(Story by Gary Van Voorhis)
Since I did most of the dirt track and road race coverage for Cycle News East, in the 1970s I got the nod to see if I could get Kenny Roberts to agree to one of CNs “Hanging Out” articles. It was quite easy to get him to agree. I might have been tipped off right then that it would be me on the hot seat and not KR.
I went up to Kenny’s house in Hickman and hung out with him for a few days. King Kenny away from the track and the racing was not as highly strung as he was when it came time to put it on the line. However, that didn’t apply to Kenny Junior, who already had the superior genes. It was like the kid was taking lessons on how to control journalists.
Roberts had a workshop nearby where his Yamaha dirt track program had its headquarters. On two mornings I was treated to the Roberts GP…Racing between the house and the shop (in a car) always trying to shave a second off his previous time. Luckily we met no traffic coming the other way.
The story was supposed to be a hang out session, an interview and then a story about our road trip “back east” for the Oklahoma round of the dirt track series. So we head out for Oklahoma City in a motor home, with the family.
For a journalist it was pretty good start. I was sitting up front and rapping with KR and listening to race stories. About the time he figured he had gotten me ‘sucked in’ he said “Your turn to drive.”
Only then did he ask if I had ever driven a big motor home, or any motorhome for that matter. I hadn’t. “No problem. We’ll be on the interstate so you just roll on. I’ll relieve you in a couple of hours.” It was maybe 9pm.
He went in the back and was not to be seen or heard from for many hours. Meanwhile I was driving this giant bus, trying to keep on time schedule, all the while learning to drive a vehicle four times as large as anything I had driven previously. I yelled back a few times “Roberts?! Kenny?! Hey! KR!”. Silence in response. Driving into the sunset meant that it was dark for most of my rookie shift. And after the two previous days with KR I was tired when I got in the motorhome; now I was almost catatonic.
At 5am, long after I began seeing things that were not there, and moments before I dropped over, I got a slap on the shoulder and Roberts telling me I did good. I tried to contain my annoyance but as soon as I saw him I ranted: A COUPLE OF HOURS!?
He laughed all the way to the track telling me what a good nights sleep he got.
After we arrived in Oklahoma I mentioned how KR set me up to a couple of other journos. They replied it was a favorite KR ploy, an initiation of sorts. Nobody, they said, accepts a ride in KR’s motorhome unless there are three possible drivers. Because more than likely Kenny ain’t gonna be one.