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Exclusive interview with Ian King
We spoke to UK Top Fuel Bike racer and ACU Championship co-ordinator Ian King on the eve of his trip to the USA to compete in the 2000 AMA/Prostar World Finals at Gainesville.
The interview was conducted via E-Mail. Many thanks to Ian King for his time only a few hours before his departure.
Eurodragster: We understand there are a number of European racers attending this race, can you give us a roll-call?
Ian King: Jean Yves Vetsch (France) on his Funnybike, Chris 'Cannon' Hannam on his Funnybike, Brian Johnson on his Puma TF Bike, then of course me on my Puma TF Bike.
Eurodragster: You have raced in the USA before; how often, and how did you fare?
Ian King: I raced for the first time at this meeting last year. We made a lot of mistakes in our preparation for the meeting, and to make matters worse, the container arrived late. I only managed to get out in the very last qualifying round, and only then because Norbert Kutzera of Germany on the ex Reisten Fuel Bike knocked the mirrors over, thereby delaying the proceedings for a few crucial minutes. We just crept in at eighth, bumping out US rider Darryl Eakle into ninth. However, in what could be thought of an upset, I won against Larry McBride in the first round. There was a lot of expectation for Larry as he had just run the World's first five-second pass for a motorcycle the meeting before, and if he had won through to the final of this particular meet he would have won the Top Fuel Bike championship for the first time.
Eurodragster: How do the US tracks compare to Santa Pod and Shakespeare County Raceways?
Ian King: Well, I only have experience of Gainesville, so I'm not sure that my views are valuable. What did strike me however, was that the track was billiard table smooth, including the whole of the shutdown area. In fact, the shutdown area is smoother than the race surface at both SP and SCR. However, this is not to decry our tracks which are excellent, but to illustrate how fantastically smooth Gainesville is.
One thing that we should really appreciate is that the track preparation at both SP and SCR was far better than that experienced at Gainesville last year - i.e. the traction was better in all cases at the meetings I had attended in Europe. This again should tell us not to take what we have here for granted. Generally, we should give a huge pat on the back to Kjell Petersson and Bruno Sanderson for the job they do for us.
Eurodragster: How do you think the US bike racers view their European counterparts?
Ian King: I'm not sure that they really are so interested in us in general. The Top Fuel riders do follow some of our performances, but America is so huge, and it is the home of dragracing, so it can be insular. A similar analogy would be football (soccer). We in England don't tend to have a balanced view on what's happening in the rest of the world because of our blinkered view of the game being invented here. It's only when the English team travels abroad and plays people in their own countries under local conditions that they can truly compare their achievements. Despite their general lack of interest in what we do, they make us very welcome when we are with them, and some are honourary Europeans - Jay Regan of MRE springs to mind. I really would love to see the Transatlantic races revived again, and have some of the top Americans over to race us in our back yard.
Eurodragster: Are there any areas in which you would say the European bike racers are ahead of the US racers?
Ian King: I think European riders are better able to cope with all conditions and surfaces due to some of the marginal tracks and conditions we have to cope with over here. We also tend to innovate better, at least in terms of engineering, as we don't have the same access to off the shelf products as they do, and, of course, we pay much higher prices to purchase US manufactured goods. On the other hand, they tend to be much more professional in the way they race, and for many it is a profession - I'm afraid I can't see any way it can ever be anything other than an amateur sport for us in Europe - at least we have to support our racing with another full time job.
Eurodragster: Can you take your bike straight out of the box in Gainesville and use a UK tune-up, or are the track and air too different?
Ian King: Gainesville air is much worse (i.e. less oxygen) than generally experienced in Europe. That means that if you were to use the same tune up (e.g. as at Santa Pod) the bike would run far too rich. We basically have to lean the bike out.
Eurodragster: Have you any unfinished business from previous trips - racers you want revenge on for example?
Ian King: Well, as I have only lost to one rider in the US ever, and it was Brian Johnson in the semi's last year, and in the only race I had against him since then I won, I suppose I'm even...
Eurodragster: We understand that you had quite a take-up on your sponsorship drive, remind us what the deal was?
Ian King: Basically, for a donation of £100 ($150), supporters would have their name on the bike for the meeting, their support promoted on the net and in the media, and would receive an official King Racing Team jacket in return. They would also, of course, have our undying gratitude.
Eurodragster: And how many sponsors took up the offer?
Ian King: We had a fantastic response with thirteen individuals taking up this offer, and a further three companies supporting me either financially or with product support. I'm so grateful to all of these people who made this trip possible - I could not have done it without them. The great thing is it was such a mix of people and companies, all just willing to contribute. I had to force the jackets on most of them - it's not that the jackets are undesirable, just that they all said it wasn't necessary - they just wanted to help. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of my sponsors and the supporters who made our trip to Gainesville possible:
Automanics VW Drag Racing Team
Cam Racing UK - Performance Motorcycle Products (business.virgin.net/chris.camracing)
Furlong Motorcycle Tyres (01935 425888)
Gary Page - Automotive Air Conditioning Specialists (0836 222208)
Goodridge (UK) Ltd - (01392 369090)
Hutchinson and Dibley - Precision Engineers (www.hdeng.freeserve.co.uk)
Jon Morton - Morts Trucking Company (0385 504246)
Kath Taylor - Bakers Court Cafeteria (01268 526276)
Nimbus Motorsports - Torco Oil distributors (01377 217888)
Obsession Motorsports - Promoters of the Super Series (01483 236262)
Peter Bellenie - General Builder (01622 831826)
R. Griggs Group Ltd - Manufacturers of Doc Martens footwear
Shakespeare County Raceway - One of Europe's Premier Dragstrips
Straightline Racing - Motorcycle tuning and accessories
Eurodragster: And no doubt you couldn't do this without strong backing at home and a solid crew.
Ian King: I must also thank my crew over this past season who worked so hard to overcome my deficiencies - Crew chief Michael Beaumont and his team of Mark King, Roger Forsythe, Marc Fossey and Nick Pepper, Frank Brachtvogel for his help and advice, all the track owners, promoters and organising clubs who provide us with the places and the infrastructure to enjoy this fantastic sport, and last but not least my long suffering wife Debbie and my children Georgina and Alexandra who have to put up with my obsession!
Eurodragster: You fly out on Tuesday, what is the timetable after that?
Ian King: I'll take a day and an evening just relaxing with my crew in Orlando before travelling up to gainesville early Thursday morning to unload the container and get set for Friday qualifying.
Eurodragster: And what about King Racing's plans for next season?
Ian King: Well, we know we need to have a billet cylinder head if we wish to step up the power so I'll be talking to Puma engine legend Pete Davis about having one fabricated. We also need to refine the clutch we've been struggling with since I started racing the bike, and MSD are to supply a new 12 amp magneto to enable us to burn all that extra nitro we need to pump if we're to run with the really fast boys. Finally, race car chassis wizard Andy Robinson is to embark on a project with us for a new state of the art frame.
A final thought - every time I take to the track I think about Chris Hampson, Jan and his sister Jane. I hope we all realise that despite drag racing's excellent safety record, it is still a dangerous, selfish activity - just remember what our friend's and loved ones go through every time we take part in the sport we love.
Eurodragster: You couldn't do any better than to do it for Chris this weekend. Thanks very much for your time, Ian, and the very best of luck in Gainesville.
Visit Ian King's web site
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