Ranking The Top Ten SuperBike Champions - No. 5

NEWS January 31, 2014

Ranking The Top Ten SuperBike Champions - No. 5

Photo by BuckleyPhotos.com

Written by Chris Martin:

January 31, 2014 - Wayne Rainey is a certified motorsports icon. Not only a member of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Rainey has also been enshrined as an FIM Grand Prix Legend and an International Motorsports Hall of Famer.

While largely remembered for his achievements as one of the greatest 500 Grand Prix racers of all time, Rainey also stands as one of the very best in AMA Pro SuperBike history as well.

Rainey excelled in two distinctly different eras of Superbike racing, notching up a victory as a class rookie in 1982 aboard the boxy and beastly works Kawasaki KZ1000 despite facing the likes of Eddie Lawson, Mike Baldwin, and Wes Cooley. The following year he took the title on the strength of six wins aboard Kawasaki's GPz750 as the class took on its new form.

With Kawasaki closing down its race team and the new champ facing unemployment, Rainey was ushered up to the ranks of the 250 Grand Prix wars in 1984 by mentor Kenny Roberts. However, the Californian wasn't yet seasoned enough or armed with properly competitive equipment to truly realize his world-class potential (he did manage to put his overmatched, very stock TZR250 on the box that season, however).

Rainey returned to the States and quickly resumed his status as a SuperBike superstar. Running with the American Honda outfit in 1986, Rainey largely outshone his two-time defending champion teammate, Fred Merkel. Wayne scored six wins to Merkel's two, but Flyin' Fred capitalized on a Rainey DNF to make it three straight in the end.

Rainey came back swinging the following season, outdueling emerging nemesis Kevin Schwantz in round one of what would blossom into one of sport's greatest rivalries.

After claiming his second AMA Pro SuperBike title, Rainey got another shot at Grand Prix, this time fully prepared to do the business. And he did the business indeed. Wayne won a 500GP race as a premier-class rookie in 1988 and finished third in the standings in his first effort. He picked up three more victories and 500GP championship runner-up honors in 1989, and then proceeded to dominate the class for the next three years.

Rainey was closing in on a fourth consecutive title in 1993, leading both the championship and the race, when he suffered a devastating, career-ending injury at Misano.

Wayne Rainey was a wondrous motorcycle racer. He was millimeter perfect, even as both wheels drifted across the tarmac in a controlled slide, and made the impossible look rather ordinary. Rainey was a cerebral and deeply intense competitor, one who routinely powered away to lopsided victories, of which there were a great many (24 in 500GP, 16 in AMA Pro SuperBike, seven in AMA Formula 2, and three in AMA Formula 1).

Here's a little secret. During my formative years, I followed the Rainey-Schwantz rivalry -- from AMA SuperBike to Grand Prix -- as closely as any superfan could in those prehistoric, pre-internet days. Schwantz, he was my guy. That made Rainey the enemy. And I was far from alone in that sentiment -- Rainey was almost too good. It's human nature to pull for the underdog.

But as such, he ultimately earned my undying respect, transcending any remnants of a rooting bias. Later, after Schwantz and Rainey's careers had ended, and mine as a motorsports journalist began, I was assigned a magazine story that called for me to rank the American Grand Prix stars. I placed Rainey at #1.

Here, in this particular category, he 'merely' ranks in the top five.

Next time: Things get very interesting as we move on to #4…

Image by buckleyphotos.com.

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