From humble beginnings as an apprentice plumber, based in Howick, and a developing moto trials rider back home in New Zealand, the now 22-year-old Draper has successfully transitioned to first become a leading national-level enduro and cross-country dirt bike racer and now he is sought after by some of the elite teams to race professionally in the United States.
“I have always dreamed of becoming a professional racer and, coming from a small country of New Zealand, you sometimes think it will never happen. But dreams are free and hard work pays off.”
He was this month approached and successfully signed up to race for the Tely Energy KTM Racing Team in the US.
“My job is now a full time racer. I am a professional athlete now and it is a seven-day job, with training and riding during the week and then racing in the weekends and travel. To make it a living you have to be 100% focused and if I’m not winning or doing well, I’m not getting paid.
“Racing in USA is totally different to our cross country at home. A GNCC (Grand National Cross-country series race in the US) is a three-hour sprint on a track that has been ridden by quad bikes all day Saturday then kids and amateur racers earlier on the Sunday. The pro riders are the last people to race on the track on the Sunday. I have ridden some rough tracks in the past, but there is nothing like this.
“It is crazy and the speeds we are doing … it’s like a rough three-hour motocross race. I also did some sprints the year where I won the Pro2 championship title in that and that’s two days of sprints, which I really enjoyed.
“I was very lucky to have the opportunity to live with one of the best riders in the world, Steward Baylor, who is ranked number three in the GNCC and is a three- time national enduro champion (in the US). I am so lucky to have him and his wife welcome me to live with them in South Carolina.
“I travel and stay in their motor home and each race and we have a big facility and gym here at the house to train at, so having someone like him to ride and train with every day is awesome.
“Steward (Baylor) is on the same new Tely Energy Racing KTM team that I will be on, so this makes it easier living with Stu.
“I am absolutely stoked about this opportunity and cannot wait to get started next year.
“The KTM and Husqvarna bikes are similar, so it wasn’t too hard of a transition to make. I am very happy about that and I have some awesome people around me to help me out.
“I will be back in New Zealand on December 17 and I will have a bike, but I will not be doing any racing in New Zealand while I’m home as I have to leave again and be back in the US by end of January.
“I have had some awesome support from people back home, I would like to say a massive thanks to (Kiwi former motocross world champion) Ben Townley (of Tauranga). He has been a massive help to me over the years. Also big thanks to (Kiwi two-time US GNCC champion) Paul Whibley (from Manawatu), who has also been a big help to me.
“But without the support of my parents my dream would not have been possible. They have scarified a lot for me and it sure is tough living on the other side of the world, away from your family, but it’s what makes you that much stronger. They are very happy for me and looking forward to next year as much as me. Also I want to thank my sister to for all her support.”
Draper is supported by from New Zealand by Kiwi Rider magazine, Young Contracting, Crown Kiwi, Sparrows Plumbing, KTM New Zealand, Michael Vining Contracting, Northern Accessories, BikesportNZ.com and the Scott Family.
Photo courtesy Darrin Chapman
© Words by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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