In this week's Industry Insights we talk to the the Fox Racing Athlete Manager Kenny Day about his background in motocross, diving into the industry and becoming the team manager for Traders Yamaha, and eventually working at Alpinestars and Fox Racing.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Where did you grow up, and what are your first memories of motocross?
Kenny Day: Well, we just raced there recently. I'm from Budds Creek, Maryland. It's technically Mechanicsville, but I grew up about two miles from the track. I spent most of my life there and a lot of time going to Budds Creek and racing there. My first job, believe it or not, was at Budds Creek, picking up trash, cutting grass, and all the fun stuff. That's where it all started. I started racing when I was around seven. I don't know if Budds Creek was my first-ever race, but definitely the second or third.
Vital MX: You had two brothers that race also. So, it was in the family already.
K-Day: Yeah. I had two older brothers, Aaron and Chris, who were my heroes, the guys I looked up to. Thankfully, they were pretty successful with their racing careers. They turned professional and made nationals and those types of things. We were just a family coming up and going to the races every weekend and to Loretta's. I can't tell you how often I've been to Loretta's. It has to be close to 20 times.
Vital MX: It looks like you've raced it three times.
K-Day: I've raced it for sure twice. I raced it in 2005 and barely even made it there as an alternate. Then I went back in my older age, as I'd call it, in 2018 in the 30-plus class.
Vital MX: Which you won, and the Vault shows you also raced in 2013 in the Junior 25.
K-Day: You're right. Damn. See, I'm getting old. I did go there in the 25 class. I think I blacked that one out because that was a terrible year for me.
Vital MX: Fifteenth. That's not terrible. I mean, you qualified, at least.
K-Day: Oh, man, I was bad. I think I crashed multiple times each race I was on the track. I believe I got a big concussion one day but wanted to ignore it, and I just went out there. You know how it is.
Vital MX: What was your amateur racing career like? Were you a local phenom or a weekend warrior?
K-Day: I would say weekend warrior. I started young, and after 50s, I remember my dad put me on a 65, and I was pretty scared. I didn't know how to operate a clutch, and for whatever reason, I didn't have a big interest in it. My brothers were still racing, and I liked being at the track, but I didn't like racing, so I stepped away from racing for quite some time and returned when I was about 13. When I did step back into it, I went straight to a 125, and something changed for me. I don't know if it was just growing up or what. I'd say a lot was me watching my brothers race on the weekends and going to motocross schools like the Gary Bailey and Gary Semics schools. It's weird because all those things I learned as a kid about how to ride, technique, and being observant still translate for me now in my older age and position and being able to watch and learn. So, I came back at 13 and started racing again. At that point, I was a decent local rider and eventually worked myself through the 'B' and into 'A' class. I could show up at a local race weekend and win a class, and I did enough to hold a professional card. At that point, I'd hit the age where I was a little more into females, which held more of my interest. I just really wasn't focused on racing. So, when I turned pro, I attempted it, but man, it kind of stings still, but I never qualified. I always missed it by about half of a second. Realistically, that was the end of my racing career.
Vital MX: You were on the Warhawk Race Team in 2009 and went to some nationals. How was that?
K-Day: Dude, the attempts always felt like they were going good, you know? They just never really did. As I said, I'd always miss qualifying by half a second. Genuinely, I've never thought I was much of a racer. I can knock out some practice laps all day, but when the gate drop would happen, I'd just be in the back and never do anything with it. It was pretty frustrating. I think I made five attempts and still didn't make it. At that point, it was more or less, "All right, I think it's time to move on to a regular job."
Vital MX: Was that difficult to accept?
K-Day: At that point, I was 21 or 22, and I saw the writing on the wall. "This isn't for me to make a career out of." I'd like to do it, but I had a different perspective. I was young and in a different mental state. Nowadays, I still get to ride and do all these things, but I think about it more at this age than I did when I was younger.
Vital MX: Do you feel you missed out a bit?
K-Day: Yeah, I think so. I had much more to give in racing and perfecting my skill riding a dirt bike. I look at it a bit differently now. Now I feel I could potentially do it, you know? Maybe not to go out around the top 20 or score points, but I think I'm more capable of showing up and doing it now. So, you know, we'll see. That's another conversation.
Vital MX: That sounds like a challenge for next year in 2024.
K-Day: We've talked about it plenty of times. I even have all the support I would need from my boss at Fox. We've joked, "Hey, maybe I'll show up at Fox Raceway and just qualify to knock that off my bucket list." I've even joked about going out and doing practice, qualifying, and doing the first moto, but pulling off early and just going back to washing boots.
Vital MX: You grew up with Tony Archer and became his mechanic for a while. How did that come about?
K-Day: He's also a Budds Creek local. We probably lived 15 minutes from each other, and I've been watching Tony since he was on 60s. Throughout his young career, you could see he would go far with his career. Eventually, he transitioned to the pros when he was around 16. He was qualifying as soon as he jumped in, which is really cool. As his path started, he started getting more support locally to do more racing. I was working a regular job, but I had messed up my back and couldn't work. So, I was looking for avenues that allowed me to follow a path that I enjoyed. Randomly, I was talking to Tony, and he needed a mechanic, not that I really knew what I was doing, but I was like, "Hey, this looks like an opportunity. I'm going to take it." I think I was there more for Tony's mental state, keeping him straight and ensuring he wasn't overwhelmed. It was more being his friend, and that's kind of how it started. I was going to the races with Tony, and we quickly wrapped up an Arenacross Championship in 2014. It was cool that we did it together.
Vital MX: That gets your foot in the door with the industry, and the opportunity at Traders Kawasaki comes along. Which then becomes Traders Yamaha.
K-Day: Yeah, we started as a Kawasaki team and eventually transitioned into a Yamaha-supported team.
Vital MX: You start there doing a lot of different jobs and then transition into the team manager. Talk about that.
K-Day: I think it was being in the right place at the right time. We were a new team, and it took three really hard years of doing everything from driving the semi, being a mechanic, and managing that kind of stuff. Eventually, I got the role of team manager, and looking back on it, I was not prepared for that at all, but it's how the sport works. Sometimes, you get tossed into a position and have to make the best of it. That's really what I did. I tried to grind it out, and I did a decent job. When I finally got what I would call the manager job, I'd show up and walk into the manager's tower to watch the races with Roger DeCoster and these people. I felt so out of place because when you looked at the normal view of a team manager, it's normally past champions and these guys have crazy experience. So, I always felt weird in that role, standing in the manager's tower. It was new to me. Thankfully, everything the Trader's team tossed at me, the positions and the things that happened over the years, formed me into the person I am today. It helped me a ton to transition into this side of the industry where I'm a gear guy, essentially.
Vital MX: It appears you didn't have a problem making yourself uncomfortable. You said you weren't really prepared to be a mechanic. You weren't prepared to do what you did at Trader's, but you did it. You knew the opportunity was limited, and you took it and ran with it.
K-Day: I totally agree. One of the things that I was always pretty good at, especially when you're working for a privateer team where budgets were low, was making something out of nothing. That's something that translated from childhood or whatever it was. When I got into these positions where I didn't know what I was doing, I always felt all right. "I have to try my best to make the best out of it." That's a positive mental state, but also just putting in a lot of work and effort to try to make the best out of the situations. I'm so thankful for those times and being uncomfortable because you gain all the experience and know what's coming at that point.
Vital MX: Was the time with Traders helpful in building industry relationships?
K-Day: It's funny. I thought about this, and in those five years, I think I stayed under the radar. I was focusing on the team, and the relationships that I did have in the industry were with our sponsors. When I showed up on the weekends, it was always rush, rush, rush. You're trying to ensure everything is right for the team, and I never got to branch off and showcase myself to the rest of the industry. The year I decided to race Loretta's and won the 30 class actually brought me more recognition and spotlighted me in the industry. I was a team manager, and I was under a team setting. So, that actually brought way more of a highlight to me than the actual years of being a manager. It sounds crazy, but I think that's how it worked.
Vital MX: How did the Alpinestars gig come about?
K-Day: It was 2019, and Traders was joining together with ClubMX. When it was just Traders Racing, it was something I poured my heart and soul into. I was super passionate about it, and we drove that thing to the point of what I would say was a successful 2018. We got a podium finish at an East-West shootout with Luke Renzland. It was one of those things where it seemed like an unattainable goal. Once we hit it, I don't know why, but when we started the year in '19, I felt I had achieved the things I wanted to achieve with the team. It was time for me to move on to something more secure, which would keep me in the industry longer. I saw there was a position open at Alpinestars and applied not knowing what that position looked like. I assumed it was something similar to what I was doing as a team manager and that I could at least be decent at it. I had more experience than your regular person who was applying.
Vital MX: Once you got that job, were there helpful lessons from Traders?
K-Day: Yeah, everything that I learned. How you navigate dealing with athletes and their preferences, and at times, it's almost like I'm a babysitter. Most of the time, I am a babysitter. There are times when you will have to be a so-called manager. There are times you're going to have to be a friend. All those things that I built over the years at Traders, the minute I got to Alpinestars, I was very thankful because it made sense for the first time in a long time. I'm using all of those skills essentially.
