At 1:29 p.m. local time on September 5, 1993, Wayne Rainey crashed at the Italian GP at Misano in Italy. Running a little too hot into the first corner on a mid-race lap, the back end of the bike broke away as he got on the gas and he was thrown. Initially he slid over the tarmac at 100-plus mph, frightening but relatively risk free. Then, as he reached the gravel trap, he started to flip over the ripples that had been raked into the sand. Just as the energy of the crash was spent, the bike caught up with him and smacked him hard in the back. Either at that moment or when he was flipping through the gravel trap, his spinal column snapped at the sixth thoracic vertebra. In a space of five calamitous seconds, he had gone from race leader, championship leader and reigning world champion to a champion in the broken shell of a body. It was a mentally and physically shattering event for Wayne, his family and friends and the whole world of GP motorcycle racing.
In a space of five calamitous seconds, he had gone from race leader, championship leader and reigning world champion to a champion in the broken shell of a body.
Michael Scott has written the story of Rainey's life and career up to that tragic moment in time, including the desperation and determination that have laid the foundations for Rainey to move on with his life. The book was written in very close cooperation with Rainey and his family and the many people he worked with on his journey to the top. Wayne's father Sandy was the early motivator to his son, but in a supportive rather than overbearing way. His was a world of continuous improvement, determined that the son would have the best bike the father was capable of preparing for the dirt-tracks and ovals where the kids let rip. Corona, Ascot, Indian Dunes, Trojan Speedway became the crucible where the natural talents of Rainey and other top riders were honed. By his mid-teens Rainey had moved out of the Southern California scene to take on the U.S. National riders, linking up with legends of the sport such as Shell Thuet, John Reid and Itchy Armstrong. He never quite made it to the top of the dirt-track sport; he never won a Grand National despite being an Expert for two years. When Kawasaki stepped in and offered him a ride on their Superbike, the timing was perfect and the die was cast for greatness.
His 11 years as a road racer are better known. He was U.S. national champion on a Kawasaki in 1983, only to have the factory pull out of racing. An odd-ball year in Europe running a TZ250 Yamaha for Kenny Roberts was followed by two years for Honda back in the States and another Championship title in 1987. The seeds had been sown for his fierce battles with Kevin Schwantz to continue outside of the U.S., and in 1988 they found themselves battling it out on the GP circuits around the world.
Feeding on the competitive energy that was generated by the excellence of those with whom he raced, it was Rainey who was able to harness the skills he had worked so hard to develop, with a razor-sharp insight into the limitations of the bike he was riding. While Schwantz became the hero of the crowds packing European circuits to see his win or bust racing style, it was Rainey who was knocking on the championship door in 1988 and 1989. By 1990, he was the best roadracer in the world and the world championship was justifiably his, with an almost perfect performance. "When I crossed the finish line, and I was World Champion, I had a burst of emotion. I felt really great, for about two tenths of a second. Then it was gone, and it was like - wow, what happened to everything?" Then things went weird. "When I crossed the finish line, and I was World Champion, I had a burst of emotion. I felt really great, for about two tenths of a second. Then it was gone, and it was like - wow, what happened to everything?" Rainey found himself becoming obsessed with his racing, determined to win everything at all costs while receiving no joy in doing so. A bad crash at the end of the 1991 season left him with a badly broken leg that complicated his preparation for the 1992 season. More crashes followed as his driving determination pushed him over the limit. In the end Rainey was to triumph in the shadow of Mick Doohan's own peripeteia, that halted the Australian's almost unbeaten season and came within an ace of costing him his right leg.
But it was a hollow victory. "In 1992 I pushed myself so hard that I was a pretty miserable guy to be around. I remember going to racetracks and sitting at the red lights just hating it. Because the intensity was so much greater than before. By the time '93 rolled round I was going to be World Champion, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take." "By the time '93 rolled round I was going to be World Champion, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take."
He had the season licked when IT happened and the world of screaming two-strokes and screaming crowds was replaced by the silence of a hospital room and soft beep of a cardiac monitor. Lying in the gravel trap in a sea of pain and with an intense darkness pressing down on him, he had made a pact with God to give him the strength to resist the calm of death that threatened to overwhelm him. It got him out of the dirt and into the hospital bed and from that point it was the determination that had threatened to destroy him that was redirected towards saving and rebuilding his life. Anyone who has seen him at work in the GP pits running his official works Yamaha team, will appreciate the miraculous success of his recovery.
Michael Scott's book is superb, providing a view of the American era of GP domination that has never before been revealed. Many of Rainey's friends and foes have been interviewed for the book, with extensive quotes from Eddie Lawson, Kenny Roberts, Kevin Schwantz and of course the family. Throughout the book, Rainey is completely candid, about himself, the riders he competed against, the crash and its legacy. His openness will have you wriggling with discomfort as the horrors of daily life within a body paralyzed from the chest down are recounted in pure factual objective fashion, without a trace of self-pity.
It's clear that an exorcism is at work here, that the story and its telling is a part of the recovery process, laying the demons to rest. Despite the scale of the recovery, on bad days the black dogs can still be heard barking in the distance. Rainey tells poignantly of the emotions that suddenly overwhelm him as he watches a pre-season training session earlier this year trackside, his mind cruelly recalling the sensations of riding a 500cc racing bike at the limit. The man survived the crash, found fulfillment in a new career and peace with his wife Shae, son Rex and new found faith in God. The story of how this came to pass should be read by everyone.