The 23-year-old KTM rider from Howick has been racing in the US for several seasons, but the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic put an early end to his 2020 campaign as sports activities worldwide were shut down in a bid to stop the virus spreading.
But now the green light has been given for the Grand National Cross-country Championships in the US to resume, the COVID-19 lockdown there now being eased in some quarters.
The first three of 13 rounds of this internationally-renowned cross-country motorcycle competition were held before the virus caused worldwide chaos, but it will light up again this coming weekend (May 16-17), the round four event to be staged at Aonia Pass MX Park in Washington, Georgia.
“As everyone knows, all of this COVID-19 stuff has changed the world and it put a stop to racing,” said Draper, who races a KTM 250SX-F bike for the factory-supported Tely Energy KTM Racing Team.
“So, after round three in Georgia, I left and came back to Pennsylvania where I live in the US. I was lucky enough to get to have my dad over for the Florida round of the GNCC (on March 9) and for the week in between that and the Georgia GNCC round (on March 16), then he went home (to Auckland) and he was lucky to get home with all this crazy stuff going on.
“But since I have been back in Pennsylvania I have still been training and riding as per usual. I had the first week off, just to get everything back to base, cleaned up and my camper cleaned out because I had all my stuff in it that I’d had for the previous two months.
“So I’m pretty lucky up here, as I have two dirt bike tracks and 400 acres of woods loops and tracks to do whatever I want and a bulldozer and a bobcat that I use whenever I want to clean the tracks up or make new ones, so things have been good.
“I have just been out the in the dozer building new tracks and jumps and stuff, then riding them and cycling too.
“I am very ready to go back GNCC racing it has been a long eight weeks with no racing. I am hoping I can get some good results and get some more wins.
“We are heading back to the same GNCC we left at in Georgia because this is one of the states that is opened for sporting events and larger gatherings.”
“This year has been an okay start it is a better start for me than last year, but definitely not where I know I can be and should be,” he said.
“I know this especially because last year I finished the year with a ranking of second overall and I have yet to step on the podium this year.”
Draper finished seventh at round one in South Carolina in February, then seventh again at round two and managed sixth in the XC2 class at round three.
“I just haven’t had good races and so I am way off where I should be. I know I can be up there as I have done it before and I have won races there before.
“So, with that being said, I had a good winter training over here in the US and trained too hard to not be on the podium and winning. I lived in Florida for two months at the start of the year, where I stayed at the home of (KTM’s seven-time GNCC XC1 class champion) Kailub Russell. So there was no better place to be than with the seven-time champ and the whole factory KTM team.
“It was a awesome experience and I learned a lot and something I will never forget. The long, hot days in Florida where tough. I was riding the sand every day, with whoops (hollows) as deep as a bike because we never groomed the track. There were some days it did suck getting up and knowing you’re going to do an hour session on sand whoops and it’s 32 degrees outside.
“But then you think again that you’re doing something you love and getting paid to do it, so it’s all worth it.”
Draper does not yet know when he will be returning to New Zealand, but hopes he can be back home for a break again in the New Year.
© Words and main photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Additional photos by Darrin Chapman & Mack Faint
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