If Grey Power is looking for a couple of front people for its next big campaign, perhaps they need look no further than New Zealand’s latest motorcycling champions.
Surely motocross legend Darryll King and superbike maestro Andrew Stroud are the best advertisements yet for the “golden oldies”, living and breathing proof that the nation’s senior citizens still have so much left to offer.
When BikesportNZ.com asked the 43-year-old Stroud if he would be defending his 2011 New Zealand Superbike title, he cocked his head sideways, as if I’d asked him something strange.
“Why not, I still enjoying racing bikes?” And he’s winning too, don’t forget.
It was perhaps a dumb question. He is not THAT old. It’s just that, it’s hard to accept when, as this most successful of extreme sportsmen heads deep into middle age, he’s still almost untouchable on the race track. Stroud won seven out of nine superbike championship races, not to mention earlier winning the Suzuki Tri Series as well.
The same cannot be said of 42-year-old King – he won only three of the 12 championship races on his way to clinching the New Zealand MX2 (250cc) title this summer – but his feat in doing this was still perhaps even more remarkable than Stroud’s.
Motocross is, afterall, a very much more physically demanding sport, definitely considered a young man’s code. Many great riders (take six-time New Zealand champion Murray Anderson or 10-time world champion Stefan Everts as examples) have long-since retired from racing at the top level well before they even turn 35.
Add to this the fact that King not only beat the elite of New Zealand’s established heroes, athletes in their mid 20s, but he beat the rising teenage stars too, as well as a couple of hot-shot Aussies who crossed the Tasman with visions of taking our silverware away with them.
Dig a little further and the story takes on more fairytale elements.
King had not raced seriously, at the top level here, for about three years, gradually winding down after winning won both the national MX1 and MX2 titles in 2006. All he’d done to keep himself fit was to run his regular coaching clinics.
Then he showed up at round one of the 2011 championships with an “old technology” 250cc two-stroke. There must be something about Kings and two-strokes … did you know that his brother Shayne King was the last person ever to win an open class world title on a two-stroke when he took the 500cc crown in 1996 riding a crackling 360cc KTM? Nowadays it’s only booming four-strokes in MX1 and MX2 Grand Prix competition.
It seems there is no reason why, with the right mental application, a little dedication to eating and training correctly, and a little self-belief, that riders in their mid to late 40s can’t be champions.
The huge advantage someone like King has, of course, is that stored away in his vast memory banks are years and years of experience.
Nobody was doing him any favours out on the race track either. Everyone was equally determined and fired up to win and no “granddad on an old bike” was going to get in their way. But he did, didn’t he?
Sometime luck has a little bit to do with it too, a little bad luck for a few of his rivals equals good luck for him.
Masterton’s Luke Burkhart was one of the fastest riders on the track and he won more races than anyone else (four of the 12) but things didn’t always go his way in the other races and you’ve really got to be pocketing good points in every race to be a champion.
Darryll King’s worst results were a couple of fifth placings. Every other time he was in the top four.
He pushed when he needed to; he rode conservatively when that was required; he took no unnecessary risks.
Years of accumulated wisdom – that’s what makes him a champion.
Tomorrow we have a chat with Burkhart, just to see how he preparing for the upcoming season and learn what he will do differently.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com