Kenny Blake was born Kenneth Maxwell Blake.
Kenny’s father was Allan William Herbert Blake, his mother was Edna Josephine Freekenhorst. Kenny’s father enlisted in the AIF in 1941 and was a motor driver. He was discharged on 23 October 1944 and he and Edna married two days later on 25 October.
Kenny was born a year later, on 27 October, 1945, although his tombstone shows his birth date as 27 October 1948.
His family lived at 8 Rowe Street, Strathalbyn, where Kenny and his sister Yvonne attended the Strathalbyn Primary School and then went onto the Strathalbyn High School. Rumour has it that Kenny used to hang out of the school bus door as it drove down the dirt roads to school.
After leaving school, Kenny worked at Gilbert Motors in Strathalbyn as an apprentice panel beater. At 16, he purchased his first bike, a Honda 125 “Benly”, working odd jobs in addition to his panel beating apprenticeship to pay for the bike.
He moved to Adelaide when he was 18 to pursue his career in racing. Kenny won the first race he rode in, which didn’t surprise his family or friends, as since he was a toddler, all Kenny wanted to do was to race motorcycles.
The Jesser brothers, who recognised his natural ability, gave him his start in racing. In 1969 he won, the Australian TT on the Triumph sponsored by L&D J Jesser at Surfers Paradise and repeated that at Phillip Island the following year. This bike is on display at the Birdwood Mill Museum in Birdwood, South Australia.
During this period, Kenny and his mates founded the Phoenix Motorcycle Club, dedicated to motorcycling racers and racing.
In 1970 Kenny transferred his base to Melbourne to be closer to the action, where he was given the new 500cc Kawasaki, 3 cylinder masterpiece to ride, with a top speed of 250kph.
He took the Kawasaki 500 to Bathurst and from a push start he set the lap record at 2.38 in the Unlimited Grand Prix. And then later in day in another event, the 10 lap Bathurst Bi-centenary GP, he set the sizzling lap record of 2.35.
In 1971, Kenny was sponsored by Jack Walters, a wealthy motel owner and motorcyclist enthusiast, who provided Kenny with a new 250cc and 350cc Yamaha for the 1972 racing season.
With sponsorship from Coca Cola, he went on to victory in 1973 in the 250cc Australian Road Racing Championship.
In 1973, he entered the Castrol 6-hour production bike race at Amaroo Park, a very tight and twisty 1.9km circuit. Although a two rider race, Kenny rode the entire 6 hour, 342 lap race without a fellow team member, he won the race. This solo ride was described as one of the all-time greatest riding performances.
The following year, Kenny won both the 350cc and 500cc titles on the Yamaha twin and the unlimited titles at Wanneroo Park in Perth.
The Yamaha TZ350 revolutionised road racing around the world. The addition of water-cooling in 1973 added a new dimension and enabling mechanical security for longer races.
In 1975, Kenny changed to a TZ700cc Yamaha and later to Suzuki RG500CC.
It was in the 1976 Australian 500 TT, where Kenny earned the famous tag – ‘the man who beat fifteen times World Champion Giacomo Agostini’. The Australian crowd (270,000 of them) went berserk.
Kenny made his European debut in 1978, initially on his Yamaha TZ250cc. He competed in 32 meetings that year. He went back in 1979 and 1980 with a new TZ350, which served him well. He rode in other parts of the world, including the USA and Venezuela.
In 1981 he went to the Isle of Man, it was supposed to have been his last race before retirement.
In the 500cc TT (the world’s most famous race) he was delayed on the start line with a fuelling problem that had forced him into last position on the grid.
In the fifth lap of a six lap race, Kenny was holding in eighth position after passing over 103 riders, when his bike aquaplaned, he slid and hit a concrete post and was killed instantly.
Kenneth Maxwell Blake was an 11 times Australian Motorcycle champion. Some experts say that Kenny was the equal of more recent champions Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan, and he would have won more titles had he not been on a “shoe string” budget.