AFT SuperTwins Team Profile: A Sneak Peek at Coolbeth-Nila Racing
Kenny Coolbeth Jr. decided early on that 2018 would be his final season. That final campaign would take the three-time Grand National Champion’s career to a nice round quarter century and provide him an opportunity to put a confidence-shattering 2017 well and truly behind him before he accepted his final checkered flag.
As an elite rider whose career bridged two golden eras of dirt track racing, Coolbeth brings a perspective few others can match. And now he’s here to witness the sport moving into a new era with the introduction of the premier AFT Super Twins class.
Coolbeth admits he needs to see it play out before making any proclamations, but he openly admires AFT’s desire to swing for the fences in an attempt to lift the sport to new heights.
“You look back in the Camel Pro days -- it was good then, and then it kind of stalled out for a while, and now it's picking back up. Some of the stuff I might not agree with, but I can't say that it's not going to work.
“Maybe sometimes you've got to step outside the comfort zone to try to make it even better.”
Even though he was ready to hang up his helmet, Coolbeth so enjoyed working with Nila Racing team owner John Weiss in 2018, he welcomed an opportunity to reinvent himself. For 2019, Kenny became the rebranded Coolbeth-Nila Racing team’s manager, mechanic, and even truck driver in order to pass the torch while simultaneously keeping the inner flame alight.
It’s not as if he was worried he’d grow bored and aimless ‘retirement’ -- Coolbeth keeps plenty busy these days serving as the distributor for Spectro Oils in all of Florida and the lower half of Georgia while raising a family -- but the offer sounded too fun to turn down.
“It's funny how it all worked out,” he said. “John and I became pretty close friends -- he's a really cool guy. John tells it how it is. He's old-school, and I like that. He doesn't beat around the bush, and he'll tell me if I suck or whatever. It's good to have people like that.
“When I made the decision to retire, I was ready. It was time. I wouldn't have quit if I went any racetrack and said I wish I was out there. I don't have the feeling. So that's good.
“But he mentioned doing select races this past year, and I was good friends with PJ Jacobsen and his dad, and I knew he was going to be back in the States doing some roadracing. So it kinda worked out to get my feet wet and see what it's all about on the other side of the fence.”
And what exactly did he find on the other side of the fence?
“I've found I want to win probably even more as a mechanic than I did on the bike. All the riders... we're all buddies. Those are the only friends I have, so it's cool to still go the races and kind of hang out with them. Obviously, not compete with them (directly), but in a different way I compete with them.
“It's pretty weird how I feel at the races. A lot of effort goes into being a mechanic. A lot of people don't realize just how much work it is to prep a bike week-to-week, nevermind if you have a problem at the track. That was pretty cool to find out, and I like challenges. I like proving people... I wouldn't say proving people wrong, but proving I can do something else, you know?”
Kenny’s well-proven experience was called on to aid Jacobsen in the mammoth task of reacclimating to the sport at the highest level following a decade spent dragging his knees across patches of tarmac the globe over.
And despite that time away -- not to mention heavy outside commitments battling for the MotoAmerica Supersport title and the resultant abbreviated AFT schedule -- Jacobsen and Coolbeth-Nila Racing made their presence felt in the form of three top tens, including a top-five at the Black Hills Half-Mile.
That’s not to suggest the successes came painlessly or effortlessly.
“It was a learning year for the whole team, not just me as a mechanic,” Coolbeth admitted. “PJ hadn't been on a flat track in like, shoot, ten years. But he did a heck of a job. He had some strong finishes, and he learned a lot.
“But it's tough to compete with these guys if you're not focusing 100% on flat track. PJ obviously had the roadrace gig going on and bouncing back and forth is hard. The competition here is really, really tough right now. Everybody pretty much has the same motorcycle -- the Indian is pretty much the bike to have -- so it's pretty even competition bike-wise. You've got to make up for it as rider.”
The Coolbeth-Nila Racing effort is not just returning next season, it’s leveling up. While still some weeks away from officially unveiling its rider, the team plans to take maximum advantage of the lessons learned in 2019 and apply them to a full 2020 schedule.
Coolbeth said, “We've got some stuff in motion here, and we're definitely going to be on the track for this upcoming season. We want to be competitive with all those top guys, so we've been doing some testing to prepare.
“It's going to be exciting. We're going to do all the races by the sound of it, and you know, we have a good rider that can win races.”
So heading toward the 2020 American Flat Track season, two years after his “retirement,” Coolbeth is still kicking around the AFT paddock, and his desire to win is stronger than it’s been in ages. And yet, he’s been proven 100% accurate in his assessment that he could retire from racing with no regrets, and likely with some success to come in 2020.