Wayne Rainey was coasting back to the pits after doing a plug chop in Le Castellet, France, when his Yamaha YZR500 suddenly gained speed. It was the final timed session of a two-day IRTA (International Racing Teams Association) test at Paul Ricard in '91, a week before the French GP. Rainey had been fastest up to that point, but as soon as he felt the push, he knew the reason: Teammate John Kocinski had just set a fast time. Giving Rainey a nudge back to the pits was Kocinski's way of telling him that he was claiming bragging rights.
"I knew as soon as I speeded up [that] Kocinski [had gone] quicker than I did," Rainey remembers 15 years later. "I knew that he was quicker, and I drove back to my house in Spain that night thinking, 'This won't happen in the race.' It motivated me, for sure."
For Rainey, the solution was simple and elegant-and one that he repeated often: He would destroy his young teammate in the race.
Motivation comes to riders in many forms. Some are motivated by money, some by anger, some by a desire to be the best and some by all of the above. What Rainey addressed was single-event motivation, something someone did or said that so infuriated him that retaliation was certain at any cost. The question of motivation was put to a number of riders, and the variety of answers provides a glance inside the mind of a racer. Some of the motivation seems petty-that appears to be the point-and other forms seem to suggest a fragile ego. Whatever it might be, it's what the riders need. At least, some of them.
Kenny Roberts watched Rainey grow as a rider and saw the drive that made him great. "Wayne was more of a bulldog than I was," Roberts said. "For me, it was more that I believed in my talent and didn't really have to say, 'He's never going to beat me again.' I mean, there were guys that I didn't like getting beat by, like [Barry] Sheene, [the two of us] being rivals. I never really felt that with Freddie [Spencer], because Freddie would just say nothing but sugar."
For Spencer, not motivating Roberts was part of the strategy. "You want to be the top dog on the team," Spencer remembers of the '83 season. "I would have to say as much as anything else, when I was battling with Kenny, Kenny is Kenny. He always had to work people over, not only on the racetrack, but off. I respect Kenny, obviously, tremendously. But, for sure, when I was battling with him, the motivation for me was that it was his last year. More than anything else was the fact that I had to get a championship that year. I almost had a sense of there was no tomorrow."
Journalists unwillingly motivated a number of riders, but not Roberts. When he went to Europe in '78, Sheene was the reigning World Champion and Roberts was the foreign upstart. The European press wasn't kind, but he didn't care.
"I never reacted in that kind of a way," Roberts said. "I never really thought that you should wake up and have to have someone do something to you so you could go faster. I always felt like, 'Hey, there's my talent level, take it or leave it.' Which is a lot like (Kenny Roberts) Junior, it's just that he's got a hell of a lot more competition than I had. A bad day for me was fifth. A bad day for him is 10th. But I was only interested in showing people my talent level. I've had that conversation with Wayne before. 'Hey, you don't need that."
Kenny Junior agrees with his father. "I've never ridden that way," Junior said. "I don't know if it's good or bad. It's never affected me. If I'm doing that, I'm not trying my maximum anyway. Maybe I'm too methodical sometimes. I'm f**king maxed out. If I'm going slow, I'm going slow maxed out. For whatever reason it is, I'm maxed out. If you dangle a carrot in front of me, I'd just crash. That's my biggest thing; if I fall down knowing that I'm pushing too hard, that's what pisses me off the most. That's what usually balances everything else out."
Balance was never a part of Kocinski's career. Roberts watched Kocinski grow, as he'd done with Rainey, but saw in John a rider who approached racing like no one he'd ever seen. His obsession with cleanliness and order was so well documented that the team even briefly employed a sports therapist. Riding for Roberts, Kocinski won three AMA 250 crowns before winning the 250cc World Championship in '90. Then it was on to the senior team with Rainey as his teammate the following year. It was there that Kocinski's unorthodox approach to racing would be tested.
Rainey has always been unapologetic about his treatment of teammates. He wanted to destroy them and almost always did. Kocinski, his teammate in '91 and '92, was no different. The rider who left Little Rock, Arkansas, to join the Roberts' family had enormous talent, no doubt, but he was quirky and unfocused, and Rainey knew he could get inside his head. Never was this more evident than at Laguna Seca in '91.
Rainey qualified on pole with Kocinski second, less than a tenth back. "I'm not worried if Rainey gets away," Kocinski was quoted as saying in the '91 edition of Motocourse. "I can peg him back. I mean to prove who is the king of this track, even if I have to do something desperate." Roberts picks up the thread: "So it was [Kocinski's] first year on the 500 and he was going to win," Roberts starts to say, "and he was sitting there [in his motorhome] and Dr. Art Ting just walked out. 'Art, what the hell are you doing in there?' I asked. 'Oh, I just shot John up,' Ting said. I said, 'What?' He said John wanted an IV; in the Suzuka 8-Hour they used an IV to put [fluids] back in your system. I walked in and John looked like the movie 'Patton,' where the guy was nuts and he was just sitting on the chair and sweat's dripping off of him. I said, 'What the hell are you doing?' And he goes, 'What do you mean?' And I said 'Why the hell did you put the IV in?' Kocinski said 'I'm going to win this f**king race.' I said, 'Dude, what the f**k? You shouldn't have to prepare yourself.' He replied, 'I'm going to win. I'm going to f**king win or crash.' I said, 'Man, John, you're thinking about this all wrong. You'll be a big hero if you get third. So get out there, follow these guys around and then at the end of the race, make a judgment.' So guess what? Seventh lap. Boom. F**king thing's going up in the air. And I'm just thinking, 'Win or crash.'
