Heavy Metal Affliction--Ken Kurtz Interview
Talking with Ken Kurtz is an easy thing, he is a personable guy. Despite his incredible driving skills and considerable accomplishments, he is definitely the kind of guy you could sit down and drink a beer or soda with. The man is not only an incredibly skilled driver he has a keen business sense. The guy can smell opportunity and pursues it with candor and vigor.
This exchange took place before Ken's "Heart of a Champion" monthly Rivals event started. And now, on with the show...
FM: First of congratulations on your latest podium and victory at the FIA WTCC/USTCC races at Sonoma. In our previous conversations you mentioned Infineon, now called Sonoma is you favorite track. Why?
Thanks, the podiums hopefully say a big thanks to all my partners. Sonoma as it’s called now, Sears Point to all of us old timers is definitely my favorite. Every track tests your driving skills, and your car differently. Each track has its own unique persona as well. Sonoma is a highly technical track, that requires you to bring you’re A-Game. It’s a track that if you don’t will eat you up fast. I simply love turns 7 thru 11 as they require both speed and technical skills, I can make up huge ground here on my competition. Sure, Laguna Seca is another favorite, but I really like the old school 1.6mi course better. It took Kahuna’s drive old Laguna fast.
FM:As a three time USTCC GT Class champion driver, your driving skills are obviously top notch. What do you think is your greatest advantage and what do you focus on to hone your skills when you prepare for a race?
That’s not a singular answer really. I would have to say it’s a combination of things. I’ve raced many talented drivers, and experience and patience are certainly key, but driving emotionless is one of my biggest advantages. But not solely. To hone my skills comes down to practice and experience. Experience is a huge factor in all forms of racing, I’ve met so many fast guys/gals/teens who can turn wicked laps but don’t understand how to play the chess game of racing.
The last thing I have to my advantage is my partners, some would call them sponsors, but for me it’s more about the relationship then the products. My job as a racer is to ensure I give them more then I take, and I constantly am in contact with my partners to ensure that I am always meeting that goal. Each of my partners is very strategic as well. Yokohama supplies me the best racing slicks, the Advan A005, TPiS built me an incredible 700+HP LS3 dry sump racing motor, Baer Brakes supplied me the 6R racing brakes which give me unfading braking needed to haul my racecar down from high triple digit speeds, OGracing supplies me with the safety gear I need to be safe, CustomVehicleWraps.com provides my partners the professional appearance they deserve on track, and lastly Weld Racing, I’m part of their R&D team. I work with Weld’s Engineers to build better stronger lighter race rims. My Weld Racing RT-S race rims are the exact same ones anyone can buy for their cars. Things we learn on track are fed back into the manufacturing process to improve the designs.
Ken's home office and man cave, this is where he has been laying down the blistering lap times in his Rivals event.
FM: Your Trans Am is awesome, what would you say makes the car so competitive year after year?
Funny you ask that. Every year we sit down and discuss my competition and honestly where they had me beat. Some cars might have me in braking, or turn exit, etc etc. We analyze where we are, and where they are. Then we look at where we can improve the car within the rules. However I have to say we’re pretty close to what I call the tipping point, not to be confused with a sweet spot. The tipping point is where you invest 1000’s of dollars to get fractional returns. The next steps to improve the car, become exponentially more expensive. So that’s where we are looking for partners to build out the C5R I have in parts. Even with all the parts I have we’re still $200k from completion.
FM: Season to season, how much refining and upgrading do you do to your race car? Or did you find the sweet spot already?
If there is a sweet spot, we haven’t found it yet. Every year Alan Blaine (Blaine Fabrication) and I do a lot of refining on the car, starting with safety. I’ve had a wreck or two, and racing is highly dangerous and no guarantees you’ll walk away. So starting with safety improvements then onto performance. I’m somewhat of a trendsetter here, in that I take a safety first approach before performance. My Trans Am is the only car presently in the USTCC which utilizes the NASCAR COT crash impact foam and door intrusion protection system. This off season we are going to look to improve the aero package on the car, to better manage airflow under, around and over the car.
