Interview: Ken Faught
Obsessed with creating the world's-best dirt bike rides
By Donnie Bales
There are few people who have accomplished more than Ken Faught and he is literally one of those people who has been there, done that. Here’s a quick glimpse of his accomplishments so you can get an idea of his extraordinary life:
*Former Assistant Editor of Cycle News
*Former Editor-in-Chief of Dirt Rider magazine
*Founder of MXracer & ATV Rider magazines
*Three-Time Motorcycle Land Speed Record Holder
*Co-Founder of Pole Position Raceway chain of indoor kart tracks
*Co-Founder of Soda Jerk – a high-end ready-to-drink vodka company
*Co-Founder of Speed & Sport Adventures
*Former co-host of Dirt Rider Adventures on Outdoor Life Network
*Former co-host of Motorcyclist TV on Speed Channel (Now Fox Sports 1)
*Former Board member of the North American Hillclimber’s Association
*Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America
*Graduate from Cal State Long Beach
I sat down with Ken at the Pole Position Raceway offices in Corona, California to catch up with him and learn about his latest venture into motorcycling:
Question: Tell us how you got into dirt bike riding?
Answer: I grew up in Santa Ana, California and a kid named Johnny Posca gave me a 1976 Indian MX70 in 1980. From that point I was hooked.
Q: Where did you learn to ride?
A: I learned to ride in an empty field about a mile from Disneyland. It’s now the Hyatt Regency Orange County hotel. I spent as much time in that field as possible.
Q: What has been your most-fun experience riding?
A: I raced motocross and off-road about 750 times, but my favorite aspect has always been riding off-road in beautiful places. I also like trying different things like professional motorcycle hillclimbing, trials riding, and even track days on a street bike at Willow Springs.
Q: What has been your most-fun experience as a journalist?
A: The travel has been the most fun. I have been able to ride in France, Canada, all over Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Peru, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Baja and much more. Nothing beats travel, nothing!
Q: Tell us about your most-fun experience as a photographer?
A: I am a storyteller and love creating memories through my work. I crew up shooting Fuji film, and love how digital photography has changed everything. In reality, the most-fun I have had shooting has been travel photography where I shoot for different clients like Bomber Eyewear, Lexus and Toyota.
Q: Tell us about your family
A: Amy and I got married in 1991 and have two kids, Hannah and Wyatt. They are absolutely amazing and the reason I work so hard. Amy is absolutely incredible, and I am very lucky to have her by my side. She supports everything I do and is my biggest motivation.
Q: What type of events have you competed in during your career?
A: Aside from motocross, I have competed in Arenacross, Vegas-to-Reno, ISDE, Grand National Cross Country Series, hillclimb, land speed racing, trials, AMA Hare & Hound Series, SRA Grand Prix, adult mini motocross, and a lot more.
Q: How did you get into land speed racing?
A: The founder of Dirt Rider magazine was an amazing man named Robert Petersen. He was a billionaire and began his career by starting Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines. He noticed the age of the racer at Bonneville Salt Flats getting older and asked us to come up with creative ways to help gain more interest in land speed racing. So, I worked with Rod Falkner along with Paul and Becca Livingston and we put together a Honda factory-supported effort where I got to use factory motors in 125cc two-strokes because they were switching to 250cc four-strokes. The following year we got a factory Suzuki ride under the Makita branding.
Q: Why did you start Speed & Sport Adventures?
A: I have wanted to start an off-road/dual-sport tour company since 2001. This is my favorite type of riding and I wanted to be able to share my passion with others at the highest possible level.
Q: How did you get involved with Mark Kariya?
A: I have known Mark Kariya since I was about 15 years old. He was one of the guys who really helped me a lot during the beginning of my career. We worked together at Dirt Rider magazine for a decade and he is the one who got me into international traveling. He’s an amazing all-around human, a top-notch photographer, and has a passion for off-road riding like no other.
Q: How did you get involved with Grant Langston?
A: It started off through Dirt Rider magazine, but then he became involved in Pole Position Raceway with me as an investor. I really like him a lot, and we started talking about doing a tour company in 2018, and the rest is history.