"You could just see it. It was in his face. He was crazed. I always believe that you do what you can do and that's it, and walk away.
"What made Wayne-partly the drive that made Wayne-is the trouble that got into [Kocinski]. Wayne was a little bit like that, as well."
Four-time World Champion Eddie Lawson was another rider in the Roberts fold. Roberts said that, "Eddie never had to get angry to beat somebody. Eddie just did what he wanted at the racetrack. If you didn't like it, go f**k yourself. But if somebody wrote something bad about him, he wouldn't talk to him again. 'Get out of my f**king motorhome.' It didn't make any sense. I'm sure he had those moments when somebody like [Wayne] Gardner pissed him off and he thought, 'I'm going to kick that guy's ass on the track.' I'm sure he had those moments, but mostly it was what someone said about him."
Kevin Schwantz felt much the same. It wasn't what other riders said or did, but what a journalist wrote.
"Probably the single thing that I remember most is [British journalist] Mat Oxley at the end of '92 saying, 'Schwantz is past his sell-by date.' I thought, 'F**k that guy,'" Schwantz recalls. The comment was part of the Motocourse book's top-10 list for the '92 season, and Schwantz retaliated by blanking Oxley in '93, his championship year.
"I just shunned him," Schwantz said. "He wanted to interview me and I'd reply, 'I've got no time to talk to you,' every time I saw him. I had never really been that way. There are certain guys that I didn't like getting beat by, but I never really had anything where I said, 'That really pissed me off."
How long did it take Schwantz to get over it? "I'm not sure I have yet. I talk to him now just because I know he's a big part of the press that needs to be dealt with. I think I told him about it when I retired. Somewhere, sometime he asked a question, 'What's the one thing that pissed you off most in motorcycle racing?' I said, 'When your sorry ass said I was past the sell-by date.'"
Using other's disdain or disrespect is a common form of motivation. "You've got to, as a rider, be able to take something that somebody does to you that's a negative and be able to make it a positive," Schwantz continues. "As a racer, everything's not going to go your way. You can't be motivated by positive things. You've got to find a way sometimes to motivate yourself by negative things.
"That's one of the things that Ben [Spies] does, if he's got a weak point. When he rides the 600, his frigging attitude changes. Yeah, OK, it's not a great bike. You've got a contract, you're getting paid to race it. You may not be able to win on it. Yeah, it's a different bike. Go out and learn something on it. Every time I ride a bike, I'm learning. So the motivation is sometimes that, week after week, month after month, and the results aren't getting any better and it's impossible to find anything to smile about. You've got to make yourself get up and ride your motocross bike or get on your bicycle and do 50, 60 or 80 miles. You've got to find your motivation somewhere because it's not an easy sport, it's not an easy living.
"I still say racing motorcycles is life just condensed into less than two hours. You go out from the start of practice, crash the bike and be down, to being fastest at the end. In the race, having a shitty start to coming back and finishing at the top. In four hours you've gone from suicide to being on top of the world. It's a learning experience that's condensed. You've got to learn to grow up pretty quick in this sport."
Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden was too embarrassed to voice his motivation.
"I would say I would find a reason to dislike guys," Hayden said. "Even if it was Big Bird. I find something in my head almost to say 'I'm going to beat this guy'-why I think he's a prick. I don't know one thing right now off the top of my head. I pretty much found something for about anybody I ever raced why I want to beat them. Pretty much. I mean, like they say, when you're on the track you have no friends. That goes for anybody. It goes back to my brothers, whomever I'm racing. I just get some reason in my head why I can't stand them. It's easy with my brothers. I don't even want to say what it is, because it's so penny ante, like something people would say it's like kindergarten."
Wayne Rainey exacted his revenge for Kocinski's IRTA test stunt in the French Grand Prix at Le Castellet. Rainey qualified on the pole, half a second up on Mick Doohan and more on Kocinski, in third. He set the fastest lap in the race and won by four seconds. Doohan was second, Lawson third, Schwantz fourth. And what of Kocinski? He gated badly, ran into Doug Chandler, crashed spectacularly, and had to be carried away on a stretcher.
Kocinski wouldn't finish in front of Rainey again all year until the final race in Malaysia, when he won his first 500cc GP. But it would prove to be a partially empty victory. Rainey and Schwantz had been injured in separate accidents in a test at Malaysia a week earlier and both had flown home-Rainey to fix a badly broken right femur. And, besides, Rainey had already clinched his second 500cc World Championship and would find further motivation to win a third a year later.