Superbike racing’s return to Brainerd International Raceway happens this weekend. While the track has changed (BIR’s mile long front straight is no longer used on the short course) since AMA Superbike debuted there in 1983, and the city of Brainerd/Baxter has exploded in terms of new housing and attractions near the track, it remains a reasonably good track.
Due to a long-planned family reunion, three-time world champion, two-time AMA Superbike champion and former Brainerd AMA Superbike race winner Wayne Rainey won’t be joining MotoAmerica for its return to the ‘sota. He has, however, plenty of good memories of his racing success at Brainerd. His first BIR win, in 1983, happened in what can only be considered one of the most tumultuous and legendary seasons of US Superbike racing ever. Rainey, riding an air-cooled, two-valve per cylinder GPz750-based Superbike won the title after early season mechanical gremlins put him off the podium for multiple races early in the season. His rival for the title, Mike Baldwin, rode for the gigantic factory Honda team which famously went racing with no budget and had the seemingly NASA-inspired VF750 Interceptor as its race weapon–a V4, 4 cylinder, aluminum frame forward-thinking motorcycle. Honda’s budget back then was said to be “as much as it costs to win”.
Rainey won the 1983 AMA Superbike title, defeating Honda. His then mechanic and crewchief, Rob Muzzy, said that it wasn’t Rainey’s winning of races late in the ’83 season that ultimately won the title (the 1983 Kawasaki Superbike was a valve dropper for months in early 1983) said that Rainey’s dogmatic, composed and measured attitude when the Kawasaki engine was a time bomb that won it. The GPz750 engine was late in being race prepared thus Rainey had to spend days riding slowly at Daytona so as to break in the engines for the season.
His longtime friend Eddie Lawson had won the Superbike title in 1982 on the KZ1000 S-1 but had signed to Yamaha for 1983 to race Grand Prix. Lawson raced the Daytona 200 on a Yamaha and saw first-hand Rainey’s plight. According to Rainey Lawson came to the Kawasaki garage after a few sessions of seeing Rainey on the slow line around the track, and jokingly said to Rainey “I am so glad I am not racing that bike this year.”
No one expected Rainey to win the title on the “stone axe” Kawasaki. Rainey did so. His 1983 title, to anyone who saw just a glimpse of it, was an accomplishment that only a future world champion could muster.
On a personal note, that race at Brainerd in 1983 was the first time I met and spoke with Rainey. We were at the AMA event and then racing the special drag race Monday event. My friends and I were straight off the farm, drag racing in barn gloves and lineman (milkin’) boots, using chain lube to lube our throttle and clutch cables–totally clueless. We stopped Rainey in the paddock at one point and asked him the only question relevant to a bunch of kids reeking of cow manure: what is the top speed of your Superbike?
Rainey answered “One-sixty” and we all answered “Woooowwww” in unison.