Whatever Happened To... Kenny Roberts?

Racer Turned Duffer

If you ask Kenny Roberts, Sr.—America’s first and arguably most influential roadracing world champion—what he’s up to these days, he’ll glibly reply, ”I’m not doin’ nuthin’ but playing golf!’’ And while it’s true he’s living much of the time on a golf course in Saddle Creek, California, Roberts will, without much encouragement, readily assert, “I’m just a motorcycle person. I still love to ride!” That’s good to hear.

Roberts is a man who has to have a project. His entire racing career might well be characterized as such, and divided into three parts: racer, team manager and constructor. So, how might one categorize his most recent mission? That’s more difficult to define. It’s not exactly retirement. Roberts says that he leads a “more relaxed” life nowadays, but also allows that he’s sometimes busier than he wants to be. When it makes sense, there are the occasional vintage sorties, demonstrating the Yamaha TZ750 powered dirt-tracker at the Indy Mile and riding some of his period 500cc Grand Prix roadracing machines at Imola, Mallory Park and, most recently, Laguna Seca. There’s the Second Annual Kenny Roberts Rally in Japan in September, riding “awesome roads” from Tokyo to the southern island of Kyushu. Still in the works is a TV show in Las Vegas with F1 Max X Racing. Add in time off to ride his Harley and Yamaha at Sturgis; and, lest we forget, golf tournaments.

What is most affirming in Roberts’ view of his life in motorcycling, past and present, is that he has no regrets. That’s quite a statement. Viewed from a distance, the punishing, 12-year struggle to unseat factory domination of the GPs with a machine of his own making would have left many with plenty of regret—despite heroic efforts, the intended result never quite materialized. But then those guys…well, they’re not Kenny Roberts.

King Kenny got back in the saddle at this year’s Laguna Seca, turning laps on both the current YZR-M1 (above) and his “favorite bike,” the 1980 Yamaha OW48 (below).