t takes a wise person to recognize the right time to retire, and an even stronger one to follow through with the decision. Ken Kent of H-D of Edmonton is such a person. After an illustrious competitive career spanning more than 30 years, Ken Kent and his Prairie Fire Racing Team have officially retired from the circuit.
I didn’t meet Ken until 1980 and I remember with great fondness those original motorcycle drag races in Prince George that ultimately spawned the birth of the CMDRA. In those early days, many (most) racers rode their race bike from their hometown to Prince George, BC, removed the mirrors and turnsignals, taped up the headlights and taillights, bolted on wheelie bars, and inched their way forward to often temperamental staging lights. Once launched, they pinned throttles and careened down tracks that by today’s standards would be deemed dangerous. In those days, elapsed times of 12-14 seconds in the quarter mile were considered FAST!
Over the years, the track conditions improved, new locations became available, skilled pit crews appeared, and ever-increasing horsepower was breathed into the drag-racing machines. Ken was a pioneer from the start. It was exhilarating to watch the evolution of the sport from its humble beginnings in northern BC, but the one thing that never changed was the remarkable camaraderie in the pits.
Joining Prince George were venues in Mission, Ashcroft, and Edmonton that formed the basis for a Western series that exists to this day. The veterans got faster and faster, and were soon flirting with Top Fuel technology that introduced a whole new level of excitement to the game. Ken was one of Canada’s first Top Fuel riders.
The Prairie Fire Racing team (PFR) made their debut in 1993. (of course, there’s a story behind that name…) With a monstrous (at that time) 132 cubic inch motor, Ken Kent roared onto the strip. With 20 years under his belt in gas racing, Nitro was new and exciting for Ken and his team of techs, Ray, Glen, Duane, and the beloved, late Dave White. Soon Ken and his team were travelling south of the border to compete in AHDRA events as well as the CMDRA events back home.
In 1998, riding that 132 cu. in. dragbike, the well-seasoned Ken Kent and his team of professional technicians made a significant and notable impact on the racing world when Ken became the first person in Canada to break the 200 mph mark in the quarter mile. I was there and can tell you that it counts as one of my top 10 motorcycling memories over nearly 40 years. Watching Ken hit a top speed of 202.33 mph in the 1/4 mile brought every single spectator in Mission, BC to their feet with shrieks of disbelief and exhilaration!
1998 was also the last year of the original track in Las Vegas before the new motorsport complex was unveiled the following year. Riding that same 132 cu. in. dragbike on the old ‘slow’ track, Ken accomplished what many experts said was impossible; he made not one, but three, consecutive 200+ mph passes in Las Vegas for a thrilling Hat Trick that remains one of his fondest memories. Notably, on the final pass, he was running against the legendary, late Jim McClure and was only beaten by 1/100th of a second!
Those American race events are something else. The presentation, professionalism, and sheer numbers of racers and spectators make for sensory overload. Travelling to both Phoenix and Las Vegas to cheer on Ken and our other Canadian Top Fuel racers was sheer heaven.
In 2000, PFR upgraded to a colossal new 175 cubic inch V-Twin engine with 800 horsepower! This new and improved machine featured a 16 gallon fuel pump running Nitro Methane, 2 complete fail proof ignition systems, 2 stage clutch with cannon, 14” tire as well as both a fuel timer and a clutch timer. In 2004, the team achieved an even faster top speed of 214.62 mph in 6.84 seconds!
Las Vegas continued to be good to Ken. In 2006, he was invited back to race at an exclusive and prestigious NHRA event that counts as one of his all time favourite experiences. He quipped that listening to 50,000 spectators in the stands cheering him on “curled his toes.”
Five years later, back in Las Vegas, it was fitting that during what ended up being Ken’s final weekend of racing in November 2011, he made his very best pass ever - 6.48 seconds and 219+ mph.
How do you retire after experiencing the G forces that Ken has? What takes the place of the hustle and bustle and intensity of all those weekends at the track (and the thousands of miles in between) where life is measured in micro seconds and grenaded motors are often part of the program? Only time will tell but for now, Ken is enjoying the ease of unstructured time to spend with his beloved family, and being able to hop on a new Harley and head out on the open road at a speed somewhat less than Mach IV.
Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada