Nine year old Luca Palmer-Donald will be competing at the New Zealand motocross championship on the North Shore this weekend. His twin brother Nico, left, and older brother Jake, 16, will be there supporting him. Photo: Phillip Rollo.

Nine year old off to motocross nationals


Luca Palmer-Donaldson will have to wait another seven years before he can legally ride a motorcycle on the road – but that’s alright, he’s too busy riding on the dirt anyway.

The Brightwater School student is nine years old and amazingly rode his first motocross bike when he was just three – a Suzuki JR50.

This weekend he’s off to race at the national championship on the North Shore where he will be competing in the 9-11 year old 65cc class against 80 of the best riders his age. “We’re aiming for top three but it’ll be pretty tough,” his father Shane Donaldson says. “Those kids ride it all the time. We’ve never even seen the track. He’ll be coming up against kids who are nearly 12 too.”

Only 40 of the riders will qualify through to the final where the format then includes a best of five series. “It’s all over five races and it’s all on points.”

Last year Luca and his twin brother Nico both attended the event. Luca was second in the 7-8 year old class and Nico won the 6-8 year old class. While they look identical, their demeanor on the track is much different. Older brother Jake, 16, described Nico as a “cruisy” competitor, who wasn’t too bothered about taking a spectator role this year and hadn’t trained as much. Luca, on the other hand, is super competitive and spends hours practicing. “Luca hates being beaten. He’s got the killer instinct. If someone overtakes him he grits his teeth and gets them back.”

If he’s staying in accommodation at one of the tracks Luca doesn’t feel the nerves as much. But otherwise he’s often throwing up on the way there. “We call it the motocross bug. We’ll be driving down the road and he’ll be hanging out the window vomiting everywhere,” says Shane.

Luca says the pressure of racing and his fear of crashing is behind the anxiety. But the pressure certainly isn’t coming from the family and Shane says the boys all grew up on motorbikes and spend hours riding on the track at their Waimea-West property. “They can drive anything,” he says, after one of the twins helped reverse the family 4WD on their Waimea-West property. “They took to motocross like a duck to water. But if they said tomorrow that they didn’t want to ride then I wouldn’t cry about it. We all do it because we love it. It’s good fun.”

While it’s good fun, it’s also a very expensive sport and Luca’s appearance at nationals has been helped from sponsors Donaldson Landscape and Earthwork, Nelson Motorcyle Centre, Fresh Choice Richmond, Emerson Mytton Builders, Pomeroys Tea and Coffee Company, Hydraulink, Endurance Logging and Donaldson Civil.