Where Are They  Now? Kenny Zahrt

Where Are They Now? Kenny Zahrt

November 23, 2012 1:00pm
Kenny Zahrt, a native of Canyon Country, California, was known mostly for his blazing speed at local Southern California tracks such as Indian Dunes, Corona and Irwindale Speedway. Zahrt was one of the pioneers of AMA Motocross and Supercross in the 1970’s, and was an early success when motocross was in its infancy (grabbing a win at RedBud in 1974).  We called Zahrt one evening while he was relaxing at home and watching the evening news with his wife, Tina.

Racer X: Kenny, what's happening, man? How about we do a Where Are They Now interview with you, and for Racer X Online?
Kenny Zahrt: Oh man, really? I am just an average guy sitting here on my couch watching TV. Nothing really special going on with me, but if you want to talk a little bit, that’s cool (laughs).

Well, I thought it might be cool to talk about your career a little bit and to let people know what you are doing now that you no longer race.
Yeah, well of course man! That’s cool. Man, motocross for me has been my life – its all I know, and still all I do! I have always been around motorcycles, worked on motorcycles and ridden motorcycles. That’s it, that’s what I did – and still do! But yeah, for me, I am just on the straight and narrow road, doing the good thing!

You were known as a Southern California specialist – meaning you were a real fast guy that raced a lot of the local races in and around Southern California and made a good name for yourself.
Well, yeah, Indian Dunes was my home track but I raced all over and was always chasing the money races. But when I got older, I raced Indian Dunes mostly. But I also raced the AMA Nationals in the early days, and I went all over the country in the early to mid 1970’s. That was a real special time, things were so down to earth and fun.

Back in the day, Kenny loved racing anything and everything. This was a Gran Prix held at indian Dunes ... riding along with his little friend.
Scott Heidbrink photo and caption

What are some of your favorite memories from your racing career?
Oh where do I begin with that? I can't remember what I do remember and what I don’t remember! I am a racer and probably hit my head one too many times, so who knows! No, but seriously, there are some great memories. I would say just hanging out on the road and traveling around in the vans were some of the best times. All the riders were friends, and we all stuck together, and got into all sorts of trouble when we were not racing. It was me, [Jimmy] Weinert, [Jim] Pomery and [Brad] Lackey who spent a lot of time together, and it was just fun.

Also, in 1974, I was racing a Bultaco and it was really good. The bike was fast, and I was real light. I loved that bike, it was just so good, and it really helped with my results. That year I won the 1974 RedBud national. That same year, I also won a big money race, it was a big 'ole party race in Nebraska, and they had a purse of $25,000.  It was muddy, and I rode really good in the mud. I think I took home a total of $2,500 for the win, which was real good for me at the time, and for a 19 year old kid. But really, for me, I was just a fun racer. I liked to ride the bike and race, and have fun when it was all over. I might have been able to do better if I got more serious about it, but I have no regrets, maybe if I did that then I wouldn’t have had fun anymore and would have stopped racing.

Tell me about your one National win at RedBud.
Well, it was 1974 and I rode that Bultaco. The thing shifted on the right, and had the brake on the left. Back then, the first turn at Redbud went to the right. I got such a gnarly holeshot, I just kept the bike pinned and ran away with it. I had a 10-15 second lead. I then came out and did the same thing in the second moto, and walked away with that one as well. I made like $1700.  That was a lot of money for me back then. These were the early days, and we would just show up and race. But now it's so serious.

How was the money back then?
It was good for back then. Nothing like today, though. But all my life I have been blessed to make my living racing bikes. I turned pro in 1971, and I went through local scene, and got fast. Then I hit the nationals, and won a few things here and there. But then I stopped doing the nationals in the late ’70’s and concentrated on the CMC races after that. I won a truck, made some money and won quite a few boats. I couldn’t imagine a better life! Back then, CMC racing was super competitive. I started racing CMC in 1969, then went and did the nationals, and then came back. Motorcycle racing teaches you about life.  I am so laid back, and others are so stressed. If there are 40 guys on the line, I take off in tenth place and just ride around, and if I win, I win. If you have a bad day, you just deal with it. I know there is always a chance to make it better. There is always a second moto, there is always a second chance.

