Paralysis Can’t Stop Rainey


Speed is an addiction, and Wayne Rainey is an addict.

It doesn’t matter that he is paralyzed from the chest down from a motorcycle racing accident in 1993 at Italy’s Misano circuit.

Rainey, a three-time world Grand Prix road racing champion, was on his way to a fourth title when his bike careened out of control at 130 mph, sending him cartwheeling through the dirt and severing his spinal cord.

“The thrill of going fast is still there,” Rainey said by telephone from his home in the hills above Laguna Seca Raceway, scene of some of his greatest victories. “Considering that I’m confined to a wheelchair, to be able to pull on a helmet and go racing, it’s much more than I ever thought I would be able to do. All I can say is, it’s a real thrill.”


Rainey’s speed fix these days comes in a World SuperKart, known in Europe as a Formula E race car, capable of speeds up to 160 mph--while sitting less than an inch off the racing surface.

Eddie Lawson, a longtime friend and himself a four-time world Grand Prix champion, hand-built a racing kart for Rainey four years ago and delivered it to him as a gift.

“I drove it for the first time at Willow Springs and was surprised how fast I could go,” Rainey said . “I’ve had it up to about 140 [mph] and I still get that old feeling when I’m on the track in traffic, passing other guys.”

Lawson and Rainey will be among a group of about 30 World SuperKart drivers competing Sept. 15 at Willow Springs Raceway as a side attraction to the American Motorcyclist Assn.’s superbike championship race on Sept. 16.

“I’m beginning to feel like a veteran,” said Rainey, 40. “This is my fourth year in Eddie’s kart and I’ve been in about 25 races.

“I won a couple of them where Eddie broke down. I had one of my best days last May at Laguna Seca where Eddie won and I finished fifth.”


That was the inaugural World SuperKart championship. Lawson, driving a kart built and maintained by Sandy Rainey, Wayne’s father, set the fastest lap, won the pole and led every lap. Rainey, forced to start in the rear after a qualifying mishap, worked his way through the field to fifth.

“That was really exciting, racing against those Europeans and chasing them down,” Rainey said. “It wasn’t exactly like racing my Formula One GP bike, but it was closer to it than I ever imagined I would get.

“One difference is that, with no feeling from my chest down, I don’t get a message from my butt the way I did riding a bike. I know I’m going fast into a corner and my eyes tell me I can go faster, but my brain says no. I have no feeling where it counts.”

When a tire exploded on a high-speed portion of the Willow Springs track, Rainey slid out of control.

“I spun around in the dirt about six times, but there was nothing I could do,” he said. “I was strapped in the car. I just sat there until someone came and got me.”

Rainey’s kart, powered by a Yamaha TZ250 two-stroke racing engine, has hand levers to control the brakes and clutch. It is the only racing kart equipped with a full roll cage and five-point harness that holds Rainey in place. Hook-and-loop fasteners secure his legs.


“My dad built the hand controls and Dan Gurney made a special seat for me,” he said.

“The roll cage makes the kart bounce a little more than one without a cage, but I’ll put up with that.”

Willow Springs is one of Rainey’s favorite tracks, although next week’s race will be on the 1.6-mile Streets of Willow circuit and not the historic 21/2 -mile road course.

“I won my first kart race there, I won my first road race there in 1981 and in 1983 I won my first AMA superbike championship when it all came down to me and Mike Baldwin, and I won the race and the title,” Rainey said. “I always like going to back to Willow. [Owner] Bill Huth always does a great job putting on races there.”

Sprint Cars

The World of Outlaws winged sprint car show, rescheduled for Monday at Perris Auto Speedway after having been rained out last February, has been postponed again--to next February--because of the Outlaws’ scheduling conflicts.

Perris fans are calling last Sunday night’s 50-lap Sprint Car Racing Assn. main event the best at the half-mile dirt oval.

Defending champion Richard Griffin, recovered from a non-racing accident, won a three-car finish with Rip Williams and young Jared Chaney that took a photo to determine the winner. Tony Jones had led with only eight laps remaining when his motor quit.


The SCRA will be back at Perris on Sept. 22.


Will Davis, one of the country’s foremost dirt-track riders, died of multiple traumas Aug. 25 after a multi-rider crash on the first lap of an American Motorcyclist Assn. Grand National race at Sedalia, Mo.

Davis, 36, had won four races this year in the AMA national flat track series, one as recently as Aug. 4 at Harrington, Del. He was third in the series after finishing second last year. Among his 32 victories was one at Pomona in 1994.

Davis received the AMA sportsman-of-the-year award last December for his work with terminally ill children.

The 24 Hours of Glen Helen Raceway returns this weekend for its third running. The twice-around-the-clock road race will start at 10 a.m. Saturday on an eight-mile circuit in Glen Helen Park, north of San Bernardino. Pro and amateurs will ride, with the pros having four-rider teams with one bike. The amateurs will have six-man teams with two bikes.

Back in Town

Thanks to all who showed concern during my three-week absence that perhaps I had taken a retirement buyout, or worse, was ill. Neither happened. I’m back after three weeks in France with junior college football guru Hank Ives and his wife Joan. We visited with 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan, who has a home in the hills overlooking the beach of Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, and attended the wedding of Elizabeth Baber, a former Orange County publicist for Kawasaki and Suzuki, in Aix en Provence.

Sullivan, who lived in France in 1983 while racing in Formula One, is involved in the development of young American drivers in European racing series in hopes of having one reach the F1 series.


He was there two weeks ago when one of his hopefuls, Patrick Long of Agoura Hills, became the first American to lead the prestigious British Formula Ford championship series after winning in the rain on the Knockhill circuit in Scotland.

He led all 24 laps for his third victory of the season.

With two races remaining, Long holds a one-point advantage over Robert Dahlgren of Sweden.

Last Laps

With supercross and national outdoor motocross champion Ricky Carmichael leaving Kawasaki to join Honda next year, Kawasaki responded by signing veteran Ezra Lusk from Honda.

Lusk will join Stephane Roncada for next year’s supercross season.

California Speedway will open its new street-legal drag racing program this weekend on a quarter-mile strip at the south side of the two-mile speedway.

Racing will also be open to motorcycles.

CART, despite growing concern over its shortage of American drivers, continued to expand its foreign involvement Thursday when it announced a second race in Mexico for 2002.

The series will race in Mexico City as well as Monterrey, where an inaugural race was run last March. CART already has races set in Australia, Canada, England, Germany and Japan.


This Week’s Races


Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400

When: Today, qualifying (CNN/SI, noon); Saturday, race (TNT, 4:30 p.m.)

Where: Richmond International Raceway (tri-oval, 0.75 mile, 14-degree banking in turns), Richmond, Va.


Race distance: 300 miles, 400 laps.

Last race: Ward Burton won a wild Southern 500.

2000 winner: Jeff Gordon.


Autolite FRAM 250

When: Today, race (TNT, 5 p.m.)

Where: Richmond Raceway.

Race distance: 187.5 miles, 250 laps.

Last race: Jeff Burton won the South Carolina 200.

2000 winner: Jeff Burton.