Grand Prix Motorcycle Racer Wayne Rainey: “From Athlete to Entrepreneur; 5 Work Ethic Lessons We Can Learn from Pro Athletes”
You must have the desire and will to succeed even when you think you can’t. You have to be able to learn to push yourself in a way where sometimes you are uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone. It really comes down to how high of a level — both physically and mentally — that you want to push yourself to attain.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Wayne Rainey.
Wayne is a former American Grand Prix motorcycle road racer, who is inarguably the top 500cc World Championship Grand Prix rider of the early 1990s. Characterized by his smooth, calculating riding style, Rainey won the U.S. Superbike Championship two times before going on to win the 500cc World Championship three consecutive times during his racing career. After an on-track accident ended his racing career and paralyzed him from the chest down, Wayne remained committed to the sport that had been his lifelong passion and served as principle of a team in the MotoGP World Championship before forming MotoAmerica. In 2015, Rainey and his partners at MotoAmerica were awarded rights to the famed but struggling AMA Superbike Championship Series and have since remained dedicated to revitalizing the series and creating opportunities to introduce top road racers to the world stage. Rainey was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association’s Hall of Fame in 1999.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Mychildhood was fairly normal. I grew up in Downey, California and started riding motorcycles at the age of six. I was introduced to motorcycles through my father, who raced them. We were fortunate because Southern California was a real hotbed for motorcycling at that time and there were probably 20 different tracks and places to ride and race in close proximity to our home.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?
When I got to high school and started thinking about what I wanted in a career, nobody was really making a career out of racing motorcycles at the time. My family were carpenters by trade, and I was doing a bit of that in the off-season to learn all aspects of that trade. It just so happened in the late 1970s and early 1980, motorcycle manufacturers got serious about racing because they discovered that winning races on Sunday helped them sell motorcycles the week after. Suddenly they wanted to race and win, and they needed talented riders to help them do that. I was very fortunate to be able to turn my passion into a career and subsequent championships. As far as being inspired from a very young age, I remember going to the races on Friday nights and standing at the fence watching the professionals race at a place called Ascot Park in Gardena, California. I watched them closely and emulated what they were doing.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My dad was a big influence in my life as both a father and someone who helped develop my love for the motorcycle racing. I come from a blue-collar family and my dad literally built motorcycles in his shop that competed with the best of the best in the Southern California racing scene. My competitive edge came from my dad’s ability to make the most out of what was available to him. He taught me what it means to overcome any obstacle I may face in my personal life and professional career. My passion for racing was so strong that my parents even used it as a form of discipline when I was in high school. If I acted up in school, they’d take me to the races, but I wasn’t allowed to race. Instead, I had to watch the others race and all I could do was sit there on the back of the truck and watch. There really was no better way to discipline me and they knew that.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’ve made many mistakes that I can laugh at now. When I got the chance to race in the World Championship as the U.S. Superbike Champion, my first race was in Japan. Of course, I wanted to make a statement. I was facing pretty tough conditions for my first time. It was raining and I’d never been to that track before, so you can imagine the nerves I felt. As it turns out, I only made it about three quarters of a lap before crashing my motorcycle. I was really embarrassed. I wasn’t even going fast and I fell down. There I was, sliding across the track in the rain. I knew I had to get back on the bike and not be afraid to make another mistake. I knew I had to go back out and still be aggressive and not let this hold me back. I rode back into the pits with grass all over me and my bike damaged on one side. I can only imagine what people thought, but I jumped on my other bike and went back out. That was probably the most defining moment in gaining confidence in myself as far as being able to overcome an obstacle. I’d crashed in front of the world in my first race, but looking back at it, that gave me the confidence to go on and ultimately do what I did in becoming a World Champion.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
After my racing career of 25 years ended in 1993, I had the opportunity to run a Grand Prix team six months after my injury. Forced to start over much earlier than I planned, I learned how to transition from a “me-first” mentality to a “team-first” mentality. I had to start the team from scratch and put together a championship-level contender on the track. I utilized the same skills I had built my racing career on (determination, attention to detail, tenacity, etc.) and focused that skillset on making sure the product I put out on the track was the best it could possibly be.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects new you are working on now?
For the past six years, we have been working to revitalize the sport of road racing in America — to bring back the series’ high level of competition, sponsorships and participation numbers, as well as the fun, family friendly atmosphere that should go hand-in-hand with a race weekend. We have made great strides so far and had our highest attendance numbers and most competitive races ever in 2019. We have also had a great start to 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic throwing us some unexpected curveballs. One of our biggest wins so far this year has been expanding our broadcast exposure, with fans being able to watch MotoAmerica races and behind-the-scenes specials on FOX Sports, NBCSN, MAVTV and internationally on Eurosport.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
To be honest, the transition has been somewhat of a learning curve but one I wanted to attack head on. I never went to college or had much of a formal education after high school; however, my mentality in racing prepared me to approach this new journey in my life as president of MotoAmerica. I approached every Sunday on the racetrack knowing that I had done everything humanly possible to put myself in the best position to win. I now utilize that approach to ensure I am putting MotoAmerica in the best position to be successful. I also have a great team around me that I lean on to make crucial decisions to further the MotoAmerica brand and set us up for success for the long haul. When I raced motorcycles, I didn’t always win, but the times where I learned the most were the times when things weren’t going well, but I could still go out and get a good result. A lot of that comes from not giving up and pushing to the very end. The same goes for MotoAmerica. My partners and I have had struggles, but we’ve also had many victories in getting the series to where we want it to be. No matter what, somehow, we have always figured out how to get MotoAmerica to the next level. One of the big differences between racing and running a business is that when you race, there is that checkered flag and you’re either a winner or you’re not. With MotoAmerica, there is no checkered flag. Our race continues; it’s ongoing. Even when the racing is over, we are working on the next race and trying to make each one better than the last. It never ends, but we love doing it.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Get up every day with a purpose
2. Make every minute count
3. Take care of your team
4. Focus on the goal
5. Pursue perfection and refuse to be mediocre
6. Don’t quit
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
You must have the desire and will to succeed even when you think you can’t. You have to be able to learn to push yourself in a way where sometimes you are uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone. It really comes down to how high of a level — both physically and mentally — that you want to push yourself to attain. I read a lot about individuals who are at the peak of their professions to try and gather as much information on what it takes to be successful. I was curious to know what they were doing to be the best and I have always learned from that. One of the reasons we started MotoAmerica was to develop and nurture young talent and help them get the tools to further their careers.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think my personal journey may help others who are struggling with their own circumstances. I went from the top of the mountain as a three-time World Champion to my lowest moment where the sport I love took away my ability to walk. But I was able to come back from that low moment and find happiness and peace in the next phase of my life. If my story is able to encourage one person, then I’m happy.
You are a person of enormous influence in your sport. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned through the COVID-19 pandemic it’s that we, as humans, don’t like being locked up in our homes. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to do what we love with those that we love most. Whether that’s riding a motorcycle with your family or having meaningful conversations with those around you, get outside and make it happen.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I like to read autobiographies to see what makes other people tick. Sir Edmund Hillary, when asked why he climbed Mt. Everest said, “Because it was there.” That’s simple but it means so much. And when asked about the space program and going to the moon, JFK explained, “Not because it’s easy but because it’s hard.” Those are some life lesson quotes that are my favorites.
Is there a person in the world you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?