2015 Motorcyclist of the Year: Wayne Rainey

The Former World Champion Revives American RoadRacing

Wayne Rainey knows motorcycle racing. A two-time AMA Superbike champion (1983 and 1987) and three-time 500GP World Champion (1990–1992), the California native also served as a Grand Prix team manager (Marlboro Yamaha), event promoter (he played a pivotal role in returning the USGP to Laguna Seca), and, most recently, a regular race fan just like us, watching MotoGP from his couch on TV. Rainey has seen, studied, and participated in the sport from every possible angle, making him uniquely qualified to serve as president of the newly formed MotoAmerica sanctioning body that is revitalizing road racing in the US.

“The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is motorcycle racing.” – Wayne Rainey

There's no arguing that American professional roadracing was in dire straights before MotoAmerica assumed control in September of last year. Many of our most promising racers had all but given up on the American series, looking for opportunities overseas instead. But Rainey, who came up during the glory days of the 1980s and '90s, when American racers ruled the World Championship, wasn't ready to write the series off just yet.

“One thing that wasn’t broken was the racing,” Rainey says, describing the situation he and his MotoAmerica partners—Terry Karges, Richard Varner, and fellow moto-racing insider Chuck Aksland—stepped into last year. “Racers are always going to race hard. The talent was out there—we just needed to create a competitive platform.”

Wayne Rainey, front and center, with KRAVE partners (left to right) Richard Varner, Terry Karges, and Chuck Aksland at Motorcyclist Magazine's 2015 MOTY Awards ceremony in Indy. Photo: Mark Wernham

MotoAmerica has already accomplished an amazing amount in less than a year: writing new rules aligned with FIM global standards to reduce development costs and encourage factory involvement; lining up new promotional partners and revenue sources; expanding the series from five to nine events; arranging a TV deal; and much more.

“You have to have a stable platform, one that makes manufacturers want to participate. Without their involvement and promotional help, it would be hard to make the series grow.” Yamaha, Suzuki, Aprilia, and Triumph are directly backing MotoAmerica teams; Honda is back with large contingency payouts; strong privateer programs on BMW, Ducati, and Kawasaki motorcycles make the AMA paddock more diverse than it’s been in years.

MotoAmerica also made opportunities for young, up-and-coming racers a priority. The new KTM 390 class allows amateur racers ages 14 to 22 to compete on a national stage using a spec bike to control costs and promote competition. "The KTM class was a risk well taken," Rainey says. "We had 31 entries at the Utah round, with a 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds on the podium. Families love being involved in a national event, and fans love seeing new talent come up. The opportunity [to advance] is very clear now, where it wasn't before."

Rainey, who was "all but retired" a few years ago, says that MotoAmerica has rekindled his passion for motorcycle racing. "The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is motorcycle racing," Rainey says. "I believe this group is making a difference, and that's motivating me. Looking back at all those experiences that formed my career, it's like everything lined up just to prepare me for this job."

It’s also rekindled his competitive fire. “I see what we’re building, and I see that we’re getting more organized with every race, but you really don’t know where you stand until you race against someone from a different series,” Rainey says. “We would like to do that. I believe we have teams and riders now that can show other championships that the US still has riders that can be at the top. I believe our riders can race for the podium in any series in the world, I really do. Now I can’t wait to show them.”

Rainey is quick to point out that MotoAmerica would not happen without his partners and that he is simply an element of a focused, hard-working team. But those of us who have watched this nascent series emerge appreciate what Wayne brings to the program: a racer's focus, total credibility, and immeasurable goodwill. It's not to say that MotoAmerica would be impossible without him, but what Wayne Rainey knows about racing gives it an undeniable advantage when it's needed the most.