Interview: Shayne King – 1996 World Champion from New Zealand

Shayne King is well known in the Motocross world as he was the first rider from New Zealand to win a World Championship title. Back in 1996, King made it happen in the 500cc as he beat big names such as Joël Smets, Peter Johansson, Dietmar Lacher, his brother, Darryl King and so many more big names in what was a stacked class.

Coming from New Zealand isn’t easy but the King brothers had a lot of success and great memories racing all around the world doing what they loved doing.

We caught up with King to discuss his career and much more.

Gatedrop: Initially how did you get involved in the sport and when did you first get on the bike?

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King: My father was a motorbike racer and I guess it was in our blood. I started riding bikes at the age of 3 years and never looked back.

Gatedrop: When did you start to think you’d have a chance of making a living from Motocross?

King: I guess the dream that started, it was at 16yrs old, I travelled a lot to Aussie, Tahiti, Hawaii and the USA doing one off races and had a feeling this was going to be my sport where I could one day make living.

Gatedrop: Coming from New Zealand how hard was it to make a name for yourself?

King: Very hard as we are from the bottom of the world and no one really knew about many fast racers from NZ.

Gatedrop: How did you get the opportunity to race the World Championship?

King: I started in 1993 in the 125cc class and got one point at the San Marino Grand Prix, from there I got asked by the Missotten brothers in Belgium to test a 500cc Honda with them and that was the starting step.

Shayne King and team New Zealand at the 1998 MXdN which took place at Foxhill. Pic: Martyn Petts

Gatedrop: Those first few years being away from New Zealand, how was that to deal with? How did you find adapting to life in Europe and what were the hardest things about it?

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King: It was a fun time, I was with my friend and we experienced so many things on the road and got to meet so many really nice people, The hardest thing was getting enough money to continue.

Gatedrop: In 1995, you finished ninth in the 500cc World Championship – what was the level like that year?

King: The level was good, Trampas Parker, Joel Marcus Hansen there was a lot of fast hard core guys riding very fast and super fit.

Gatedrop: Just the next year you managed to win the championship – how did that feel to become the first New Zealand World Champion? A year before you were ninth, where did this improvement come from?

King: Pretty amazing and for sure the highlight of my motocross career, the year was so fun and just enjoyed the challenge every race and the year just went so fast and was so easy. I worked hard for around 18 months to be the best I could be for 1996 and KTM supported me all the way through 1995/96.

Gatedrop: Did you ever think it would have been possible to become world champion – did you surprise yourself? What was it like battling with Smets that year?

King: Yes, when I was 16 years old I wrote down I was going to be world champion at 25, my dad signed the paper and I still have the dream/goal I wrote down today. Smets was a tough racer and I loved ever minute of our battles and pressures to beat each other, Joel was a great winner and a great loser he always had a smile on his face.. well most of the time (smiles).

Gatedrop: What was it like having your brother, Darryl race at the same time as you? Of course he’s your brother but you both want to beat each other, was it tough to deal with?

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King: Oh this was a real dream for our family to have all us Damien, Darryll and myself racing in the same class and being at the front a lot. We grew up together and we pushed each other all the time so it seemed really natural to race together, at times it was a battle between brothers which was not normal as each of us just wanted to win, fun times.

Gatedrop: Who would you say your toughest rivals were and were there any riders you learnt from and if so who/what?

King: I would say my Brother Darryll, we battled our whole lives and we always won and lost together as a family. I would say Rick Johnson was a hero and I guy I learnt a lot from over the years.

Gatedrop: In 1997, you ended up third in the world championship. How would you describe that year of racing?

King: 1997 was a real struggle to say the least, coming into the new season just achieving my ultimate dream goal was tough, we had a few set up issues on the bike as we went bigger engine and having Lommel as the first Grand Prix it made it a tough start but by the end, 3rd I was satisfied with.

Gatedrop: When you look back at your career what races/memories stand out the most and why?

King: I have so many great ones but would have to say Unadilla MXON in 87/MXON in Foxhill in 98 and Italy Asti 1996 first round of the Grand Prix.

Gatedrop: When you look back, are you happy with what you achieved, any regrets or anything you’d do differently?

King: The sport has given me so much since the age of 3 years old until today I don’t have any regrets just great memories

Gatedrop: What’s life for you like now and do you still have an interest in the sport?

King: I own and run Crown Kiwi Enterprises, we distribute some of the fastest brands here in NZ and I started the company up in 1998 during my racing career. I still have the same love and passion for Moto as I had from day one.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Martyn Petts