Several years ago at Laguna USGP, what constitutes the editorial and photo sides of Soup were eating in Yamaha US's hospitality area, all of us sitting at a large round table. The hospitality area was packed with guests and we tried to eat quickly, say thanks and leave so others could have the table.
At one point, Wayne Rainey rolled past us on his way somewhere. As he went by we offered greetings "Hey Wayne. Hi Wayne" and he smiled in return, still rolling. But, after he passed, I saw out of the corner of my eye that he stopped, and began to roll his wheelchair backwards to our table.
"Hey, Superbikeplanet, right,?" he asked, trying to identify us.
My mouth went dry--what in the world have we screwed up this time?--and someone said, yep, that's us. Time seemed to stand still as we waited for Rainey's next words.
"You know, you guys do pretty good work," Rainey said, moving his head so he looked at each of us while he said it. "Really good work."
Someone said thanks, and Rainey rolled away.
This must be what it is like when a devout Catholic is blessed by the Pope. The circular table made it so we had no choice but to look at one another and consider what Rainey had just said. The enormity of what had just happened left us staring back at each other, and unable to eat. "Rainey .. said we do good work" someone said sounding like he was almost trying to convince himself that it had happened.
Rainey was renown for being a relentless bulldog when he raced. A perfectionist, he never gave any false praise. He was the most mentally strong rider of his generation--if not all time--and he never gave up. After everything that he accomplished and even after the tragedy that he has endured, Rainey remains a truly admirable legend. He is still the strongest man we know. Stronger than adversity. Stronger than tragedy. And at the same time a very humble man who must truly know how much power just a few words from him can possess. When MotoGP returned to Misano, Rainey decided to make a vist one year. Misano? He's coming back to Misano? To Rainey, Misano wasn't a place where hell personally opened a door for him and welcomed him in, where it all ended. No, Rainey said, it was just a track, no problem. Rainey saying Misano was "just a track, get on with it" soothed the entire paddock, made everyone feel stronger. That's what very special legends do.
After Rainey rolled away, I can't remember which of us teared up and started crying first, but soon we all were wiping our eyes, smiling, shaking our heads. Then we got up to leave, but felt like Supermen as we strode back to the media center.
"Rainey said we do good work."