Q: How did you get involved with Vanessa Doleshal?
A: My partner in the Las Vegas go kart track, Brad Mark, asked me to attend a charity golf tournament and Hall of Fame induction for Floyd Mayweather and a few others. Vanessa and I had a lot of fun and started talking about our passion for travel and business. Over time she became one of my best friends and my “go to” for travel. We have been to Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas, St. Martin, St. Barts, and Exuma, along with attending lots of Supercrosses together in Houston, Las Vegas, Oakland, and more.
Q: How did you get involved with Destry Abbott?
A: I met Destry when I worked at Dirt Rider and I was lucky enough to race some of his Team Green Kawasaki’s in the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix and the Mammoth Mountain Motocross for magazine stories. Then, when he was diagnosed with cancer, I did a fundraiser for him at Pole Position Raceway in Corona, California. I think we raised about $40,000 for him. That brought us closer, and when I told him about the tour company, he said it was a no-brainer to become a partner.
Q: What is your goal with Speed & Sport Adventures?
A: Ideally, I want to build it up to doing 15 tours a year in the United States and expand to Costa Rica, Australia, Baja, Thailand and Europe. I want this to be the best of the best and am focused on growing smartly.
Q: How many bikes have you had during your career?
A: It’s crazy, but I figured out that I had over 700 bikes go through my garage in the last 30 years. That’s because the manufacturers would loan us test bikes for a year so we could do regular stories on them.
Q: What are your favorite states to ride?
A: Mostly the west coast in places like Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon.
Q: Do you ever think you will do international dirt bike tours?
A: Yes. We have been working with some possible partners in Costa Rica and Australia.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of motorcycling?
A: The experience of seeing new things in beautiful areas is what appeals to me most. It’s why I love touring so much.
Q: Who have been the most-influential people in your career?
A: Karel Kramer, Mark Kariya, Paul Carruthers, Tom Webb and Fran Kuhn.
Q: What was it like running the world’s largest off-road motorcycle magazine?
A: I was lucky enough to be in the magazine business during the absolute best times. It was before the internet diluted the print publishing business and the magazines were really profitable. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I got to work with so many talented people. It also taught me a lot about the motorcycle industry because I was dealing with some of the most-important decision makers on a daily basis. The education that I received from being a photojournalist was invaluable.
Q: What was your most-memorable experience at Dirt Rider magazine?
A: I have so many, but I really enjoyed the 24-Hour Torture Test that we did at the Petersen Ranch and at Glen Helen. I was lucky enough to create an invitation-only 500-person annual event and it attracted some of the biggest names in the sport.
Q: What was it like being on 60 Minutes II as an ambassador of the sport?
A: It was a really cool experience. CBS flew me to Cincinnati where we taped my segment on an episode that dealt with Supercross and safety. I was lucky enough to be selected with Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and Ricky Johnson. It was a complete honor.
Q: What is the wildest thing you have ever done with a dirt bike?
A: Dick Burleson and I put KTMs on the side of a Beaver float plane in Canada and I also used a helicopter to transport some YZ450s in New Zealand. Those were some over-the-top experiences that most people will never get to enjoy in their life.
Q: What’s it like being a pilot?
A: It’s absolutely incredible and one of my most-proud accomplishments
Q: What is the longest flight you have ever personally done as a pilot?
A: One time I flew from Temecula, California to Albuquerque, then to Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City, then to Orlando, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, St. Louis and then home. It was a 7-day trip with lots of adventure.
Q: What’s the longest race you have done?
A: The Vegas-to-Reno at 537 miles in one day.
Q: You were personal friends with Kurt Caselli and rode with him a lot. What was he like?
A: He was absolutely incredible ,and his dad was my “mechanic” at ISDE. I rode with him a bunch and even did a fundraiser for his Six-Days effort at Pole Position Raceway in Corona, California. He was so down to earth and just a great person who inspired all those around him.
Q: Elizabeth LaRocco is one of your best friends. How did you two start doing so much together?
