What’s he doing now?
25 years after his last world title, GP racing’s most driven champion is reviving American racing Continued over
In 1983 Wayne Rainey won the US Superbike series and was immediately rewarded with a Grand Prix ride the following year. The same happened to many other American superbike riders of that era; from Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson to Kevin Schwantz and Bubba Shobert.
Sadly, the US Superbike championship’s days as a global force are long gone and for a multitude of reasons. Almost a decade ago the series came close to total collapse, due to the global economic crisis and inept management by the Daytona Motorsport Group.
In 2015 the KRAVE Group took over the series, renamed it Motoamerica and installed Rainey as the front man. Over three decades after this departure, the Californian was back in US Superbikes, this time on the other side of the pit wall. A lot had happened to Rainey during the intervening period: from 1990 to 1992 he won three straight 500cc world championships, in 1993 he was paralysed from the chest down in a crash at Misano and from 1994 to 1997 he ran a factory Yamaha GP team from his wheelchair.
Motoamerica is Rainey’s first involvement in racing since he quit team management due to ill-health in the late 1990s. His new job is a big one: to rebuild the USA as a force in motorcycle racing.
“The US series was pretty banged up when we took over,” says Rainey. “There was a lot of stuff that had happened that affected it badly, so we’re taking what we’ve got and trying to make it better every year.”
The championship was indeed a mess. Several factory teams had got so fed up with DMG that they quit entirely, robbing the series of its headline teams and riders. DMG also ran into serious trouble with a lack of TV coverage (with associated loss of sponsorship), botched technical regulations and a dwindling fan base, so Rainey and KRAVE have a lot of work on their hands
Working from a wheelchair is never going to be easy, especially when there’s a lot of travel involved. Rainey is lucky to have wife Shae at his side, making his life as easy as it can be.
“When I tackle something I go all in on it because that’s my nature, but I still try to enjoy what I’m doing, not make it just a business thing,” adds the 56-year-old. “Shae normally comes to the races and sometimes we get to do a bit of tourist stuff together. After the last race we flew to Florida for Bubba’s son’s wedding, then we drove 1400
‘His new job is a big one: to rebuild the USA as a force in motorcycle racing’
miles to the next race.”
Last year Rainey celebrated his son Rex’s marriage but he’s not a grandfather yet. Rex works for Disney TV in Los Angeles.
“Physically, I’m hanging in there. I’m going to be 57 this year, so I don’t move around as easy as I did just 10 years ago. It’s all part of getting old.
“I said I’d put three to five years into this programme. Now we’re halfway through year three. The thing is that you have to be patient, because this kind of thing isn’t going to happen overnight. There’s a plan and it’s going to take time. It’s easy to get impatient and there’s some frustration, but that’s the same in any job.”
Rainey’s main focus has been getting the factory teams to return, opening up the championship to foreign riders, rewriting the technical rules and turning Motoamerica rounds into events, not just race meetings.
“Nowadays there are so many other things trying to get people’s attention. We’ve got to build our races as events, so there’s more to do when people come to the circuit other than just watch races. This year the racing is very competitive and very exciting, with good fights all the way to the chequered flag.”
So far Motoamerica has brought one top foreigner into the series: former Motogp winner and Moto2 world champion Toni Elias who is currently leading the points chase. The idea, of
course, is to use international talent to raise the level of racing.
“This is Toni’s redemption, so he’s riding very strong. I don’t think he has ever ridden better than he’s riding this year, which is bringing the best out of his team-mate Roger Hayden at Yoshimura Suzuki.
“We wanted to get as many factory teams involved again, so our rules are now pretty much the same as World Superbikes on engine, chassis, suspension and electronics; the only difference is that our riders have to run a standard gearbox.”
Of course, rebuilding the championship is only one part of Rainey’s job, the other is to build a new generation of American riders who can take on the world. Currently there isn’t a single American on the Motogp grid and, since Nicky Hayden’s death, no full-time American on the WSB grid, which would’ve been unthinkable a decade or two ago.
“There’s a hunger to see who will be the next American guy on a world championship grid. That’s all part of having a competitive championship that the manufacturers, the riders and the fans want to be a part of.”
So who impresses Rainey right now? “Cameron Beaubier is impressing me more this year – he’s pushing Toni for the championship.”
Beaubier is 24 years old but he’s already been a GP rider. He contested the 2009 125cc world championship at the tender age of 16, but was probably too young to compete at that level and went home. Last year he had a one-off WSB ride at Donington, subbing for the injured Sylvain Guintoli.
“If you’ve got the talent, no matter where you’re from, somebody’s going to spot you and you can get there,” adds Rainey. “The issue in the US isn’t just at national level, club racing has also waned. We try to show people what’s possible by having a minimoto track somewhere in the paddock at Motoamerica rounds, so that families can see kids racing and ask questions.
“I’m playing a role I’ve never played before; it’s interesting to be on the other side, being on the management side, with nothing to do with the outcome of the racing, but instead working on the funding, the planning and all that stuff. Hopefully we’re going to make a difference…”
‘Physically, I’m hanging in there’ WAYNE RAINEY
Rainey was one of the most driven racers of his era and now he’s reviving American racing
Two-time Motoamerica champion Cameron Beaubier
Rainey’s battles with Kevin Schwantz came to define the era
Young, home-grown talent is a key part of Rainey’s strategy
The American trio of Lawson, Schwantz and Rainey dominated Donington 1989
Rainey explains to Schwantz how his tobacco is better After his accident Rainey managed Norick Abe and Colin Edwards Rainey wrestles his way to his first Superbike win on a Z1000 that he later described as ‘a beast’