Born Racer: Kevin Rentzell

Kevin at Heartland Park with the coolest move I've ever seen

Kevin Rentzell on-track race action
Kevin RentzellCourtesy of E-tech

Revvin’ Kevin Rentzell died last week when he left the road in a truck and struck a tree. We weren’t best buddies because we lived on different sides of the country, but our infrequent reunions were fun and always too short. If we’d lived near each other, we’d have been riding together constantly because we got along well and were only a year apart in age.

We raced against each other in AMA 600 and Superteams, plus a few WERA skirmishes, but I really got to know Kevin when Keith Code and Paul Winters invited me to help in the broadcast booth, back when CodeBreak Productions was airing the Formula USA series in the early ‘90s. Rentzell possessed talent, bravery and cunning…and those attributes are a whole lot of fun to watch. He was entertaining to be around, supernaturally fast, positively smartassey, yet laid-back in a way that attracted a lot of friends.

But the coolest thing I ever saw Kevin do, I saw live and from a distance of about two feet; I also must say I can’t remember a cooler move.

We were at Heartland Park Topeka at the AMA national, both entered in 600 Supersport. Somehow I got a better start in the main than Kevin did and the first lap was “very crowded”. This was back when we had heat races to determine Sunday’s grid because there were always a gazillion riders trying to make the 32-bike field.

On the second or third lap I’m trying my best to hang onto the leaders and went to the brakes at the “last possible second” for the Turn One 90-degree right-hander that was immediately followed by a 90-degree left-hander. Well, here comes Kevin up the inside on my right, outbraking me into this right/left Turn One/Two.

Kevin Rentzell wheelie race action
Kevin RentzellCourtesy of E-tech

My overloaded brain seizes on a tried-and-true strategy: “Turn in with him and then you’ll have the inside for the left-hand Turn Two.”

An instant before we tipped into the corner, Kevin threw his left hand up because he couldn’t make the turn. He jumped off the brakes and darted ahead of me, straight into the run-off area, leaving me a clear path into the corner.

This scene is imprinted on my brain like a digital video in high definition 1080p because I was at the limit in full-attack mode with nothing left mentally. But not Kevin Rentzell - he had some brain waves still available. It was an amazing bit of awareness: awareness of his entry speed, the tighter line he had to take due to his pass of me…and awareness that if he hadn’t given me that momentary wave, I would have turned in on top of him and crashed my brains out because he wasn’t going to turn into the corner at all. Maybe I wouldn’t have hit him, but I would have been forced to run straight with him. His wave delayed my turn-in and saved my race.

I had never seen anything like it, and still haven’t. To be “waved off” by a fellow racer in the heat of battle just doesn’t happen. For me, it not only saved my race, but it blew my mind. I, unlike racers like Kevin Rentzell, just don’t have the extra mental capacity to deal with thoughts like, “Hmmm…I’m in here too fast and can’t make the corner, so I’ll give Nick a quick wave to warn him.”

The last time I saw Kevin was at the Barber AHRMA finals last fall. We hadn’t talked in years but were immediately laughing about all the crazy stuff we did on and off the track. He was interested in YCRS and I told him he had an open invitation to guest coach “because a guy who wins that many championships always helps students”. We talked about racing AHRMA and how much fun “us old guys” were having.

There were some other people with us and I told them what Kevin did at Heartland Park. He didn’t remember it, and maybe it was a standard move for him, but it stuck in my mind as the coolest thing I’ve seen at the track. Some guys are born racers: guys like Revvin’ Kevin Rentzell.

More Next Tuesday!