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Wayne Rainey

Wayne Rainey on the Yamaha YZR500


Wayne Rainey (born October 23, 1960 in Los Angeles, California) is an American former motorcycle road racer. During the late 1980s and early 1990s he won the 500cc World Championship three times and the Daytona 200 once. He was characterized by his smooth, calculating riding style that belied a fierce determination to win.

He began his career racing in the American Grand National Championship, a series that encompassed four distinct dirt track disciplines plus road races. Following his success in the Novice 250cc roadrace class, Kawasaki hired him to compete in the 1982 Superbike Championship as a team-mate to the then defending National Champion Eddie Lawson. The following year, Lawson moved to the Grand Prix circuit and Rainey took over, 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 saw him returning home to join the American Honda Superbike team from 1985 to 1987. It was during the 1987 Superbike National Championship that his intense rivalry began with Kevin Schwantz 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 team-mates competing against a team of British riders.

In 1988 Rainey returned to Europe, again joining the Kenny Roberts Yamaha team, this time in the premier 500cc division. His arch rival Schwantz followed him to Europe, signing to race the 500cc class for Team Suzuki. The two would continue their intense rivalry on race tracks all across Europe, driving each other to higher levels of competitiveness. The late 80's and the early 90's are considered by many to be the "Golden Era" of motorcycle Grand Prix racing. Talented riders such as Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz, Michael Doohan and Randy Mamola all had great riding skills which made for extremely competitive racing and thrilling action for spectators. In 1988, Rainey and his Team Roberts Yamaha team-mate Kevin Magee would also win the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race in Japan. In the 1989 campaign, Rainey would finish third overall. From 1990 to 1992, he hit his stride earning three consecutive 500cc crowns for Yamaha. Rainey was well on his way to his fourth-consecutive title in 1993. He was leading the championship points and leading the GP when he suffered his career-ending crash at Misano, Italy, in which he slid into the gravel trap at high speed, breaking his spine against the raked surface designed to as a safety feature for car racing. The injury handed the title over to his great rival, Schwantz. Rainey's injuries would render him permanently paralyzed from the chest down.

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 kart in the World SuperKart series based in Northern California. He lives in Salinas, California. The nearby Laguna Seca circuit has named a corner in his honor. The Rainey Curve is a medium-speed, acute left-hander that follows the famous Corkscrew.

Motorcycle Grand Prix results

  • 1984 250cc - 8th
  • 1988 500cc - 3rd, (1 win)
  • 1989 500cc - 2nd, (3 wins)
  • 1990 500cc - 1st, (7 wins)
  • 1991 500cc - 1st, (6 wins)
  • 1992 500cc - 1st, (3 wins)
  • 1993 500cc - 2nd, (4 wins)