WAYNE RAINEY’S QUADROPHENIA
A champion picks his four favorite racebikes
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.”
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.