FM: You also drive a BMW M3 at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, how do the cars compare?
If the Trans Am was a prized Heavy Weight fighter, the M3 is Middleweight champion. The M3 is light on its feet, what it lacks in power it makes up in being very light weight. I have to say fun factor wise, both cars are incredibly rewarding to drive fast. The TA has more top end, and the M3 carries more speed in the corners. Both cars are USTCC GT legal, and it’s always a close battle for supremacy on track.
Kurtz’s BMW M3, that he races in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill
FM: In an incredibly challenging endurance event like the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, what parts of you the driver are the most worn out by the 25th hour?
The 25 is not nearly as physically exhausting as it is mentally. By the time the race ends, and the adrenaline wears off you are just completely mentally spent. Usually after the race is over Sunday at noon, I head into town and go to the hotel and sleep until Monday morning. The other part that is hard is putting your trust in the other drivers to do their parts as well.
FM: You’re not just a champion driver, you’re involved in racing on many levels. Talk about what you are doing outside of driving but within racing?
Outside being a driver, I’m an official with National Auto Sport Association(NASA –not the space people). As an official for NASA, I’ve done every job function within the racing organization. From the high level stuff like event director, race control and race directing, incident review boards and more to other critical areas like safety and tow which are required to make each race weekend happen. I’ve done race instructing, as well as mentoring of the Teen Mazda racers to driver coaching as well. In addition to being a NASA official I’m also the USTCC GT series director. The biggest thing about being involved at this level as it gives me a better understanding of the racing business, and also affords me the ability to provide my partners better ROI as I can open doors for them.
FM: We are looking forward competing against you in your October Rivals mode event “Heart of a Champion.” How do you think your racing skills in Forza will match up against the community?
I’m looking forward to it as well. The Forza Community is made up of some fantastic racers, so I’ll have my work cut out for me. I expect a good number of people to beat me, but I’m not going to make it easy, I’ve been known to lay a few quick hot laps down in game. I might even sand bag my time a little early in the month, and turn the wick up later in the month. Just like I would do between practice and qualifying to the race itself. As for specific skills, it’s certainly helpful to know your way around the “track” and racing lines, and technique, as much translates across. Most of I think it will be fun to see who in the community has the racing bug like myself! One thing the gaming world has over real world, repairs. There is no fear of injury or totaling your car online. So people can be far more aggressive in the game, and do things you would never do in real racing, that is unless you are gluten for punishment.
A decal on Kurtz’s BMW M3
FM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, I know the Forza Community will enjoy getting to know you this month. In closing do you have any advice for those that want to try and make the jump onto real world racing?
Make the jump to real world racing. Well first I would suggest looking into NASA (nasaprocing.com) they have race programs which will take the inexperienced from learning to drive on a race track, all the way to competitive racing. Most people just aren’t aware that you CAN learn to race on a small budget. Some of the best competition out there is in the 2 race series which are least expensive, Spec Miata and Spec E30. If you have the desire to go racing, or just want to take your street car on track to go fast and become a better driver, NASA has a program to fit your needs and budget. For those even more on the fence they have programs like Hyperdrive, which gives you a small taste of being on track to see if it’s really for you. However I would encourage you to chase your dreams, but do it on a racetrack where the environment is controlled, and people are there to save you when something goes wrong. Now for those who are super serious, I’m working on a very large project which we’ll be looking for drivers, crew and more and will be based on NASA. So if you want to be a part of that, be sure to follow up with me at www.kmg-inc.net and join the contact list and tell me about yourself.
If you ever wondered what its like behind the wheel of Kutrz's 1995 Pontiac Trans Am, these front and rear facing videos of some of his laps shoudl give you a good impression.
Front Facing Highlight Video
Rear Facing Highlight Video
If you would like to comment about the interview please do so in the Ken Kurtz HMA thread. If you want check out how the "Heart of a Champion" monthly rival mode is going and the associated livery, tune and re-design Ken's car contest are coming along check out the community event thread.