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Q&A Top Fuel Motorcycle Champion Ian King
by JT Norton
What got you into drag racing?
I was always interested in motorcycles and built my first special using parts from a trash depot, a Raleigh Chopper bicycle frame, a Garelli 70 scooter engine and wheels, and a Suzuki A50 tank, all `held’ together with some precarious welding using a stick and car battery kit bought from `Exchange and Mart’. I was introduced to drag racing whilst on a day trip with the Boy Scouts to Santa Pod, UK. Following further trips to the UK track from the age of 17 on my road bikes to race my friends at `Run What You Brung’ weekends I began my race career in the SuperBike conceived Ultimate Streetbike series in the 1980’s on my own custom turbocharged road-legal specials.
What was the first thing motorcycle you raced on a drag strip?
An F1 Harris Suzuki road race bike.
Favorite win or matchup?
I have many, but I guess in March 2014 when I ran in the opening round of the Man Cup, winning the event and in the final recorded a time of 5.878 seconds to become the 8th and final member of the prestigious MTC Top Fuel 5 Second Club. I had already ran a 5-second pass in June 2013 to become the 6th ever rider to do so but as it was not run in the US it was not accepted under the rules of the club. I had seen Peter Svensson and Chris Hand subsequently run 5’s after me in the US and there was only one spot was left, and Dave Vantine was the favorite to take the last spot on the bike Geoff Pollard had already run a 5 on to enter the club earlier, and Sam Wills was knocking on the door. We thought we had done it in great conditions on the last qualifying session on Saturday night but our time mysteriously did not register so we knew at that time we had to make the final to enjoy similar conditions. We did, and the rest is history. Nowadays 5-second runs are a breeze, I often wonder why it seemed so difficult at the time!
We all are fans of someone growing up, who were you a fan of?
Road racer Barry Sheene and John Surtees, the only racer ever to win the top class World Championships on a motorcycle and F1 car.
What is the biggest misconception most people have about driving a Top Fuel Nitromethane motorcycle?
That it is difficult and that it is not affordable.
What advice would you give someone wanting to move into Top Fuel?
Do it, but come and ask me for advice first.
Craziest experience you’ve had to date, or the first one that comes to mind.
Again I have many, racing in many countries and regions across the world including Ireland, the Malta, Greece, Middle East (before it became ‘normal’) and in India. Running ‘up the hill’ and around the bends in front of 200,000 people at Goodwood Festival of Speed on my Top Fuel Bike is my favorite event, however, India was the most bizarre. We were shown a disused stretch of road in Mumbai that was covered in trash, mounds of sand and dirt and many stray dogs and asked if we could run on it in two day’s time. Our sister Gulf Le Mans GT Aston Martin teams had already pulled out from running at the original new F1 track citing safety concerns (it became unavailable due to new track infrastructure problems) and this was the ‘alternative’. We said no way, it would take weeks to clear it up, put Armco barriers up etc. However, within two days we returned to the ‘event’ to find a pristine clean surface, new barriers, bleachers, mysterious disappearance of the dogs and an air-conditioned RV with my name on the door. It was rammed with spectators, including Bollywood stars, the Indian National Cricket team, and various Indian celebrities. Many of the world news TV companies were there, the Police were fighting off the local fans with batons (really!) and the TV crews were jostling to interview me. Manic…..
What does Ian King like to do when not drag racing?
Play and watch soccer, party with my family and friends, run Puma Engineering – manufacturer of most of the power plants for most of the World’s Top Fuel motorcycles.
I have a 1964 302Cu/in Ford ‘Boss’ engined Sunbeam Tiger circuit race car (road legal too).
I am restoring a 1948 Vincent Rapide / Lightning Special, and own and ride at display events on my 1980 ex-Randy Mamola Suzuki XR34M2 and 1984 ex-Mick Grant Suzuki XR41 works machines.
I have a small collection of iconic bikes, and am in the process of building a state of art race simulator to help hone my car racing skills.
What is your day job occupation/industry?
I’m a Business Development Manager for Motorcycles, ATV and Marine at Suzuki.
Who would you like to thank?
I’d like to thank my fantastic fans and supporters across the globe, my peerless sponsors, my fantastic team of Martin Brookman, Marius van der Zijden, Nick Pepper, Debbie King and particularly my long time crew chief Michael Beaumont who led us to 10 FIM European Top Fuel Championships, two ACU British Championships, one MCUI Irish, various official FIM European and ACU UK drag race and European track records and an FIM World Land Speed Record, my US team of John & Dea Morgan, Andrew `H’ Smith, Michael Woods, Randy Rannberg & Michael Edwards, Filippos Papafilippou for letting me ride the bike I sold to him at the last two Man Cup Finals (where we made the final on both occasions), and finally my wife Debbie and two daughters Georgina and Alexandra who have sacrificed much for me to enjoy my (selfish) pursuits. – Ian King