U.S. International Grand Prix at Laguna Seca : Rainey’s Win Bittersweet After Shobert Crashes

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Wayne Rainey of Downey won the 500cc class of the Dunlop United States International Grand Prix Sunday, but it was what happened after the race that will stay in people’s minds.

Kevin Magee, who lost third place to Eddie Lawson of Upland on the final lap, was almost out of fuel and moving very slowly when he started up the hill at Turn 5 during the cool-off lap. Bubba Shobert, a former national dirt track champion from Carmel Valley in his rookie year on the world championship circuit, was trailing Magee.

As Lawson came alongside, Shobert turned to congratulate him and failed to notice that Magee had slowed abruptly, and slammed into the back of him.


Shobert suffered severe head injuries and was airlifted to San Jose Medical Center in Santa Clara and, several hours later was still unconscious. Track physician Dan Delgado described him as “critical.”

Magee has a broken left ankle.

“It is kind of hard to celebrate when your friends and teammate are hurt,” said Rainey, who has raced with and against Shobert for years on the American circuit and is a teammate of Magee.

Rainey, 28, won the U.S. Superbike championship in 1983 and 1987, and Shobert won it last year.

On Sunday, riders for Kenny Roberts, the retired six-time national champion, swept both ends of the racing at the Laguna Seca Raceway. His proteges, Rainey and John Kocinski of Little Rock, Ark., showed the cycling world that Roberts teaches as well as he rode.

Rainey, in his second year on Roberts’ Team Lucky Strike, literally rode off and hid from the world’s finest collection of 500cc riders to win by 6.8 seconds over Kevin Schwantz of Houston, with Lawson, the world champion, third in the year’s second one-two-three finish for Americans.

The margin could have been greater but Rainey, who finished second in races Japan and Australia earlier this season, slowed his pace toward the end to conserve fuel.

“I got off the line good and kept pushing at the start to put as much distance between my bike and Kevin (Schwantz) as I could,” Rainey said. “I knew the bike was working perfect, so I only had two things to worry about--Kevin catching me or running out of gas.

“To tell the truth, I expected the U.S. to sweep the first three places. I knew I was going to push harder because it was our race, and I figured the other guys would, too.”

In addition to being the second 1-2-3 for Americans this year, it was the ninth in 500cc history. Three weeks ago, in Japan, it was Schwantz-Rainey-Lawson.

Schwantz, riding a Suzuki, said he pressed Rainey as hard as he could at the start but decided against riding on the ragged edge to try and catch him.

“I thought maybe I could pressure him into making a mistake,” Schwantz said, “but I also thought about my own mistake last week in Australia (where Schwantz fell while leading on the first lap) and decided maybe I had better settle down and ride a steady pace and finish strong.

“Laguna Seca has never been lucky for me, so I am pleased with second place and my 17 points. As far as I can remember those are the first points I have ever won here in any championship.”

In the 250cc race, it wasn’t wire to wire, but Kocinski’s win was just as impressive.

The tiny rider, who moved from his home in Little Rock to live with Roberts on his racing ranch near Hickman, Calif., dropped from the pole back to fourth place at the start. Quickly, however, he moved to the front and took the lead from defending champion Jim Filice of Modesto on lap 12 of the 250cc championship. Once in front, he pulled away to win by eight seconds over Filice, who held off fast-closing Luca Cadalora of Italy for second.

As Roberts did throughout his career, which included two American Motorcyclist Assn. Grand National and three world championships, Rainey and Kocinski both rode Yamahas.

“It’s a lot different, but just as satisfying,” Roberts said when asked to compare winning as a rider to winning as a team manager. “Obviously, this was a race we wanted very much to win, being in our country, but we prepared hard and felt we were ready. It wasn’t a surprise.”

The win was the second for Rainey since joining the world 500cc tour. He won the British GP last year at Donington Park.

“There’s no doubt that I owe my success to Kenny,” Rainey said. “I’ve trained at his ranch in Hickman for the last five years and he keeps me pumped up. He doesn’t try to tell you everything to do, but when he does suggest something, you listen. There’s no one in the world who knows road racing like he does.”

Rainey’s win extended his lead in the world championship standings. He has 54 points to 41 for Lawson and 37 each for Schwantz and Rainey’s teammate, Magee of Australia, who finished fourth.

Wayne Gardner, 1987 world champion from Australia who won last week in his homeland, was in second place going into Sunday’s race but got no points after crashing into the hay bales on the 10th lap of the 40-lap race. Gardner, who was trying to pass Magee to take third, suffered a broken lower left leg.

Before he crashed, Gardner had the fastest lap of the race at 89.830 m.p.h. Rainey followed up his race record qualifying speed of 90.742 m.p.h. by also riding a race record 89.425. Lawson’s year old record was 86.682.

Former world champion Freddie Spencer of Shreveport, La., attempting a comeback after missing a year with tendinitis, withdrew with an ear infection.

Kocinski, who won two U.S. 250cc championship as a teen-ager, won his second world championship race in two tries this year. He also won in Japan, but did not race in Australia.

“We’re not running John for the world championship this year so there was no point to running him in Australia,” Roberts explained. “He will move up to the 500 in Germany and after that we’ll decide which path to follow.

“He’s still very young, only 20. I didn’t race in Europe until I was 27 or 28 so he has plenty of time.”

Two-time world sidecar champions Steve Webster and Tony Hewitt of England won the opening round of the three-wheeler world championship series. There were no American entries.

Cold weather and a low-lying fog that delayed start of the day’s program held the crowd to an estimated 55,000.