Rider Snapshots

Cal Rayborn

One of America's greatest

 Cal Rayborn won 11 AMA nationals during his seven-year professional racing career. Rayborn’s skill become known to the world when he rode a Harley-Davidson XR750 in the 1972 Transatlantic Match Races and won three of the six races to tie as top scorer in the series. Remarkably Cal Rayborn raced with Harley-Davidson for his entire career.

Calvin Rayborn II was born on February 20, 1940, and raised in San Diego. Rayborn’s prime years came in 1968 and 1969, on the factory Harley-Davidson team and with back-to-back Daytona wins in 1968 and ’69. In 1968 he became the first rider to average over 100 mph during the 200-miler.

In 1970 Cal piloted a Harley-Davidson Sportster-based streamliner to a new American and International record of 265.492 mph.

It was in the spring of 1972 when Rayborn turned in perhaps his most famous performance. Against the wishes of the factory, Rayborn accepted an invitation to the Transatlantic Match Races in England. With the factory refusing to back him, Rayborn rode an old iron-cylinder XR racer owned by Harley-Davidson employee Walt Faulk. It was Rayborn’s first appearance in England. Rayborn went out and won three of the six rounds and tied Brit Ray Pickrell as the top scorer.

At the end of 1973, he made the decision to leave Harley-Davidson and accept an offer to race for Suzuki. Tragically, in December of 1973, at just 33 years of age, he died in a club event in New Zealand when the bike he was riding seized and threw him into a wall at well over 100 mph. His untimely death shocked the motorcycling world. ironically he was riding the late Geoff Perry's Suzuki. Geoff Perry had recently been lost in a Pan Am plane crash in the Pacific.

Postscript: from www.motorcyclenews.com website...
by aquarius 16 July 2009

There is a lot of incorrect info on the web and circulating in people's memories. I was there, before, during and after - giving evidence at the Coroner's inquest too. Here is the real story 4U and others interested in how this great talent bought the farm. That he was to ride Geoff Perry's old bike is rubbish. Rayborn came to NZ to drive a Lola Formula A car ( rear-mounted 5 L V8 and gearbox ) in the new version of the old Tasman Series. But his car was still out stuck on a ship someplace. Just after Xmas 1973, I was talking to Alan Franklin and Len Perry ( Geoff''s Dad & legend, 48 Natl Titles, IOM etc ) at his bike shop in Greenlane when in walks Cal Rayborn. He rocks up and starts talking to me. Gobsmacked ! - as I was when accidentally bumping into Mike Hailwood and beautiful wife, Pauline just B4 he left NZ for the comeback at IOM. Spoke for some 15 mins - fabulous guy, warm, open & gracious - just as Rayborn was. Both absolute Champions. Rayborn was looking to " learn " Pukekohe and when he found there was a major Meet at 'Puke on Dec 29th he was hot to trot and started looking for a bike to ride in it.. Len got Colemans involved and Cal ended up with a good, proven reliable and FAST Suzuki TR500 that belonged to Coleman Whanganui's workshop manager, Joe Lett. Then the trouble started as there was only a couple of days to go. Cals Father-In-Law was some sort of ace tuner, or so he and Cal claimed. He set about pulling off the barrels and pistons and boring and jetting so all looked like sewer pipes! They were converting it to Methanol. All the Kiwi mechanics considered what they were doing radical and unsafe and walked away and left them to it. Come Race Day and Cal practised fitfully, the bike not running properly as they struggled to get the jetting right. When it did go, he looked ultra-smooth and FAST. First big race of the Meet. Rayborn very slow off the grid and half way down the back straight in about 10th but visibly gaining. Down round the hairpin, through the esses and up and over Rothmans and onto the Pit straight to complete Lap 1, he is up the lead group like a rat up a drainpipe, into 5th and gaining fast. Sits up and changes down for Champion Curve - it seizes. Honest to God, he stood up on the pegs and actually "motocrossed " it, wrestling to get it back for about 30m before veering left and smashing into the solid wooden guard rail and low concrete wall in front of where the main grandstand is now @ approx 200 kph. The impact saw the bike destruct at the side of the track, and threw Cal back almost onto the racing line where he lay on the seal not moving, bikes braking and swerving all round him. Then followed one of NZ road racings lowest points.

None of the flag marshalls saw this happen or could see him where he lay. The race continued for almost 5 LAPS !!! After 3 an ambulance nosed out of the pits and crossed onto the track, almost causing a massive multi-bike pile-up. No red flags no white flags, (service vehicle on the circuit ) nothing! I was standing just some 50m past the pits on the inside and waving and screaming my tits off and set to vault the barrier and get out on the track and wave my shirt or ANYTHING. They red-flagged it and by this time some people had jumped the barrier where Cal lay and were bending over him. You know the rest. This piss-poor race management rates with Neville Landrebe's fatality when he hit 44 gallon drums filled with water and rocks at Stables some 80m past Rayborn's crash site but some years before. In fact, expatriate Brit racer, Ron Grant walked Rayborn around the track and pointed this out to Cal as he had met Landrebe in the US. There was no ambulance or qualified medical aid at Puke that day ( unbelievable isn't it ? ) and some poor bastard was tasked with taking Landrebe's corpse around to Dr Howes house in Puke township in the back of a Holden ute ! The Doc pointed out there was nothing he could do and they really needed an undertaker. This appalling, deadly amateur hour stuff was NEVER repeated after the Rayborn incident caused it to really hit the fan bigtime. December 29th 1973 was a major bummer. As was July 1973 when we lost Geoff Perry. He had just secured a works Suzuki contract to race AMA in the US. Geoff was an apprentice aircraft engineer with Air NZ and ALWAYS flew with Air NZ. His machanic, Mike Sinclair, I think - couldn't get a seat on the same aircraft so booked with PanAm ( later called PrangAm - they lost so many aircraft around the Pacific ) to arrive the same day. As fate would have it, Geoff decided to swap flights and experience another airline for a change. His PanAm 707 plunged into 35,000 feet of water coming out of Tahiti. Again, reports and the history are wrong. They said there were no survivors. There was one - a Canadian bloke found totally unharmed and floating around still strapped in his seat! No bodies were ever recovered and poor Len went up there and hired a big launch and looked for Geoff for bloody weeks B4 giving it away. Sad, sad, sad. Some people are miraculously lucky - others are fated to be the opposite. In one of those strange twists - the following year Randy Mamola turned up to compete and was so young ( 14 or 15 ) and small his bike was modified so he could sit and reach the pegs. His mentor/sponsor was a guy called Jim Doyle. His occupation? Pan Am jumbo pilot. Hope this was all of interest and set the record straight