Photo gallery below…


There was an element of trying to get any chance he could to get on a Suzuki and get cracking. I felt that his supposed signing for Suzuki indicated that he intended to specialise in roadracing rather than pursuing the Grand National AMA series, so there was no longer any need to be hamstrung on a roadrace Harley, which were great handlers but woefully slow compared to the Japanese two-stroke 750s. I think his amazing showing in the Transatlantic Series confirmed his self-belief, and that he’d pulled the right rein, so couldn’t miss the opportunity to open the year with not only some racing, but a chance to get his head around racing a two-stroke again…remember, he’d had plenty of success before on the Don Vesco 250 Yamaha .

The problems began when the bike,( which I don’t really think was ex-Geoff Perry, rather just one of a number of TR500 variants from Colemans, which had been ridden by Joe Lett among others) proved after practice to be a bit of a slug. Whatever the set of circumstances was, they decided to convert it to run on methanol ON THE DAY, surely an improbable task. The bike was worked on by Joe Lett, Cal himself and another older chap who I believe was Cal’s stepfather. Cal did look tired and strained at this time, and was certainly up against it.

He came round at the end of the first lap in around seventh spot, and as he shut off for the long, sweeping Champion Curve, the bike seized and stepped out sideways, straightened briefly, and then stepped out again, firing Cal off. Without going into the specifics of the crash, those who saw it instantly feared the worst, and repeated calls over the PA for the assistance of a doctor to assist the ambulance staff only heightened the dread.

So, for many reasons, this is one crash which need never have happened. But like Stu, I think Cal just couldn’t miss a chance of getting out and going racing. The question of what he hoped to achieve with a Lola T190 in the Tasman series for F5000 cars is entirely another matter, but I rather suspect it was a combination holiday and toe-in-the-water excercise for a possible alternative career after racing bikes. All very sad, even all these ears later.

Posted by “aquarius” on the MCN forum on July 16th, 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. Cal’s 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 (….)I had to tell poor, young Scott Brelsford who was wandering around Puke in a daze, wondering what the hell was happening after they carted poor Cal off to Middlemore Hospital (…..). 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

Yeah the Suzuki T500, apparently his father-in-law who was mechanicing for him at the time, decided after practice that he wasn’t going fast enough. The bike was derived from a road going engine, and part of the mods was to put a polyester filler in some of the ports, so his father-in-law took it upon himself to run the bike on alcohol, which had never been tested.
In the race, just starting the second lap, the filler had deteriated and come loose, causing too much air and leaning the mix off too much and seizing the engine. This resulted in Cal tragically having a high speed colision with the barriers at the first turn.

We now know that the extra mechanic working on the TR500 was Lou Kaiser, who was neither Cal’s stepfather, nor his father-in-law. He was a family friend who’d taken Cal in as a youngster and raised him, as Cal had been in an unhealthy environment since childhood with a mother and stepfather, both of whom drank heavily.
These details came to light in Norm DeWitt’s very good Rayborn article in Classic Racer #142. The other thing that grinds my gears about the coverage of this most unfortunate event is that Dean Adams and other writers continue to allege that it occurred at a meaningless, insignificant club event in New Zealand, whereas in reality it was probably the most significant day in NZ’s roadracing history, judging by the outcome of the Marlboro Series in terms of the subsequent exposure to the northern hemisphere of the likes of Hansford, Crosby, the Sayle brothers, Graeme McGregor, Kenny Blake and a mob of others.

The race at which Cal was killed was the inaugural round of the Marlboro Series.

Cal Rayborn’s 1972 Suzuki TR500

Cal Rayborn, the quick Californian, was one of the most influential racers of 60’s/70’s motorcycle racing.

Born in San Diego in 1940, Cal Rayborn first rode a motorcycle when he was eight. In his teens he worked as a delivery boy after school, and over the summer holidays his time was consumed with riding motorcycles.

In his early 20’s he turned to scrambles and TT Steeplechase, then tried his hand at road racing, beating many of California’s top riders on what was a production motorcycle. He turned pro in 1965, recording two podium finishes – a second at the Des Moines road race in Iowa, and third at LA’s Ascot Park half-mile. In only his second year as a pro, Cal won his first AMA road race at San Diego’s Carlsbad circuit.

