Angels and Airwaves' David Kennedy. Lead guitar player by day, motorcycle racer by night, er... make that weekend...
Pacing back and forth it’s easy to see David Kennedy is more than a tad uneasy. One could even say he looks quite worried: Earphones in and sweat dripping, his face buried in a fan. You see, Kennedy plays lead guitar and keyboard for the rock band Angles and Airwaves, so high-pressure situations are nothing new of the 33-year-old musician. Though the setting we are in for this story isn’t what you might expect. We’re not backstage with thousands of fans screaming for him and his bandmates to play a live show, or at a photoshoot, or making a music video. We’re baking in the hot desert sun, race gas melting our nostrils as the PA system announces: “Third call to grid for Race 7, third and final call for Race 7…”
That signals it’s time to suit up and go – Kennedy’s big road racing debut in Heavyweight Novice in WSMC at Willow Springs Raceway is upon us. But before we get there, let’s rewind a bit; 12 months to be exact. You see, we met David about a year ago at his first-ever trackday at Buttonwillow Raceway. He was taking it easy and just “trying things out” to see what the racetrack world had in store for this rocker on his custom urbanized Buell Ulysses.
“I’ve always had this fascination with road racing and road racers,” Kennedy explains. “I kind of thought of them like spacemen in their leather suits. Almost like Superheros even. I made it to the 2007 USGP in Monterey at Laguna Seca. My brother and I rode up for that weekend and just feeling the energy and being around so many raced-out fans with their bikes, leathers, etc. It was pretty awesome. Then when we actually got to see the race we were freaking out and were like, "how do we do this?"
Kennedy takes to the track on his Kawasaki ZX-10R at Willow Springs for his debut novice race.
It didn’t take long before he was hooked, routinely joining us at trackdays and even buying a Kawasaki ZX-10R
dedicated track bike. By no means is this an easy bike to learn on but at 6’6”, DK doesn’t exactly fit on anything smaller. A few months back, while riding at one of our tests, Kennedy declares: “I’m going racing!”
We all had a good-hearted friendly laugh at the hilariously-dry delivery of this random statement and then went about our day, not thinking much of it other than his usual funny antics as he’d only been riding on track for a few months. Looking back at it, from that point on Kennedy was religiously attending track days all across the left coast. None of us read much into it at the time, next thing I know he’s calling me and asking if I want to come out to watch his first race weekend at Big Willow. The guy wasn’t kidding. MotoUSA wasn’t going to miss this for the world. What a story: Rockstar goes racing!
“It's just like playing in a band I suppose,” he say when asked what spawned the desire to race so quickly. “No matter what level you're playing at, you write songs and you rehearse and then you play a gig – maybe it’s at your local club with 80 people or at Reading Festival in front of 80,000 people. It’s the same process. So when I finally started getting to the track more and more I needed something to work towards … it seemed to be the natural progression?”
Kennedy's previous bands include Built to Last and Over My Dead Body, after which he formed Box Car Racer and Angels and Airwaves with high school-friend Tom DeLonge of Blink 182-fame.
Kennedy is stoic and soft-spoken, yet hysterically funny, when you get to know his dry sense of humor, for someone who’s been musically inclined since the ripe old age of four. Some of the previous band’s he’s played with include Built to Last and Over My Dead Body, before forming Box Car Racer with Tom DeLonge of Blink 182-fame. The two have been friends since their High School days in San Diego. They had a few hits and made it pretty far up the chart but there was more to come. The two then followed that up as members of the group Hazen St. before making it big with their most well-known and successful collaboration to date: Angles and Airwaves (AVA). AVA has released two hit albums to date, headlined the massive Warp Tour and have a third LP due to be released in February 2010. And while his life and livelihood is still music, as AVA’s lead guitar, keyboard player and co-writer to much of their music, motorcycling has made a strong case for becoming his new favorite passion. And as it turns out, the two relate in far more ways than he initially thought.
“It’s strange but this is just like before a show, exactly like it,” Kennedy muses as we make small-talk prior to his big race. “I have that very familiar feeling of anxiety right before playing a show. It’s like when Joey Lombardo from Kawasaki (his mechanic for the weekend) pops his head in the trailer to tell me how much time I have before the race I get the feeling of wanting to ask him "How does it look out there?” “Are the kids excited?” “Is it full?" Exactly what I would do if our tour manager was coming in to tell us five minutes until the show ... it’s weird but I really love these moments.”
Now I must admit, while I’ve seen Kennedy getting faster and faster, I had no idea by how much. And when the curtain came down on his debut, we were all blown away by his performance.
Not only did David complete his first novice race weekend on two wheels, he won his first-ever novice race, topping a field of far more experienced riders.
The music man started the weekend clocking times in the 1:36 range, but by race time he had the bit between his teeth and laid down several 1:30s (6-second drop throughout the weekend). This was enough to get him to the front of the pack from 11th on the grid, rounding out the first lap in third and battling his way into the lead by the end of Lap 3. After making some daring, around-the-outside passes in his push to the front he kept his head down and held a steady gap on the way to winning his first-ever race!
This was all that much more impressive considering it was against a grid of far-more experienced riders, some of whom have been racing that class all season, while Kennedy had only taken his New Rider School that Saturday. Like I said, everyone was extremely impressed and maybe even a tad surprised. I don’t think anyone would peg the easy-going, laidback musician as being so aggressive.
“I probably can’t say exactly what was in my head during the race but I will say I'm pretty competitive so I was very motivated to get in front,” he said afterwards. “Also, all the advice from earlier in the weekend from different people kept popping in my head, ‘have fun … win’ (laughs). I have so much respect for the people that make racing their lives and also to the people that have really helped me out. Considering all of this, I wanted to do well rather than just ride around because it was the best way to show my respect for all their hard work.”
DK and AVA. Kennedy and his trusty steed stand in front of a prop the band made for a music video for the previous album.
And while he didn’t overtly show it, there’s no doubt the rocker was stoked. “Man, I’m pumped,” he continues. “I won and that’s what I really wanted to do … even if I didn’t admit it before. But the cool thing is just how intense and addictive it really is, it’s just an amazing experience.”
So additive, in fact, that when we visited Kennedy the week following the race at the AVA studio for a our photoshoot he had already registered for the next races at Willow Springs as well as an upcoming AFM club race up at Infineon Raceway in Northern California. And, so it seems, David Kennedy has officially joined the club and become a die-hard racer, or “spaceman” as he would put it…