Wayne Rainey needs no introduction. As a two-time U.S. Superbike champ and three-time 500cc Grand Prix world champion, his record speaks for itself. One of the fiercest competitors ever to ride a Grand Prix motorcycle, Rainey’s talent, skill and speed have made him a legendary figure in motorcycle roadracing circles. With the crumbling status of American roadracing as of late, Rainey is looking to leverage his legendary status to help bring top U.S. talent back to the international racing scene. MotoAmerica is the name of the new AMA roadracing series, which looks to pick up the pieces the Daytona Motorsports Group left behind.
Rainey is the most recognizable figure among the four-man partnership which forms The KRAVE Group LLC, which operates the new MotoAmerica series. Chuck Aksland, Terry Karges and Richard Varner make up the other three partners. At a recent media day to promote the series, Motorcycle.com had a chance to sit down with Rainey to ask him a few questions about American roadracing, MotoAmerica, and the path to regaining the profile racing in the U.S. once had. Here’s what he had to say.
Was there a certain turning point when you thought you had to step in and get involved with American roadracing?
Our [KRAVE Group] involvement wasn’t like that. It was more being in the right place at the right time. I think the [DMG-led] series was having some struggles on its own, but we weren’t really close with what was going on there. I had gotten involved with the KRAVE group and we were going a different direction, we weren’t even thinking about this particular series at that time. We were just a couple guys with an idea. Dorna wanted help finding new American riders, and so through that process I got back involved in the industry, but I started thinking about not what was going on in the States, I was thinking about why we were so dominant in the past and we weren’t anymore. I didn’t know if it was lack of opportunity or if the Europeans just got better. We were originally just going to try and find young kids to come up. That was our plan. When we pitched it to Dorna, they wanted to go through with it, then a few days later we got a call and asked if we wanted to do anything with the US series. It hadn’t even crossed our mind at that stage, and it took off on its own. Now, here we are.
The current rule structure for MotoAmerica ties in closely with FIM rules for Superbike and Supersport, but if you look at Spain, France and other parts of Europe, they have national Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Is that a concept MotoAmerica might adopt?
In the beginning we were trying to put a Moto2 class together, but the announcement that we were taking over American roadracing came so late that there wasn’t enough time to actually get enough proper teams to run Moto2-style bikes. It’s a very expensive initial investment, much more than just racing a 600. We looked at it, but there wasn’t enough interest as far as building enough teams.
Because there wasn’t enough time?
We just didn’t really know. We were focused on just getting the deal for this series done. We didn’t know if it was going to happen or not. Once we found out we would be taking over American roadracing, it was very late August, early September. Then we started talking about the class structure right then. We inquired with different teams and afterwards we figured that a Moto2-style class wasn’t going to happen this year. Thinking about it for the future, I still think that if we have competitive classes here, I still think we can get riders coming into our class structure, creating competition that can go on and do whatever they want to do.
I don’t believe you have to race Moto2 or Moto3 to go race in MotoGP. When 500cc Grand Prix bikes were the bike that you had to race to be world champion, I was riding 750cc four-strokes, the furthest away from that particular bike [500cc two-strokes]. So what I had in my day was a good class structure and good competition. That’s what I needed. I needed to get pushed by guys that were the same talent and were trying to beat me as I was them. That’s what it’s all about, is getting the class competitive and getting more manufacturer support, building more teams, which creates more seats. Riders then work hard to get on one of those teams, and from that system we’ll see who the next guy is.
So, how do you attract more manufacturers?
I think first you have to have a good series that’s promoted well and run well. As far as I’m concerned, me being a racer first, what’s crucial to me is having a series that’s run safe, professionally, on time and where the riders and the teams can do their jobs with no distractions. But this is the first time we’re doing this. We know things need to be in place to make that work. At our recent test at COTA we had a few issues with timing and scoring that needed a little work, just as all the teams are working on their bikes trying to make them better, too.
As far as what it’s going to take to bring in more manufacturers, well, I think with the class structure of Superbike as the main class, and Superstock 1000 added – these [Superstock 1000] bikes now are basically racebikes more than they are streetbikes, stock. We’ve approached the manufacturers, and Ducati for example said, “This is exactly what works for our bikes, this is the kind of series we’re looking for because this is what we build and what we sell.” So, they really like the Superbike/Superstock 1000 structure. In the Superstock 1000 class you can run slicks and you can change brakes. That’s it. Right away, we just had our first test and a couple of the guys in the Superstock class were very competitive with the Superbikes. So, to me, that shows it was the right move in that class and we’re going to be able to see new talent come from that class and quite even possibly harass the factory guys.
So, we think that’s what Kawasaki would like to see, we’ve had discussions with them, they want to see this thing work, and they’re going to come to a few races this year. We have Aprilia back in, KTM, MV Agusta in the 600 class, Triumph too. Last year they [DMG] had three or four manufacturers, and this year, we have six or seven, and we’ve only been at this thing for six months. We’ve gone from five races to nine, and I think the other thing that’s important for the manufacturers is our relationship with the FIM and Dorna. That had to be right first before anything else.
