“Basically, I’m retired. Financially we’re fine, so long as I don’t go out and buy yachts and planes; I never needed all that stuff anyway. I’ve got some rental and investment stuff and I spent four years doing this house. I also help out a company that does refurbished wheelchairs for Third World countries. I could be busier, but I don’t want to get on airplanes. Plus Rex keeps me busy.”
Son Rex, born 11 months before his father’s career-ending accident, is working to get into university. Both mum and dad seem happy he isn’t a racer.
“If I hadn’t had my injury we would definitely have been going dirt bike riding and all that. I’ve taken Rex to Kenny’s ranch and he would ride around and have fun, but he never wanted to go racing. He’s really into baseball.”
Rainey works hard at keeping fit, pedalling a three-wheeled hand-cycle. And he’s had a lot of fun racing a kart, specially adapted by father Sandy and former team-mate Eddie Lawson. The kart is no plaything, it’s powered by a 90-horsepower Yamaha TZ250 engine.
Rainey and author Oxley discuss the age of superheroes, 1988 to 1993
“I was two weeks into rehab after the accident and Eddie comes walking in.”
It was the first time the old friends had spoken in a couple of years, after they’d fallen out in 1992.
“We started talking and Eddie said, ‘We’re going to get you back on the track’. I didn’t know what to expect but I had fun putting my helmet on again, it was really neat. And what he’s done has done wonderful things for my dad. They go race and they call me after practice and Eddie’s pissed off because the kart’s not fast enough and my dad’s upset because he’s trying to jet it better. I just laugh, but it’s nice they still do that.
Not surprisingly, Shae wasn’t exactly delighted when her husband started racing karts.
“I didn’t like the idea, but I could see he loved it,” she says. “The problem is it’s dangerous if he has an accident or if the kart catches fire, because he can’t get out.”
Rainey soon rediscovered his race face. “I started having frustrations with the kart because I wasn’t fast enough. It was like, wait, wait, why am I doing this? Come on, just have fun. I rarely drive now, though Eddie would still like me to get out there so he’s got someone to go play with.”
Rainey and Lawson enjoy racing even when they’re miles apart. They watch MotoGP online while talking on the phone, marvelling at how MotoGP has changed. As two men who spent their racing careers honing that vital link between brain, backside and right wrist, they are sceptical of MotoGP’s latest technological advances.
“The racing doesn’t excite me the way it did. When you hear 250 guys getting onto a MotoGP bike and saying, ‘This thing’s easier than a 250’, I hate to hear that, it doesn’t sound right.”
Rainey on his way to victory at Brno in August 1990, where he secured the first of his three consecutive 500cc world titles
While America’s GP legends share a certain disdain for traction control, it’s obviously harder for Rainey to argue against rider safety aids.
“I’m all for it,” he says, then he adds with an aching poignancy. “If a guy can finish his career and walk away from racing, that’s what we want. We want the bikes to be not so violent that everybody’s hurting themselves. We’ve been through that era of guys getting hurt, we don’t need to go back there.”
There is no racing memorabilia in the Rainey kitchen, dining and living areas, and you can see why – so many great memories but painful memories too. Everything is tucked away in a room next to the kitchen. ‘People go in there, thinking it’s the bathroom,’ Rainey grins. The wood-panelled room is an immaculate shrine to Rainey’s achievements. Inside there are two title-winning YZR500s, half a dozen glass cabinets full of trophies, photographs, helmets and leathers.