Q&A with Top Fuel Motorcycle Champion Ian King
12 Time FIM European Top Fuel Motorcycle Champions
World, European & British Record Holders
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
More About Ian King
Ian King is a record-breaking multiple Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) European Champion.
As rider (10) and Team Principal (two) Ian has won a total of twelve FIM European Championships, two ACU British Championships, one MCUI Irish, has broken various official FIM European and ACU UK drag race and European track records and is currently an FIM World Land Speed Record holder. He is the top point scorer in the European Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing competition in class in history.
He is the only British rider to have run a standing-start quarter-mile in five seconds and is one of only eight members across the World in the prestigious MTC Engineering Top Fuel 5 Second Club.
He built his first custom motorcycle at the age of 13 and was originally a renowned and multi-award-winning constructor of custom road bikes. He was introduced to dragracing 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 his road bikes to race his friends at `Run What You Brung’ weekends Ian began his race career in the SuperBike conceived Ultimate Streetbike series in the 1980’s on his own custom turbocharged road-legal specials.
In 1990 he won the prestigious Dolphin Trophy at the world’s oldest running motorsport race, the Brighton Speed Trials as the quickest motorcycle over the standing start half mile seafront course.
In 1994 on a variety of borrowed street-based turbocharged machines, Ian won the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (MCUI) Dragbike Championship despite competition in the form of full race machines with slick tires and wheelie bars.
From the street classes he progressed through to the full competition Funnybike class in the UK’s Auto Cycle Union (ACU) competition on a self-built turbo Methanol Suzuki before acquiring his first nitro project, a 2700cc V8 Nitro injected Puma Top Fuel Bike in 1997. However, just before the unique project was completed Ian received an offer he could not refuse for the unfinished machine from entrepreneur Ron Holland and used the funds to acquire the `Quarter Scorcher 5’ Puma from Phil and Frank Brachtvogel in 1999.
In 2001 he won an unprecedented four Top Fuel Bike Championships in the same year, the Avon Park Super Series, the Santa Pod Racers Club, the ACU UK and the FIM European Championship, becoming the only rider to have won both UK and European Championships in the same year, a feat he repeated again in 2012.
In 2006 Ian became the first racer on a Nitromethane powered dragbike to make a run in the Middle East at the Bahrain F1 circuit.
In 2010 and after many updates and improvements to the bike and control systems to dramatically improve its performance over a decade into a state of the art machine, King sold his multi-championship winning machine and conceived an all-new world-leading bike under the auspices of his company Puma Engineering and in conjunction with Gulf Oil International.
In December 2011 Ian became the first racer on a Nitromethane powered dragbike to make a run in India at an event in Mumbai arranged by Gulf Oil India and covered by a wide variety of TV stations and Press companies across the world.
In 2012 the Gulf Oil Dragracing Top Fuel Bike team won the prestigious FIM European Championship and subsequently won it in each of the succeeding seven years to date. (Read More)
In June 2013 Ian made history as the first British rider in the world to run a 5 second standing start quarter-mile time and became only the sixth ever rider in the world to achieve this feat.
In July the Gulf Oil Drag racing team were personally invited by Lord March to his superlative ‘Goodwood Festival of Speed’ event in front of record crowds of around 100,000 each of the three days where it drew large numbers of amazed visitors to its pit area, for warm-ups on nitromethane and whilst on its way to the holding area prior to the demonstration runs ‘Up the Hill’. It culminated in being honored with the Goodwood Choice Award, selected by a group of judges including Earl and Lady March as the most spectacular vehicle of the event, with legendary F1 and motorsport commentator Murray Walker describing Ian as the `hero of the moment’ and stating `I take my hat off to him’. Subsequently, the team has been invited back annually to participate in this unique event.
In March 2014 Ian ran in the opening round of the USA Championship, 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.
In February 2015 Ian participated in the GQ India Magazine Gentleman’s Ride for India’s children in Goa on a custom Royal Enfield, proceeds of which were donated to Magic Bus India.
In September 2016 Ian won his 10th FIM European Dragracing Championship and a week later set a new World Land Speed Record for a partially streamlined motorcycle up to 1600cc for the two-way standing start quarter-mile at Elvington Airfield, UK. (Read more)
Ian has been the subject of a great number of magazine and newspaper articles, globally syndicated television documentaries as well as being employed as an expert consultant on a number of television programs, the most recent being an episode of ‘Speed’ featuring Road Racer Guy Martin who was instructed by Ian in the art of riding a Dragbike and where he supplied and gave guidance in the use of a parachute system for Guy’s record-breaking downhill toboggan.
In 2017 Ian’s successful World Land Speed Record attempt was the subject of a Discovery Channel program to be syndicated across the world from.
He competed in all events of USA Dragbike Championship, finishing fourth overall despite significant logistic and health problems.
In 2018 Ian placed a young Greek Rider in the seat of the Gulf Oil machine for the FIM European Championship events, who immediately led the class from the first event with Ian as Team Principal. The team has subsequently won two further successive FIM Championships. Ian took the seat for the Harley Davidson 115th Anniversary Rally in Prague attended by + 100,000 visitors and the 25th Anniversary Goodwood Festival of Speed attended by +200,000 visitors.
