NZ & World Superbike Champion, Andrew Stroud, talks openly about racing, faith, family and the man behind the famous Kiwi bike that changed racing.
Walking into the house we’re greeted by Andrew Stroud sweeping the floor. He looks up and smiles, “Just trying to get tidied up!” His son Caleb, one of the ten Stroud kids, is in the kitchen and offers us a coffee. Although, he assures us he’s only had one day of barista training, he makes a pretty good flat white.
Andrew returned from Malaysia just a few days ago having been supporting his eldest son, Jacob, 18, who’s following in his father’s footsteps – racing motorbikes.
Just before we start the interview Andrew interjects and says, “Before we start, can we have a word of prayer?”
So New Year’s Eve is going to be a big celebration for you this year?
“Oh, you mean my 50th? My father’s 80 in December too.
Not really. I’ve never fussed too much over birthdays but Karyn wants to plan something. We’re going to do something with dad as well. It’s someone else’s birthday too,” he thinks for a moment before his 17 year old shouts from the kitchen, “My eighteenth!” (Caleb will turn 18 three days before his dad’s 50th).
You retired from racing in 2013. What do you enjoy doing most now you’re not racing full time?
“Good question! Well, I’ve got two boys, sometimes three, that love racing bikes. I’ve just been to Malaysia and spent a week over there with them, helping them. Really, I could just do that – by the time you’ve organised the machinery, the bikes and maintained them, then organised some sponsorship and sorted the travel it could end up being full time if we did it properly and wanted to go to that level.”
“Racing’s been such a big part of my life so ditching that has been hard. And finding something to do that’s anywhere near as interesting, exhilarating and exciting as racing a superbike is hard. It gets your attention. It just has to. You’ve got no option. my desire was to be more available for the family. I didn’t want to be owned by racing.
You know, Scripture says you can’t serve both God and money, and racing’s got more of a pull than even money. It’s got the excitement and the adrenalin!
I’ve been around hundreds of racers in my day and they’re all pretty much living for the next race. There’s the saying, ‘Life is racing and the rest is just waiting’. So it can be addictive.
Even more than that, it can become the centre of your life. But that’s the place where God should be. It’s the first commandment:
‘You shall have no other God’s before me.’Exodus 20:3
How hard was it to step away from racing?
About 15 years ago we were with friends in England – our pastor’s son and his wife – and we had a great prayer time one night and we were praying, ‘Lord, if there’s anything stopping us getting closer to you can you show us?’. Straight away, as soon as we prayed that…straight away…I could see it really clearly. God showed me, I was holding on to racing tightly in one hand, really tightly like it was mine and I owned it. I didn’t want to let it go. That it was everything to me, really. I just knew that he wanted me to open my hand. I’d been striving for this for so long.
So it took all the trust I had to open my hand. I thought I’d have to let it go for good. So I opened my hand but I could tell it was still sitting there. Just like it was a gift he’d given me but to be a steward of it rather than to act like I owned it.
So it was definitely different after that. I didn’t let it control me. I’d choose what I did. It turned things around and I got a better perspective on life’s priorities. God needs to be first! And I saw racing for what it was – that it had become an idol for me.
Tell us about your faith and how you came to put your trust in Jesus Christ.
“I remember going to the front in church when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I always believed in God but when I was about 25 years old I had an offer to do 500 Grand Prixs in Europe, which is the pinnacle of motorcycle racing, and I also had an offer to race in America, with the factory Ducati team.
So, I wasn’t sure which one to do. The offer from America had a lot of money and a lot of promises to go on to GPs and stuff, so I went with the American offer. Unfortunately, that fell through so I phoned the guy back about the 500 Grand Prix and he said, ‘Oh, sorry, we just signed up a Scottish guy”, so I was left with neither option.
At the same time mum had paid for me to go to Summer Harvest for Christmas, at a Christian camp up North. My sister was going and my friend, so I thought I’d take my jet ski and my motocross bike and go and do some training.
Well after 4 days up there, when Bill Subritzky was speaking, I ended up going up the front, getting on my knees in front of about 1,500 people and giving my life to the Lord. By then I was already doing World 500 GPs and World Superbikes. It was a hard thing to do at the time. Very hard really because of my pride. But that was the first step.