Back in the day there was never a dull moment when Kenny was at the track. For this GP he showed up with his cigarette smoking "little friend" taped to the handlebars ... he then set out to smoke the field.
Scott Heidbrink photo and caption

How closely do you follow the sport today and what do you think about it?
Oh, I still follow it, and try to hit the races when I can. I goto some of the Supercross races, but I sit up in the cheap seats up top. I leave ‘em all alone down there in the pits. I don’t need to go rub elbows and hang out with everyone, I just like to watch.  But getting out of the shop can be tough, as there is always work to do. But to me, you know everything is scripted and the riders are told what to say. We said what we wanted to back then. If you wanted to punch a guy cause he hit you, then you said it. And sometimes you even punched him as well! I also think the tracks are way softer than what they used to be. The whoops today are basically just bumps, and the jumps are not scary, and in supercross, it seems like everyone is doing all the jumps, all the same. Tracks are so simple. I think supercross should be more gnarly than it is, more like Daytona where it is real rough and hard to get a rhythm going. When we were racing, they didn’t have whoops – a backhoe would just come in and dig pits, and you had to figure out how to get through them without crashing. If you went too slow, you went over the bars. If you went too fast, you kicked off the side of the track. But you know, things are different with five inches of travel, but the tracks were just so much rougher. From my standpoint, the rough and technical tracks are just the way to go.

So Kenny, what are you doing now? I assume you are a working stiff just like the rest of us?
Yup. Every day, get up and go to work! I have my own shop up here in Canyon Country. Basically, I work on bikes. I do a lot of suspension and have always been a mechanical guy. Back in the day, I was always good at working on stuff and making it better, and we all know the stuff needed it back then! I am not the most book smart type of guy, I am just good with my hands and know bikes inside and out. That is how I make my living. The shop is up in Canyon Country, and called Haulin’ Zhart.

Haulin’ Zahrt? That’s an awesome name!
Yeah, well, it used to be Hall and Zahrt, as my old partner’s name was John Hall. But he got hurt and wasn’t able to be my partner anymore, so I changed the name. I fix all types of motorcycles, whatever it might be. It's just me, but sometimes people think we have two employees, if they get me on a bad day- you know the whole split personality thing [laughs]! So yeah, you can say we have two employees!

In the '70s in So Cal, there were all sorts of races, including a team race where you rode two-up on a MX track. Here, Kenny and his brother Dave battle for the lead
Scott Heidbrink photo and caption

What about family life?
You know, that’s a good story as well. Back in the day, I got married in 1983 to Tina Marie, but that only lasted until 1987, and we amicably split up. She went off and had some kids and got married again, but then as fate had it, 25 years later, we got back together! I like to call it the first moto and the second moto of our marriage. She has two children, and we are all real close. Tanner is 17 and Tyler is 20. Tyler (Varner) is a pretty fast rider. He can moto pretty good.  Tanner is really good on the shifter carts and is more into the four wheel thing, but we are all still into bikes.

You did some work on the epically famous motocross movie “Winners Take All.” In fact, your name was lumped into the PA system when they announcer announced, “They are all here – Johnson, Bailey, Ward, Glover and Zahrt.” What was that all about?
Oh man, that was a lot of fun. I did some Hollywood stunt work on the side, and that movie came along. As a stuntman, it was awesome - you go there and do a little work, ride around and get paid really well. But what I really remember about doing that stunt work was the food. The catering was really amazing! We ate so well, all day long, and as much as you wanted!  If I were a movie star I would be a big, fat old person! But that movie was a trip, and fun to do. I also did a Yamaha commercial as well as one of the Batman movies. But on the dark side of stunt work, it could be tough. When I went to a race, I knew what I could do. If there was a big jump, I knew I could either do it, or it was too big and I wouldn’t try it. But when I was stunt man, people would make the choices for me, and I was told what to do. It was sometimes scary as people said “you can jump here” and in reality it was a super sketch jump with a angled take off or a lousy landing.

Do you still ride for fun?
Yeah sometimes, but it is not so easy for me. I did come out and race the 1998 Glen Helen National on the YZ400. That was fun, but I didn’t qualify. But now, I ride a mountain bike a lot. I had a bad fall and lost sight in my right eye, and I have a bad foot as well that doesn’t work.  So I have specially prepared bike. If you enjoy it, then its cool. I have been lucky to have done it as long as I have.

Thanks for chatting with us, Kenny.
Thank you! Its been a good ride, and it isn’t over yet!

Kenny was always a force to be reckoned with, no matter the track, the terrain or the bike. This was an AMA Qualifier held at Four Corners, a track in San Diego County, California.
Scott Heidbrink photo and caption