The AMA and GP World Champion, as captured by Geoff Nickless

As motorcycle racing series are all revving up for the 2022 season, we thought it appropriate to shine the “Through the Lens” spotlight on Wayne Rainey, multi-year AMA and GP World Champion, and founder/president of the MotoAmerica motorcycle road racing organization. We’ve covered MotoAmerica since its inception and launch in 2015, and have personally interviewed Wayne on several occasions. Humble and friendly, Wayne is also focused and driven, from his early racing successes to restoring American motorcycle road racing to its former and future glory.

Wayne has achieved what few in the world of motorsports have- across a decade of racing, he amassed a litany of wins and championships that cemented his status as a legend in the sport. From AMA National Championships in 1983 and 1987, wins at the ’87 Daytona 200 and the ’88 Suzuka 8-Hours, Wayne then swept the GP World Championships three years in a row from 1990-92. He was gunning for a 4th GP world title when he suffered his life-changing crash in 1993. So Wayne reinvented himself, leading AMA and GP teams, racing in the American Superkart series, and ultimately birthed the dream that would become MotoAmerica, the premier motorcycle road racing series in North America.

As we’ve stated before, Wayne Rainey is a true legend.

Geoff Nickless is renowned himself, in capturing so many of the great racers and races from the 1970s to the present. Along with his wife Barbara, herself an outstanding photog, the Nickless duo have snapped many legendary racers in their peak performance years. We’ve been privileged to share Geoff’s and Barb’s work on several occasions, and even built this story series, “Behind the Lens”, around their outstanding and often never-before-seen photographs. So we asked them to search their archives and share with the world some early racing shots of Wayne Rainey they’ve captured, with some commentary and context around each photo. We love what they found, and we hope you do as well.

So here is the one and only Wayne Rainey, through the lens of Geoff Nickless.

1982 Laguna Seca. #60 Wayne Rainey leads #37 Thad Wolff (Suzuki GSX1000S) out of Turn 9 and up the front straight on his Kawasaki GPz1000.  Wayne finished 10th this day, and 3rd for the 1982 season.

1983 Laguna Seca. #60 Wayne Rainey in the old Turn 8 (now Turn 10).  I gave a very similar B&W 13”x19” print to Wayne at the MotoAmerica race at Sonoma Raceway (Sears Point) in 2019.  He looked at it for a moment and said, “1983, that was one of my favorite Championships”.  He recognized that year, when he and his Kawasaki GPz750 won the championship over Mike Baldwin and his Honda VF750F Interceptor.  He signed another one that I printed for myself.

1983 Laguna Seca. #60 Wayne Rainey on his U.S. Kawasaki GPz750 Superbike in Turn 9.

1983 Laguna Seca. #43 Mike Baldwin leads #60 Wayne Rainey through Turn 6A (bottom of the Corkscrew) in their Kawasaki vs Honda Superbike race.  Wayne would pass Mike for the win, and they would be tied in points with 112 points apiece.  Wayne would go on to win the Championship over Mike 210 to 169 points and 6 wins to 4.

1984 Laguna Seca. Wayne and Kenny Roberts make plans for their races.  Wayne was racing a Yamaha TZ250L in Formula 2 with an aluminum box-section chassis built by Kenny.  Wayne came home from the 250 GPs along with Kenny, Eddie, Freddie, and Randy to race for their fans during the summer break.

1984 Laguna Seca. #60 Wayne Rainey in Laguna Seca’s Turn 9 on his Yamaha TZ250L. Kenny’s chassis, the Simons forks and Wayne made for a winning combination, with a 5 second margin over 2nd place finisher Kevin Brunson on his Armstrong.

1984 Laguna Seca. #60 Wayne Rainey in Turn 8.  Wayne was mid-pack at the end of Lap 1 but won the race with a 94 MPH average speed on Laguna Seca’s 1.9-mile-long course.

1984 Laguna Seca. #60 Wayne Rainey laying his Kenny Roberts-built Yamaha TZ250L over in Turn 9.

Wayne is happy to greet and speak with everyone he meets.  I took this photo at Kenny Roberts sponsored CPL Michael D. Anderson (K.I.A. 14 Dec 2004) Dinner and Auction in 2015.  In the photo are Wayne, Mert Lawwill and Eddie Lawson.  Kenny would invite his friends to his home and attend this function to help our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Kenny’s friends included: Mert Lawwill (1969 Grand National Champion), Bruce Brown (On Any Sunday producer), Wayne Rainey (3x World Champion), Eddie Lawson (4x World Champion), Kenny Roberts Jr. (2000 World Champion), Kurtis Roberts (2000 AMA 600 & Formula Extreme Champion) and of course Kenny (2x GNC & 3x World Champion).

Huge thanks to Geoff and Barb Nickless for sharing these outstanding snapshots of Wayne Rainey in his early AMA years, at his home track of Laguna Seca. It’s an honor to know Wayne, and an honor to feature Geoff’s race photos of him. Kenny Roberts may be “King”, but Wayne is “The President”.

For more of Geoff and Barb’s photos across the decades, find them here:

Instagram: @nicklessphotos

Website: www.nicklessphotos.com

To follow the MotoAmerica Motorcycle Road Racing series this year, click here:

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