Very brave. How did your life change after that?
I didn’t really feel any difference at the time, but a couple of months later my sister started having these home groups and she asked me along to one.
Afterwards as I was sitting in my bed I remembered the verse, ‘Behold, Here I am. I stand at the door and knock…’ (Revelation 3:20) and I just knew that Jesus was right there knocking and I said “Yes Lord, I do surrender; I give you my life”, and I seriously felt different then. I was overwhelmed with joy and peace!
The next morning mum came in and said, “What happened to you last night?” and I was still a little proud to tell her that she’d been right all along and after years of praying for me that I was saved. But I overcame my pride and told her.
Then I went out and bought the whole bible on tape. I listened to it all the time, travelling around the world, going racing, in aeroplanes. I couldn’t get enough of it.
In 1995 you won the BEARS series on a Britten, three weeks before John Britten died. How significant was that for you and is it true that John put his faith and trust in Jesus before he died?
It was an amazing time really, that whole period. The bike in itself – it was quite incredible how it unfolded. To be able to design a whole motorcycle, to design every part and then build it as well, all within about 10 months, with not much of a budget and such a radical design as well.
It had nothing conventional; no frame, front and rear suspension attached to the engine, all carbon fibre which was just starting to be used in the America’s Cup yachts.
You know, at the very beginning of Genesis it says, “In the beginning God created…” and I think God always had his hand on John’s life and gave him that creative ability, whether John knew it or not.
The first time I raced the bike was at Daytona. It was really the fastest bike out there. Even though it stopped with two laps to go it still made headline news around the world. It was only 0.1 of a second off the outright lap record which had been set the year before by Doug Polen – who won the world superbike championship as well on a factory Ducati.
So we went back two years later in ‘94 and won both the races there. We also setting the fastest top speed of any motorcycle that had ever been to Daytona which was 189 mph. We then went back and won again in ’95. John’s whole purpose in building the bike, his goal, was to win at Daytona. He knew it needed to be very powerful, light and aerodynamic. He designed the bike with all those things and made it all work. It was great that he saw it all come to fruition.
Then in ’95 the team carried on from Daytona, the World Series and did another six rounds in Europe. I did the first one, I think, in England but John couldn’t come to it. He said he felt a bit tired but didn’t know why.
How did you handle that?
I asked my wife Karyn (who was just a friend then) to pop round to his house and give him some flowers. So the day that he got the results from the tests she turned up with flowers from me which he saw as a sign. So he called me up and said that he saw that as God knowing the situation, the timing, he was overwhelmed, he could hardly talk on the phone, he couldn’t believe it.
He said, “I have cancer and I’ve been told I’ve got three months to live. I believe in Jesus and I love people, can you pray for me.”
He just wanted to pray and read the bible and know more – he was so excited about his faith. He said, “If this cancer doesn’t get me I want to be a preacher like Billy Graham!” and I just wanted to win every race of the rest of the series for John.
The second to last round was at Brands Hatch, the World Superbike round, so the place was packed – 60,000 plus spectators – and we won the race, first and second on the Brittens, and the crowd were all on their feet cheering, wondering how this homemade bike from New Zealand could come over to Europe and do so well.
That must have been a highlight for you?
It was great because TVNZ came over and filmed it so John was able to watch it at home in his bed. There was an amazing response.
We won the World Series – first and second on the Brittens.
…the crowd were all on their feet cheering, wondering how this homemade bike from New Zealand could come over to Europe and do so well.
John had asked me when I was coming home. I’d planned on staying in Europe for another month or so, but I called the airlines and they were all booked up for the next three or four weeks. The next day I got a call that there was one seat available, it was leaving the next day and going to arrive in Christchurch.
Well, I wanted to fly in to Auckland and spend a few days there but I didn’t know how close John was, so I flew straight in to Christchurch and walked in to John’s room. He was very emotional seeing me – I think there was a TV crew and some reporters, the mayor – so I spent the whole week, his final week, with John. He wanted me to stay in the bed next to him and read the bible with him, pray with him and talk with him about God.
