Former 500cc world champions Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson returned to the racetrack together last weekend, when they dominated the 'World Superkart' event at Laguna Seca.

Polesitter Lawson would win Sunday's race after erstwhile frontman Rainey finally ran out of fuel at turn two on lap 17 of the 18-lap race - having spewed fuel on Lawson during the race. Lawson had to change tear-offs in order to see while fiercely chasing his team-mate.

Rainey got the jump on Lawson at the green flag and took the lead, which he kept for all but one of the laps he was on track. At one point he was briefly passed, but quickly regained the advantage, albeit with Lawson on his tail.

After the race, Lawson said Rainey, his boyhood chum, had shut the door on him a couple of times, and joked that he was going to have a talk with his fellow American about it.

It was now over ten years ago that Rainey was paralysed from the chest down after his accident during the Italian Grand Prix at Misano. The Marlboro Yamaha star was leading the point's standings at that time and heading for his fourth consecutive world championship title.

The American was also leading the race when he slid off into the gravel, after which he thinks his bike hit him. It was a week away from the motorcycle grand prix race at Laguna Seca, and his son was ten months old. Rex has never known his dad any other way than in a wheelchair.

Turn Nine at Laguna Seca is named Rainey Curve in his honour, and Wayne has been a resident of Monterey for years and the motorcycle champion now looks more like a California surfer than a 43-year old soccer dad. His eleven-year old son is more interested in stick and ball sports than racing, which makes mother Shea a happy camper.

Rainey continued to run his motorcycle team until Rex was of school age and dad decided he needed 'to be in one time zone'. He gave up the motorcycle team, and started kart racing for fun with his pal, Lawson. Soon Rainey wanted to race karts, and the duo found that there are many things that Rainey could do with karting that he did while motorcycle racing, such as the preparation and strategy.

Lawson, four-time motorcycle grand prix world champion, had been playing around with karting while he was motorcycle racing, from which he retired in 1991. Then, he spent his spare time playing with a 125 shifter kart. Lawson built the Rainey's first kart, which he still describes as 'crude', but Rainey loved it, and his father, Sandy, perfected it.

The minimum kart weight, with driver, is 462 pounds. Lawson's kart weighs 475, while Rainey's probably weighs 510 pounds with his safety equipment fitted. He's never weighed it without.

Both Lawson and Rainey run 250cc two-stroke Yamaha motorcycle engines, which run for several years with freshening. They are reliable, dependable, and are easy to work on. Rainey has been with Yamaha since 1983. They both run Bridgestone tyres. Everything is open on the karts except fuel, which is 110 octane VP Fuel. Their karts cost about $20,000 each, but they both say that this is far less than the really serious overseas karters spend.

Among the variations on Rainey's MSR/Yamaha are roll hoop, Gurney-designed master brake cylinder and carbon-fibre seat, electric shifter, fire extinguisher, leg restraints and five-point Willans seat belts. Lawson knew Dan Gurney of All American Racers and introduced him to Rainey, and they asked him to design the special pieces for the kart.

Rainey also wears a fire-retardant driver's suit. Kart drivers aren't required to wear firesuits or seat belts because the need - in their minds - doesn't exist. It's very difficult, says Lawson, for a kart to catch fire.

The kart has a really short wheelbase, which makes for a violent ride, according to a grinning Rainey. But Lawson adds that, in all of his years of kart racing, he's never seen a flip or a fire. Besides, the drivers want to be tossed out of a kart rather than stay in it if there's a problem. Rainey doesn't have that same situation - he needs to stay in his vehicle. He said, if he really had to, he could get out of the kart, but he routinely has someone lift him in and out.

Karters are all required to wear a padded neck brace and the latest Snell-rated helmet. Neither driver see the need for a head and neck restraint, because their vehicles lock up, spin and stop, losing momentum very quickly. Karters rarely hit anything - except each other.

Despite the pressures of competing against each other for the greatest prize in motorcycle racing, Rainey and Lawson have been friends 'for too long' and while they now only race when they feel like it - they still race to win.



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