Vital MX: How was that role at Alpinestars? How long were you there?
K-Day: I was at Alpinestars for about a year and a half, and it was a game-changer in my career. I say that because I spent those five years at Traders under the radar. People would see me at the races, but no one knew my name or anything about me. When I got to Alpinestars, that opened up a new window because I wasn't just there under one semi. I was there, and I was walking into every single semi in the paddock, and I got to meet everyone. A-Stars allowed me to showcase who I was because I got to work with everyone. I think that's where the relationship side of it came in. It was a massive part of my success in this industry.
Vital MX: You then move on to one of the most legendary brands in the industry, Fox Racing. How did that happen, and how excited were you to move on again?
K-Day: I was at A-Stars for a year and a half, and things were going really well for me there. I had zero intentions of leaving, but it goes back to my current boss, Austin Hoover. He was someone that I had known years before. We'd had some mutual friends, and he was the guy at Fox. I don't know what it was, but when he saw me in the role at Alpinestars, I quickly received decent feedback, so it opened the door. They were looking for someone new to come in and bring a new level of service to the Fox athletes, and I don't know why, but the person they wanted to call was me. So yeah, I got the phone call and was very hesitant. I actually waited after the first offer they gave me about three months. I verbally turned it down three times. As funny as it may sound, I continued to turn down the Fox gig because I was almost too afraid of a couple of things. I didn't want to be that guy who got into a position and bounced quickly. I didn't want to have that reputation. Another one for me was I felt my relationships with the athletes were so strong at the time. I was very close with Justin Barcia and Chase Sexton and felt I was letting them down. It took me a long time to think more for myself and not for the people I was working with and make that decision. I remember the conversation when I finally decided to take the Fox job and had to call Chase. I was so nervous to call him. He was super cool and understanding, and we still get along well, and he gives me shit all the time about it. Needless to say, I took the Fox job. Growing up in the 90s, Fox was the best brand. As a kid, all I wanted to wear was Fox. I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a job offer and 'be the guy' per se for the Fox athletes. I'm extremely thankful that I did because it's definitely opened up a whole new set of doors to my career.
Vital MX: Define your role as Athlete Manager. Most people would think hanging out with Adam Cianciarulo and Ken Roczen would be a dream job, but it's not always easy.
K-Day: A lot of people see me on the weekends and think like, "Man, I don't know if I want to do that job" because I'm rushing around all day, I'm dirty, wet, and you name it, but the weekend side of it is what I would say is the fun side. I'm doing work that's more or less easy. It's easier for me to run around and ensure everyone's good. When building gear plans, we must communicate with everyone internally at Fox. I talk to our marketing and design team about everything regarding what gear we will release to the public. It starts there with a gear plan that we create internally. I communicate with all the teams and then deal with everyone to ensure the product gets made and when it shows up. Once it does show up, I manage the whole process from start to finish. Once we receive it, I take it to the races. I attend every single Supercross and motocross race now. Occasionally, I'll attend other events, such as World Supercross with Ken Roczen or the Paris Supercross. I'm kind of doing everything. So, the role itself is massive. It's hard to explain to people how much goes into it. It's very intricate. Just a lot of planning goes in to ensure that it all happens on time. It's not just me, either. I always have to point out that it's a big team. For us to do what we do and for it to show up and look like it does on the weekend, that's a team effort.
Vital MX: Have you ever shown up with the gear for the weekend and had a rider not want to wear that colorway?
K-Day: Thankfully, no. Everyone has their moments and sensitivities. It's just something you learn with time, but no. Internally, we create such a good product and gear plan that even though the riders aren't going to have a massive say in all of it, what we are creating, everyone's stoked on. We've never been in a situation where someone says, "Nope, I don't like that color. I'm not wearing it."
Vital MX: Have you had a significant issue that caused a problem?
K-Day: Oh, yeah, definitely. Stuff happens from time to time that's out of your control. We have a good team, and we've had to act as a team. We've had weird things happen before. I can give you a brief example. At A1 this year, we had some weird things happen with Adam and his pants. He kept smacking the pant buckle on his handlebars and blew a pant apart every time he went onto the track. That's a situation that's really hard to be prepared for. You can have backup gear, but thankfully, we were close to home, and as a team, we worked together. One of our seamstresses came to the track, picked up pants, ran back to the office, and sewed all new stuff on it. Then they brought it back before the night show. I think you could ask any gear guy and crazy stuff happens, and you just have to be prepared for it. I think your preparation is always key in these situations. Fox is very supportive of how I want to run the program, and I have a van at the races that has everything I could ever need. We put in so much effort that when we show up at the race, I don't have to worry.