How was that different to your relationship with him prior to this?
“It was on a whole new level. Really like brothers! The day before he passed away he was lying in his bed, we didn’t know if he was conscious or not. We were just holding his feet and praying. John suddenly opened his eyes and said, “So much joy, so much joy. I finally found it but it cost me everything to get it.”
It was an amazing thing to see and hear. He finally saw that eternity is the big picture!”
How did you handle the funeral?
“So the funeral was at the Cathedral in Christchurch. There was over 2,000 people there. I spoke, but I was terrified of public speaking back then so people were praying for me, flat stick.
TV3 and TV1 were both there filming and it was totally packed. I’d ridden the Britten bike through the street with the hearse behind me, the streets lined with people.
When I got up to speak and I couldn’t open my mouth. It was about ten seconds before I said anything. Then I felt God’s presence and I was able to share some thoughts and bible verses which were shown on national TV, so that was pretty cool.
Since then, I’ve been able to share the story at hundreds of schools, churches and other non-church events.”
Of all your wins and trophies, which has been the most significant?
“Winning the World Series on the Britten, just because of the story behind it. And because it was a New Zealand effort – the underdog taking on the world.”
Apparently Karyn knew you were the man she’d marry a few years before you knew. Is that right?
I’d known Karyn for years as friends but one day she felt God telling her she was going to marry me.
Three years later, not long after John died, we were sitting on the couch praying and we ended up holding hands, but even then there was a process before we got married.
Her friends were asking her, “Are you sure this guy’s the one? He races motorbikes and you’ve got all these other guys asking you out.” She found it hard. In fact, she went ice skating one day with the youth group and she was getting on really well with one of the male youth group leaders. Karyn knew that he wanted to hold her hand so she prayed, “Lord, please show me if I’m really supposed to wait for Andrew Stroud because I quite like this guy and he’d be fine!”
Then what happened?
Well, just as they were about to hold hands this boy skated through the middle of them and busted them apart. After getting her balance back she saw that the boy had a Britten motorcycle jacket on and ‘Andrew Stroud’ was written on the back. I’d even hand signed it! So, she said, “Oh sorry, I’ve got to go!”
She had a few moments like that – where God made it really clear, but I had to get the same myself! I remember, during one conversation, while Karyn was talking a lot, nervously, suddenly I could see right into her heart and see what an amazing and beautiful girl she was. Right then I knew God was showing me she was the girl I was going to marry. Now we’ve been married 20 years and we’ve got 10 kids!
Wow, that is a big family – I read somewhere that you reckon you’ve changed around 50,000 nappies. Are you a ‘hands on’ dad?
“Yeah, totally. One of the best things about being paid to race motorbikes is that I’ve been able to be with the children. When we’ve gone racing in New Zealand we’ve taken them all with us most of the time.
So yes, 10 kids and our youngest is 3 and she’s still in nappies at night so it’s 50,000 and counting!”
What advice can you give to men about keeping Christ at the centre of work, family and life?
“Constantly work at it. The more time you spend getting to know your heavenly Father and the more time you spend reading the bible, the more he shapes us and the more we surrender to Him.
Prayer is so important. When you meet God in prayer it changes you. It encourages us to let go of the things we think are important in the bigger scheme of things.
It’s also good to be accountable to somebody, to encourage each other and point you in the right direction.”
Finally, we have to ask – how many speeding tickets have you had?
“I don’t know, maybe half a dozen in 30 years. Actually, maybe that’s on the light side! Maybe 10. I’d say under a dozen. Plus one or two overseas.”
What a top bloke. A genuine follower of Jesus transformed by God’s grace. It was a real pleasure to meet Andrew and was a great reminder that whatever skills and passion God gives us, we have the privilege and responsibility of giving it back to Him – after all, it’s His anyway!
This interview with Andrew Stroud was originally published in Authentic Magazine in 2017.
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About the author
Dave Firth is a husband, father, Bible teacher and communicator. He loves the Lord and has a passion for His Word. For more info and free-to-use-Bible study tools visit www.davefirth.org.
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