Article By: Tyler Porter
Photos By: Tim Handrich
Originally Published In The February 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
If you own, work at, or frequent a shop in Florida or the southern part of Georgia, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this man in there, singing for his supper, as many product reps do. He’s about 5’10”, thin like a distance runner; with focused eyes and an easy laugh that would never tip you off into thinking that he is one of the greatest flattrackers the world has ever seen. Kenny Coolbeth has long been a hero of mine simply because of his humble nature, quick wit in the pits, and a general admiration from all of his fellow competitors. Kenny hung i up his professional steel shoe at the end of the 2018 season, but when the King of Cool invites you to join him for his weekly moto session, you throw the dirt bike in the van and grab an interview with a legend.
TP: You’re retired, and still riding. Are you riding one day a week or what?
KC: Usually two days a week. On Tuesdays I usually do some flat track and then of course here on the weekends. Sometimes I’ll go twice on the weekends, I just enjoy riding. I’ve always enjoyed riding. It’s one of those things that I’ll probably always do.
KC: No, no comeback! (Laughs) I’ll just ride, have fun, and go watch those (flat track) guys go race on the weekends maybe here and there. I’m definitely retired.
TP: You talk about retirement, but that’s from racing. You have a real job though, what is that?
KC: I’m a Spectro Oils distributor for all of Florida and the lower half of Georgia. It’s going alright. It’s a learning process. It’s paying the bills right now, but of course I’d like to grow it quite a bit more, but I need to learn more about it too. I’m putting all of my effort into that right now.
TP: Everybody knows Kenny Coolbeth, the King of Cool, the Factory Harley racer, multi-time champion. But it wasn’t always like that for you was it?
KC: Yeah, I had a full-time job. Before I started riding for the factory (Harley Davidson). I worked 45- 50 hour weeks doing construction, worked on my own bikes during the week, drove back and forth to the races and would be back home to go back to work on Monday morning. I finished 2004 in 4th or 5th and then in 2005 when the factory picked me up, I finished 2nd in the points. It was a ton of work, but it paid off. I had some great people helping and supporting me in those early days which is key.
TP: A lot of people who have recently discovered flat track probably know your name, but don’t realize how many years your career spans. Do you think the competition was ever tougher than it is now, or is flat track currently at its peak of competitiveness?
KC: Well, today, a lot of the guys are training and eating right, on a strict diet. The training aspect of what we do has really amped up. They are training really hard. Of course, there are always young kids coming in that don’t have to work out yet. But, the phases in my career, it’s weird. Even before my time, you look at all these guys like Jay Springsteen, Scotty Parker, I mean, I’ve seen Springer have a cigarette before a main event. It’s pretty crazy how it was just pure talent for those guys. Today, the kids really have to work at it because of a guy like Jared Mees or Sammy Halbert because you know, those guys are working really hard. It helps you mentally too. I think that working out physically helps you mentally as well, and the sport can certainly be a mental game.
TP: Who in your entire career challenged you the most?
KC: Chris Carr. In the championship in 2006 when I took it from him, it was tough. He’s a tough competitor. He knew way more than me at the time, especially on the miles. It was some luck and good people that I had around me, that’s what made it possible.
TP: What is your favorite race bike that you’ve ever ridden?
KC: It’s between the XR (Harley) and the FTR (Indian). The FTR is an amazing motorcycle. They’ve really done their homework. The power is just so smooth. The bike is almost electric. I would probably have to pick that bike, the Indian.
TP: So, you’re saying that you ended your career on a high note?
KC: Yeah, it was good. The motorcycles were proven. We jumped on them and did well. Indian did a hell of a job building it.
TP: You were always known as one of the smoothest riders. Maybe it was a win, maybe it wasn’t, but is there a race that sticks out in your mind where you surprised yourself?
KC: My favorite race ever was when I won Pomona (California). I forget what year, but I just waxed them. I’m not a cushion rider at all, but it was just so easy. I looked back and I was over a straight away in front of those guys! That was one of the races that I’ll never forget, it was pretty cool. It was just so easy, and I beat them by so much.
TP: I thought one of your most improbable wins was the DuQuoin (Illinois) Indoor Short Track National in 2011. Back then, your class was called the Expert class and you guys raced 450’s.
KC: Yeah that was another good race for me. That was pretty cool because that was the first time a fuel injected bike won a flattrack national. I’ll always remember that. It was just one of those things, everything was on. It was a fun race. Chris (Carr) was second, and I knew he was coming. I was kind of screwing up here and there but it was a fun race. Any time you win is good and I have so many great memories. Lots of good races. At the banquet this past year they were releasing the schedule and I was chomping at the bit because if Hagerstown (Maryland) would have been on it, I would have really been bummed out. All of the fans know that Hagerstown is one of my favorite race tracks. I’m glad it’s not on the schedule!
TP: We’ve talked about the past, now let’s talk about the future. We have a new rule package, trying to level the playing field with the Indians, the Harley’s are getting better every year. For 2019, what are your predictions?
KC: It’s going to be a good season. I think it’s going to be more competitive than year’s past, even last year. With Bryan, I’m looking forward to seeing Bryan compete with Jared on the Indian and then Briar and Bronson Bauman on the Factory Indians, they’ve both showed a lot of potential. It’s going to be a heck of a show. I have no predictions yet. Even after Daytona: Daytona is one of those races where anybody can win. It’s not all about a bike. You need to have a good bike, but that place is more about the rider. I’ll let you know after Daytona maybe. We’ll have to see what happens! It’s going to be cool. Hopefully Harley and Vance and Hines are able to get some stuff together. We need that in the sport I think. They aren’t that close right now, and I feel for the guys, but it’s not the lack of effort from those guys at the shop. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve seen what they’ve got and how they work, but they need to put the puzzle together in the right way.
All in all it was killer day with Kenny. Although, I did not shred. Pure Sand. Motocross Track. I could barely move for two days. But hey, how many times do you get to say you went riding with the King of Cool?