In the fall of 2018 Ian took to the seat of the Gulf Oil machine after one year out for the USA World Championships where he made the final, narrowly missing out on the event win, and then returned a further 12 months later in 2019 and repeated his remarkable feat to make a consecutive final.
Ian is an active participant in the Amicale Spirit of Speed organization, the body responsible for the FIM Historic Events structure where he rides and displays some of his collection of motorcycles at events across the globe including the 1980 ex-Randy Mamola Suzuki XR34M2 and 1984 ex-Mick Grant Suzuki XR41 works machines.
The current motorcycle that Ian and his team built and operate is the most technologically advanced machine of its type in the world:
- Purpose-built Puma engine, with aluminum cases and billet steel crankshaft
- 1584cc inline 4 cylinder
- Output of 1500 Horsepower depending on tune
- 12V DOHC billet aluminum cylinder head with aluminum bronze hemispheres
- Supercharged, over 430 liters of air and fuel into the engine per second
- Fuel-injected, over 11 gallons of the explosive fuel Nitromethane per minute
- 8-inch three plate multistage clutch
- Fuel injection/clutch management by electronic, hydraulic & pneumatic control systems
- 14-inch-wide rear slick tire
- Puma Engineering Chrome Molybdenum chassis, 102-inch wheelbase with aluminum bodywork
- Braking by two 4 piston calipers at the front, 6 piston caliper at rear and parachute assisted
- Onboard multichannel data logging, analysis and unique torque measurement system
- 0 – 60 mph (97 km/h) in 0.7 seconds
- 0 – 100 mph (161 km/h) in 1.1 seconds
- 0 – 250 mph (400 km/h) under 5.6 seconds
It will out-accelerate most vehicles from a standing start including all Formula One cars and even the Bloodhound LSR vehicle and Jet Fighter planes and is approximately 50% more powerful than a Formula One Car.
Ian is a qualified FIM International Technical Steward for all motorcycle disciplines and serves on the race committee of the ACU (British) motorcycle sanctioning body.
Ian studied Electronics at College before entering the Chemical Industry. Currently, he is Business Development Manager for Motorcycles at Suzuki, the iconic motorcycle manufacturer and one of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers.
He is married to Debbie with whom he has been a partner since he was 17 years old and at school together. They have two daughters, Georgina who is a Corporate Lawyer and Alexandra who is currently studying Veterinary Science at University. They own a dog, a miniature Schnauzer suitably called Nitro.
Ian is also co-owner of the world-renowned Top Fuel Motorcycle specialist, Puma Engineering. This company offers the complete range of parts to construct all combinations of nitromethane fuelled dragbikes; – supercharged and normally aspirated, single-cylinder through parallel and V twin combinations to inline 4 cylinders.
Commissions from customers across the globe already include state of the art Puma CrMo chassis, billet V twin engines and a number of 4-cylinder engine combinations through to complete turnkey machines. Recent developments have included Mark 2 billet Puma 3V cylinder heads, gear-driven camshaft engines, innovative barrel valves developed specifically for Top Fuel Bike applications, and state of the art Carbon Fibre injector hat and precision screw supercharger combinations.
As well as offering its heavy-duty Pro1 cases as replacements for the Suzuki GS/GSX engines, Puma has been developing engines and turnkey concepts for the so-called `New Age’ Funnybikes to overcome the engine and gearbox problems associated with running a mid 6-second Funnybike using OEM design engine cases. Powered by inline 4 engines utilizing normally aspirated nitromethane injected, supercharged/turbocharged petrol or alcohol and nitrous oxide injected combinations on a pseudo-Top Fuel Bike transmission layout, these combinations permit engine setups in excess of 1000HP to be utilized if desired that could not be reliably achieved with the traditional Funnybike combinations. Available for all OEM motorcycle cylinder head stud spacing’s, crankshafts up to 95mm stroke are offered resulting in capacities of up to 2500cc.
To date, well over 100 Puma engines have been built for Top Fuel and Funnybike applications. Puma powered motorcycles have broken numerous US, European, Australian and World records over the years, and have propelled many riders to championship titles, many more than any other engine in Top Fuel Dragbike history. With power outputs exceeding 1500 HP / PS and under 1600cc, Puma engined bikes are used in the current US, European and British Championship winning bikes, and hold the accolade of propelling multi US Champion Larry McBride to the fastest (264.96 mph / 426.41 Km/h) and quickest (5.507 secs) runs in history on a mechanically driven motorcycle on a quarter-mile from a standing start.
For more information on the team go to www.gulfoildragracing.com
- Twitter: @kingracing
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ian.king.73113
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/kingracingpuma/videos
- For more information on Puma Engineering go to www.pumaengineering.com
- For more information on Gulf Oil go to www.gulfoilltd.com
- For more information on Suzuki GB go to www.suzuki.co.uk
- To read about the event in Mumbai in 2011 go to http://www.kingracing.com/pdf/BrutalityInMotion.pdf
- To experience Ian on a 5-second standing start drag race click here: https://youtu.be/5WAKvswf3Fs
- To see Ian tutor Guy Martin click here: https://youtu.be/s5-PcezSlAI
- To see Ian in action at the Goodwood Festival of Speed at around 3.14.30 & 7.41.30 click here: https://youtu.be/977rErGjGUc