New Zealand race couple says Pocahontas reminds them of home
If you get on Google Earth and point it to New Zealand, you'll see the country is comprised primarily of two large islands. On the south island, which stretches toward Antarctica, you'll see an extensive north-south alpine mountain range. On the north island, you'll see hilly farm country surrounded by forested peaks.
Motorcycle racing champion Paul Whibley and his wife, Katherine, were born and grew up near the center of the north island, with farms and low mountains. Paul grew up on a farm and first rode a motorcycle when he was five-years-old.
"I was born in New Zealand in a small town called Dannevirke," he said. "I grew up on a small farm. It was only 100 acres."
The pro racer said the only bad thing about being a professional racer was being away from his New Zealand home for almost the entire year.
"It's home," he said. "I kind of like it there. It's got some very nice scenery. It kind of reminds me of here," said Paul, as he gazed across the mountains from Snowshoe Mountain resort. "It's got a little bit more grassy hills and farming, but it's very similar to around here."
The New Zealander was visiting Snowshoe to participate in the Grand National Cross Country motorcycle race on June 26. The Pocahontas Times caught up with Paul and Katherine at the Foxfire Grille on the day before the race.
After finishing high school, Paul went to work as a logger, a job he held for five years. He cut down huge pine trees - a species imported to New Zealand tree farms for its remarkably fast growth.
"When I left school I went logging for probably about five years," he said. "The whole time, I was operating a chain saw and felling trees - basically clear-felling. I was on a ground-based crew and at different times drove a machine - a skidder - that pulls the logs to a flat area to be picked up."
While working as a logger, the lanky Kiwi honed his racing skills on New Zealand motocross and enduro tracks and started winning - more often than not.
Team Honda took notice of Paul's success in New Zealand and recruited him to race in their European circuit for three years. But the big time and big money in enduro racing are in the U.S. Whibley made the move and started racing here six years ago. Since then, he's won the two major enduro series - the Off-road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series in 2008 and the GNCC series in 2009.
Paul and Katherine attended the same high school in Dannevirke and have been a couple for some years. They finally tied the knot three years ago and created a formidable racing team.
Katherine provides more than moral support - she's Paul's manager and member of the pit crew. She supervises Paul's training schedule and handles the team's financial affairs. She prepares the champions' equipment on race day and helps her husband at the starting line until the race begins.
"She keeps me in line," Paul said. "She keeps me on the straight and narrow."
Katherine said Paul is easy to manage because he is such a dedicated racer. She basically points him in the right direction and he wins races.
"She doesn't have to discipline me, but sometimes I need to discipline her," Paul said. "Last year, we had a bit of a good time here at Snowshoe after the race. We and a few of our friends had quite a good time and Katherine needed some supervision."
The former logger said he had not visited Cass Scenic Railroad during his three visits to Pocahontas County. When told about the famous logging/railroad historical site, he said he wanted to see it but, due to his race schedule - not until next year. Paul and Katherine also want to visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and are planning some down time after next year's race to do some sight-seeing in Pocahontas County.
Paul won two of the six GNCC races prior to Snowshoe this year, and was third in the GNCC point standings coming into the contest, behind Australian arch-rival Josh Strang and Ohioan Charlie Mullins.
Paul held the lead after passing Strang, midway through the course, and was on his way to his second win in as many races - when his bike threw a chain.
On his blog, Paul described his race at Snowshoe this year.
"Tough day at the office pretty much sums up my Snowshoe GNCC," Paul wrote. "I got a good start and followed the Suzuki of Josh Strang for the first five or six miles then moved into the lead when the opportunity presented itself. I was riding comfortable and felt good at the front. The track was pretty tough and again this year was made up of two loops, a 12 mile east loop we ran first followed by a 12 mile loop on the west side of the mountain. Things were going good up until about the last mile of the first lap when something threw my chain off. In the process handing over the lead and a spot in the top five while I refitted the chain. I got going again and clawed back some time to be in contact with the lead bunch during the west loop."
Despite his fifth place finish at Snowshoe, Paul maintained his position at third place in the overall GNCC point standings, with seven races to go.
We look forward to welcoming the Whibleys back to Pocahontas County next year and hope to see them onboard the train at Cass.
Whibley's website and blog can be found at www.paulwhibley.co.nz.