We thought we had to have a structure to have riders graduate from the club level, to us, then into the world championship, and to make that happen, you have to have a good relationship with the world championships and the FIM. We were able to do that, along with AMA in Ohio. So, we feel the timing for something like this is good. The industry wants it, the manufacturers want it, and the teams and riders have never been hungrier. We need to get it right, but also we’re just starting, we started late, and it’s going to take time. But this is the theory.
Talk more about the KTM RC390 Cup and its significance.
One of the other things we’re doing this year that we’re really excited about is that we have this KTM RC390 Cup. It’s a spec cup for amateur racers. It’s the first time, I believe, that in the AMA championship at least, that we’ve been able to have an amateur series involved with a national championship, so it gives the teams a chance to look at the talent coming through. Everybody’s on a spec bike, they’re reasonably priced, and also it gives them the experience to be racing at a national championship.
If there’s one thing we were maybe lacking before, it was giving youngsters a chance to get there [Europe] sooner. We didn’t have that. This is a great idea that KTM came up with, and at the end of the day, the winner gets to go on to Europe and race. So, I think it’s an awesome thing. I’ve said this before: if I was 14 years old, I’d have five or six paper routes, I’d be having my mom and dad do whatever it took to do this. This is going to be great for our series.
What do you think about teenagers waiting longer and longer to get their driver’s licenses, and ultimately fewer kids being interested in motorcycles?
I think it’s a problem for everyone. We have some ideas about how we’re going to market our sport, because these things [picking up smartphone] are key, and how you get motorcycles in front of them? So, we’ve got some ideas that we’re going to be working on, but it’s all about showing them that it’s a fun sport and they can be a part of this. We’ve got to be stable first to reach kids like this. We have to make it to where we can get them proper television coverage, then more teams will become available, then we can give more kids an opportunity.
A lot of kids ride motocross. Motocross is way more expensive than the spec RC390 Cup, compared to going out and riding a motocross as an amateur, because as an amateur motocrosser, if you’re serious, you have to have five or six bikes, motorhome and it’s a grind. So, with the RC390 bikes, you only need one bike. You can go fast, and it’s a beautiful sport to watch; it’s aggressive, and it’s really cool. So, we’re hoping to make that point clear.
A lot of American racing has been built on dirt track and that tapered away, but it’s making a resurgence. First, what do you attribute to the decline in popularity with dirt track, and do those dirt track lessons still apply to the very precise racing you see in GPs these days.
Sure it does. Always has been, that has always been critical, I think if you’re a good dirt tracker and you have talent on a roadrace bike, that’s so crucial that you use that as part of your training regime. Look at what Marquez is doing. This is what the kid does; he’s got pretty much everybody else doing it now. That’s what we used to do, and it never went away, it just got unpopular after we stopped in that era. Not a lot of guys did dirt-tracking because maybe the rules of MotoGP, with more electronics, people thought you couldn’t slide the bikes, you gotta keep them in line and it’s all about corner speed.
I didn’t think that was the way because, to go fast, the bikes are eventually going to slide. If you just ride them to where they don’t slide, you’re not going to the edge. Going to the edge means you need to have a certain feel for the bike, and the couple guys who were dominating in that era didn’t do much dirt-tracking. So, that’s why it wasn’t so popular, but then Marquez comes along, and he’s been really good for us old dirt-trackers because he’s proving it’s right, and now everybody’s back doing it. But why didn’t it work here? I still think there should be a bridge for us to work together with the dirt track guys to try and make it easier for dirt-trackers in some way.
Do you see some sort of collaboration in the future? A return to the Grand National Championships?
For sure it’s something we’ve talked about, and when I was a kid, that was the main thing, being Grand National Champion. So, I still think if we had something like that it would bring more awareness to our sport, both road race and dirt track. Not every kid in the U.S. likes to jump 50 feet in the air and go fast over bumps. A lot of kids like to do it sideways at 120 mph, tucked in and drafting down the straight, and having the races being decided by inches. In my opinion, dirt track racing is one of the most exciting forms of motorcycle racing you can do. If it’s on the proper TV networks, people can see it, and that’s what we have to do.
What are your realistic goals at the end of the 2015 MotoAmerica season?
Basically, I’d be very happy if the teams were happy with the performance we gave them from the operations side. For me, I want the riders and teams to be able to show up and do their jobs and not be frustrated about not having the tools from us to be able to go do that.
I think generally overall, we want to have a stable platform where there’s a lot of positive talk about the championship. Manufacturers coming back and sponsors coming back on board, because right now, MotoAmerica is doing most of this investment on their own. But we believe in it. We’re happy with the supporters that we have, but they need us to do a good job, so I think stability with good direction and healthy racing at the end of the year are key.
If we can improve on that every race, especially as a support race with MotoGP at COTA and Indy, and also as a support race at Laguna Seca for World Superbike, this is a good opportunity for us to get in front of the American fans, to get in front of the world championship teams, and to have some of our riders rise to that occasion. You never know, there might be somebody coming out of our series that gets a shot this year or next year.