Ex-CYCLE Mag Writer Ken Vreeke on King Kenny Roberts’ 70th Birthday

Roberts against the canvas of Daytona’s famous 31-degree banking, suspension bottomed out, wide open, alone, at the front where he was meant to be. KV

I know the precise moment that my career as a writer began. It happened the first time I met Kenny Roberts.

It was Daytona—my first racing assignment as an editor at Motorcyclist magazine. I was an itchy throttle hand away from a real job and did not want to go back, and this was the Daytona 200 back when two-strokes ruled the tri-oval and Kenny Roberts ruled the world. I had no idea what I was doing.

Daytona was all or nothing status wise, and magazines were how racing fans got their news. I had to photograph the races and write the stories, which back then took a good chunk of the magazine because there was no metaverse and Daytona was the most important motorcycle race in America, maybe the world.

This was my Sputnik moment, and to make it worse I was supposed to also interview Roberts, who I had barely heard of because I didn’t really read magazines before I worked for one.

Watching Roberts dive down the banking and tear across the finish line at 200 mph from my credentialed photo hole in the fencing did something to me. All these years later, I can still hear the fairing violently battering a hole in the air, the screaming engine pushed to the limit by a man unlike motorcycle racing had ever seen before. It changed me.

But that wasn’t the moment. That came later after my interview with Kenny, which he graciously granted the excited new kid in the paddock. The King spoke at length, answered all the questions I could muster, and as I was walking away still scribbling in my notepad, he uttered the line that turned me from a spectator into a journalist: “Better get it right asshole or I’ll never talk to you again.”

I’ve spent a lifetime at the keyboard trying to get it right ever since.—Ken Vreeke

Famous tuner Knobby Clark inspects Roberts’ OSHA-approved fuel tower while nervous mechanics chain smoke on pit wall before the race. Early photo shoots involved the asshole laying on the ground in exactly the right place to piss off the maximum number of photographers. KV



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