987 Trans-Atlantic Match Races in which they were supposedly teammates competing against a team of British riders.
In 1988 Rainey returned to Europe, again joining Team Roberts Yamaha, this time in the premier 500cc division riding the YZR500. His arch-rival Schwantz followed him to Europe, signing to race the 500cc class for Team Suzuki. The two would continue their rivalry on race tracks all across Europe, driving each other to higher levels of competitiveness. In 1988, Rainey and his Team Roberts Yamaha teammate Kevin Magee won the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race in Japan. In the 1989 campaign, Rainey finished second overall. From 1990 to 1992, Rainey hit his stride earning three consecutive 500cc crowns for Yamaha.
1993 saw Rainey stick with the Roberts Marlboro Yamahas, but he now had perennial crasher Luca Cadalora as his team-mate [Kocinski was back on a 250], and Kenny had switched his team back to Dunlop's. Wayne knew he needed a considerable improvement from his Yamaha if he was to match the Doohan/Honda and a much more composed Schwantz/Suzuki combination, but would be left disappointed by the underpowered and ill-handling bike the Japanese marque presented him with.
Nevertheless, the Australian season opener began with a second, and Wayne followed that up with victories in Malaysia and Japan to take the points lead from Schwantz. More podium finishes followed over the next two rounds, but then the slump started next time out in Germany [round six], where the bikes deficiencies couldn't be masked and a fifth was all Rainey could salvage – Schwantz had taken the points lead, and extended it with a win at Assen.
Rainey fought-back at Catalunya [round eight], where he won from Schwantz and Doohan, the sweeping corners reducing the need for all-out speed and allowing Wayne his third victory of the year. A third at San Marino was useful, but he again finished behind Schwantz and Doohan, and so gave the Suzuki rider further advantage. But Donington Park would throw Rainey a GP lifeline when a multiple pile-up took out both Doohan and Schwantz [injuring his wrist], Wayne took second behind Cadalora and the championship momentum had swung strongly his way.
Rainey rode his new found confidence to a dominating victory at Brno, giving him the points lead and what would be his last ever Grand Prix victory, because following Brno was the fateful Italian Grand Prix at Misano. Misano was a circuit Rainey had always liked, and a second placed starting position [behind Cadalora, but crucially ahead of Schwantz] put him in an ideal position to extend his points lead. Rainey shadowed Cadalora from the start, but then with just over 10 of the 30 laps complete Wayne pitched his Yamaha into turn one a little too quickly. It wasn't a big mistake – he was riding as hard as he could to pull away from Schwantz – but then he accelerated a little too early on the exit for his out of line position and the bike stepped out at 120+ mph.
It didn't high-side him, but instead came back in to line with such ferocity that Wayne was thrown to the ground regardless. Rainey slid at high speed into the gravel, which perhaps crucially had been raked into deep ruts – good at stopping cars, not so for unprotected motorcycle riders. Rainey hit the raked gravel and was immediately sent into a sickening series of high speed somersaults, slamming him onto the rutted gravel time and time again before he eventually came to rest. His bike also appeared to strike him during the blurred TV replays. Wayne's spine was broken midway down his back, severely. There was no chance of a full recovery and his life was in danger. It was only after a long hospitalisation that the bones in his back were corrected and repaired, but the severed spinal cord couldn't be.
It was the end of an era and shocked fans, riders and media alike. If it could happen to Rainey, it could happen to anyone. In his absence, arch-rival Schwantz took his only World Championship, before Doohan began his fantastic run of five World Championships in a row before he, the last of the 'old boys', was forced into retirement by a crash at Jerez in 1999.
After turning to Williams team owner and quadriplegic Frank Williams for advice, Rainey later became the team manager for Marlboro Yamaha for a few years. After the 1995 season, Schwantz retired from the Grand Prix circus, partly due to nagging injuries and partly because losing the one great rival that had fired his competitive intensity made him view his own mortality much more clearly.
Rainey has refused to give up racing despite his disability and now races a hand-controlled Superkart in the World SuperKart series based in Northern California. He lives in Monterey, California in a house which was built overlooking the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit shortly before his career ending accident. The nearby circuit has named a corner in his honour, the Rainey Curve, a medium-speed, acute left-hander that follows the famous Corkscrew. Rainey was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. The FIM named him a Grand Prix "Legend" in 2000. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007.
After two seasons of poor decisions by Daytona Motorsports Group, the organisation that runs domestic motorcycle racing, the 2013 dispute with Dorna/Infront regarding coverage of AMA Superbike coverage on shared FIM weekends that lead to a lack of media coverage for the Superbike round at Mazda Raceway and the Harley-Davidson XR1200 round at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for both 2013 and 2014, the AMA transferred commercial rights to AMA-sanctioned road racing for the 2015 season to Rainey and business partners. Rainey will organise the MotoAmerica group that will run AMA Superbike starting in 2015.
If you are Avid Moto GP follower like us, you can easily remember the various times Rainey was present at the track, and even after all these years of his terrible accident, he still looks like a young exited kid when he talks about racing and motorcycles.
We here at Bikeportal salute his Passion for Moto GP and towards his life. You are a great inspiration for us and will always be one of the greatest hero's of Motorcycle Racing World.