When you think of the great Grand Prix Yamaha riders, Wayne Rainey is always amongst the first on the list. Six years in the 500cc class brought three riders’ world championships for the American, and he will forever be known as a legend of the sport.
His career was tragically cut short when he was paralysed in a crash at Misano in 1993 while chasing his fourth title, but with 24 wins, 65 podiums and 16 pole positions he still ranks today as one of the most successful American riders in the world championship.
Rainey entered the professional scene in 1979, joining the AMA Grand National Championship racing in mainly short oval dirt-track events. The following season he found himself riding in club-level road racing series and started to realise his true talents lay on the asphalt.
After winning the 1981 AMA National Road Race at Loudon – which he entered wearing his off-road leathers and boots – Rainey joined the AMA Superbikes class for his first full major season in road racing. His first race victory came again at Loudon and on his maiden championship effort he was third in the standings.
In his second campaign and with a full season of experience, Rainey was unstoppable in the 1983 AMA Superbike Championship, claiming his first title before switching to the 250cc Grand Prix World Championship with Kenny Roberts’ new team on a Yamaha TZ250. He managed a podium in his second outing and finished eighth in the standings.
For 1985, Rainey returned to the United States to contest the 250 Grand Prix championships and AMA Formula One with his sights on returning to Europe in the 500cc class. Further success followed and in 1987 he won the AMA Superbike title after a titanic battle with future rival Kevin Schwantz.