A cham­pion picks his four fa­vorite race­bikes

Cycle World - - Contents - By Eric John­son

Wayne Rainey was placed on this earth to be a mo­tor­cy­cle racer. Raised in Downey, Cal­i­for­nia, he started at age 9 when his fam­ily lived less than 10 min­utes from As­cot Park. Now long gone to ur­ban sprawl, it was one of the most sto­ried tracks in the his­tory of Amer­i­can mo­tor rac­ing. A pa­per­clip-shaped half-mile course sculpted from dirt dug out of a lo­cal ceme­tery, the cir­cuit of­fered up trac­tion ga­lore with its su­per-tacky clay base topped with a dust­ing of de­com­posed gran­ite. It’s where Rainey, backed and en­cour­aged by his father, Sandy, lit the match on one of the great­est mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing ca­reers in not only the United States of Amer­ica, but the world over.

“I started rac­ing at age 9 and raced at places like As­cot, and al­ways ex­pected to be a dirt tracker,” Rainey ex­plains. “My he­roes grow­ing up were guys like Gary Nixon, Mert Lawwill, and Kenny Roberts. At that time, all I wanted to be was a Grand Na­tional Cham­pion. That’s all I knew.”

Win­ning the AMA Grand Na­tional Cham­pi­onship never quite worked out for Rainey, but by the time his pro­fes­sional ca­reer was com­plete in 1993, he had won two AMA Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onships in both 1983 and 1987, as well as

three straight Fédéra­tion In­ter­na­tionale de Mo­to­cy­clisme 500cc World Cham­pi­onships begin­ning in 1990, be­fore his ca­reer came to an abrupt halt one Sun­day af­ter­noon. He was lead­ing both the Ital­ian Grand Prix and the 500cc World Cham­pi­onship on Septem­ber 5, 1993, at the Santa Mon­ica track in Misano Adri­atico, when he crashed ex­it­ing turn one at 120 mph and broke his back. It would take all of his de­ter­mi­na­tion and work ethic to re­cover.

Rainey still loves mo­tor­cy­cles and mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, so much so that he now serves as the pres­i­dent of Mo­toamer­ica. And he still has fond rec­ol­lec­tions of cer­tain bikes he raced dur­ing his ca­reer, start­ing with his first Honda Z50.

“My dad ended up build­ing a swingarm for that bike, and he made a front-en­gine mo­tor mount,” he says, “but what was re­ally spe­cial was that he put it on nitro­meth­ane .... My dad checked the rule book un­der ‘fuel.’ It said you must use fuel but didn’t say what kind!”

While a ni­tro-pow­ered Z50 is the stuff of true le­gend, not ev­ery­thing Rainey rode in those early days was re­li­able.

“You know, from 1969 to around 1971, when my dad did all the bikes, I rode a lot of stuff that never even saw the check­ered flag just be­cause they would break. I had a lot of bikes like that grow­ing up as a kid, so I got to learn a lot about how mo­tors work and how a chas­sis should feel.”

But the bike that both sym­bol­ized and per­son­i­fied Rainey for most of us was the 1983 Kawasaki GPZ750 he won the AMA Su­per­bike ti­tle on. While speaking with

Cy­cle News at the time, he said the bike just wanted to throw him off any time it broke trac­tion, that it would scare him ev­ery time. Fright­en­ing or not, it all came right for Rainey and Kawasaki on Septem­ber 18, 1983, at Wil­low Springs, when he nabbed the ti­tle from an ech­e­lon of Hon­das nip­ping at his boot heels.

“At that time, all I wanted to be was a Grand Na­tional Cham­pion. That’s all I knew.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy by TOM RILES, GOLD & GOOSE

Be­fore he was THE Wayne Rainey, he was lap­ping As­cot Park and idol­iz­ing Gary Nixon.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: The bike that per­son­i­fied Rainey: the 1983 GPZ 750. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Fast but ter­ri­fy­ing, the Kawasaki threat­ened to throw Rainey ev­ery time it broke trac­tion.

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