An almost over-night sensation, legendary Harley-Davidson race boss Dick O’Brien was one of the first to recognise Rayborn’s natural raw speed, and promptly signed him to the Milwaukee squad. Although contracted to ride Harley’s 750 dirt-trackers and road racers, O’Brien allowed Rayborn to compete for his good friend and mentor, Don Vesco, in both 250 & 350 classes riding Veco’s Kawasaki and Yamaha two-strokes. During this period Rayborn went up against the famous Kel Carruthers in the AMA Junior class.

In various articles, Vesco made note of Rayborn’s rare talent for amazing corner entry speed, now the staple technique for elite riders up to and including Marc Márquez.

Vesco remembers, “those Harleys were heavy and didn’t have the greatest brakes, and Calvin would run the thing into turns faster than anyone else, then he’d turn-in the front tyre to scrub-off speed. That’s not all that uncommon now, but in those days no one rode that way.”

Rayborn’s first big win for H-D came at the 1968 Daytona 200. Up against reigning world champion Phil Read, Rayborn out-braked the British rider’s much lighter Yamaha TD3 into the Horseshoe and was never headed again. The following year he proved to the world it was no fluke, by towelling the field for back-to-back wins.

In 1970, piloting a Harley-Davidson Sportster-based streamliner, Rayborn set a new American and International speed record of 265.492mph (427.268km/h) on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats, then a year later recorded his only-ever AMA national dirt-track win at Michigan’s Livonia Mile circuit.

In 1972, Rayborn made a dynamic debut in the UK, winning three of the six race John Player Transatlantic Series held over the Easter long weekend. Local Ray Pickrell (Triumph 750) won the other three, the pair finishing 1-2 in all six legs. It was England’s first viewing of a top American rider, and local fans voted Cal ‘Man of the Series’ Later that year Rayborn won road races at Indianapolis and Laguna Seca, which were his last AMA victories.

Rayborn’s UK success motivated him to take on the best road racer of 1972, Jarno Saarinen, at Mallory Park’s Race of the Year, held in September. Cal knew after practice that his heavy Harley was no match for Saarinen’s new water-cooled Yamaha 350, but he stayed with the Finn in the opening laps of the race, skidding into the corners as usual until ignition failure forced him out.

When Rayborn learned that Giacomo Agostini had signed with Yamaha and would contest the 1974 Daytona 200 on the new TZ750A, the American said, “Boy, I better get me a quick bike for that one!” Knowing he stood little chance with a Harley, Rayborn resigned from the Milwaukee team and signed with Suzuki America to partner legend Paul Smart. Eager to show-off his new recruit, Suzuki’s Ron Grant talked Rayborn into competing in the inaugural round of the Marlboro Series in New Zealand. Rayborn, having decided to follow in the footsteps of Mike Hailwood and John Surtees, had acquired a Lola Formula 5000 open-wheeler that he entered in the 1974 Tasman Series, so it made perfect sense to compete in the Marlboro Series while in NZ.

First round of the ’74 Tasman F5000 series was at Levin, north of Auckland, a week after the second round of the inaugural Marlboro bike series at Pukekohe. Rayborn arrived in NZ and was offered $1000 start money to race a three-year-old Suzuki TR500. Heavier, less powerful and not as nimble as the new TZ350, Rayborns team decided to convert it to Methanol the morning of the event. Understandably the bike seized in practice; new pistons were fitted and possibly more tuning, and Rayborn went out in the first race. Running 4th at the end of lap one, tipping into Champions Curve (end of the main straight), a very fast right hander, the bike seized again, throwing Rayborn off and into the hardwood timber guardrail at 190km/h. With so much still to do in his life, Calvin Lee Rayborn II was fatally injured; his family and the sporting world in large was robbed of one of the most impressive racers of the times.

History of the Cal Rayborn TR500 Suzuki

The bike Cal rode was initially built for Geoff Perry, an up-coming young NZ champion who had made quite an impression in the 72 Daytona riding a “factory style” TR500 Suzuki. This was a bike built by Steve Roberts. Legend has it Perry broke a chain on the last lap while in the lead! Following this impressive start Steve Roberts built a new & improved chassis for Perry for the 73 Daytona assault. This new design was based on a smaller, lighter frame modelled on the TR250, with an engine built by Dick Lawton. Tragically, Geoff was killed before the 73 Daytona.

The bike then went on to be campaigned by Dayle Wylie & Brian Martin, and sometime during 1973 was purchased and raced by Joe Lett, the workshop manager at Coleman Suzuki in Wanganui; all these guys were among NZs finest riders.

Categories: Cal RaybornTR500