A: She lives about a mile away from me and we have been good friends for over 20 years. In about 2018, we started working together and she’s become one of my absolute best friends. I can’t say enough about her and her family. They are always there for Amy and I, and that is very rare nowadays. She’s also my workout partner at Planet Fitness, so I am lucky enough to get to see her three or four times a week.
Q: How did Soda Jerk vodka come about?
A: I had been talking to my friend Craig Potter for years about starting a new business, and I approached him with the idea of creating an alcohol brand in 2019. I grew up with a friend, Kevin Wold, who was the brand manager for Jose Cuervo and Don Julio at different times, and we put together a concept. Then we spent 14 months formulating and launched the brand the day the California governor shut down all of the bars and restaurants. We fully had to switch up our strategy, but it’s been a fun experience.
Q: We heard the Pole Position Raceway brand of indoor kart tracks has entertained approximately 10 million racers. What can you tell us about this unique form of family entertainment?
A: I love making people smile, and the rewards that come with that are absolutely incredible. This is a lot of work, and it can be tough at times, but I never thought we would create a national brand with 16 locations nationwide.
Q: You were involved in the freestyle movement in the ‘90s. What can you tell us about your involvement?
A: Living in southern California and being a photographer and magazine editor opened me up to a lot of opportunities. I got to go out with the world’s top riders during their freeride sessions and I always had a camera with me. It was fun watching guys like Mike Metzger, Brian Deegan, Cary Hart and Travis Pastrana during the early days.
Q: You won a hillclimb event in France and have been involved in that sport for 20 years. What can you tell us about your vertical adventures?
A: Karel Kramer from Dirt Rider magazine got me involved in hillclimbing and I was lucky enough to take Jeremy McGrath to Billings, Montana, to compete in the most-prestigous hillclimbing event in the United States at the time. Its an incredible 20-second adrenalin rush!
Q: Where is your favorite place to travel?
A: Cabo, the Bahamas, Australia and New Zealand.
Q: Where is your favorite international place to ride?
A: New Zealand
Q: What is your favorite Supercross venue?
A: Anaheim, California, because of all the hype.
Q: What is your favorite AMA National MX track?
A: Red Bud
Q: Who is your favorite motocross rider and why?
A: This is tricky, and I don’t have just one. I like Ron Lechien because of his style, Jeremy McGrath for his domination, Bob Hannah for his attitude, Ricky Johnson for his determination and Travis Pastrana for pushing the envelope.
Q: What can you tell us about your father-in-law Mel Harris who was the head of Suzuki in the United States?
A: He is just a great guy who is very loved by the industry. I am very proud of all that he accomplished, especially the dominance he created in road racing, and the effort he put into getting Roger DeCoster, Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael to be on his team.
Q: Who are the top 3 greatest minds in the sport of motocross and off-road?
A: Roger DeCoster (KTM), Mitch Payton (Pro Circuit), Donnie Emler (FMF),
Q: How did you get to know Travis Pastrana so well?
A: I met Travis when he was 12 years old at Loretta Lynn’s Youth Amateur National and we have been friends ever since. He’s a huge fan of karting, so we have spent a lot of time together at Pole Position Raceway.
Q: Have you ridden in Costa Rica?
A: Yes, I love it there, but I separated my shoulder during an off-road ride near Jaco and they didn’t the type of medical facilities that I am comfortable with and it left a bad taste in my mouth. We are working on some Costa Rica dirt bike tour options right now, and our goal is to make it a world-class operation.
Q: You have done a lot as a commercial photographer. Who are some of your clients?
A: Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, KTM, Medieval Times, Lexus, Toyota, Budweiser, Bassett Salon Solutions, FMF, Pro Circuit, Fastway, Supercross, and dozens of smaller companies.
Q: Who are the most popular motorcycle riders in the world?
A: Easy, Valentino Rossi and Travis Pastrana. No one is more loved than those two.
Q: What advice would you give to others?
A: Find something you love and make a career out of it. Don’t focus on the money, focus on creating fun for others and helping them solve their problems.