Kenny Cummings pursued motorcycle racing after a notable music career and discovered he had a special talent for that as well.
Rider: Kenny Cummings
Age/years racing: 50/11
Occupation: Owner, NYC Norton
Race bikes: Seeley Matchless G50, Seeley 750 Commando
Daily rider: 1974 Norton Commando 850, 1989 Suzuki GS500
Ask Kenny Cummings what it takes to race and he’ll respond with one word: Push. “Everybody’s got something inside them they may not know about,” Kenny says, “you have to push yourself.”
Kenny knows a lot about self-discovery. Growing up in Seattle, when he was in the seventh grade his mother gave him an ARP Odyssey synthesizer, a bribe to get his grades up. It changed his life. “It was really cool stuff, very complicated” Kenny says, “and it turned out I was very good at it.”
That’s something of an understatement, as Kenny went on to become the synthesizer programmer for Saturday Night Live after moving to New York City to pursue his music career. That led to work with notables like Elvis Costello, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle and more. “I was doing a lot of programming for them,” Kenny explains. “I started doing stuff offstage, and ended up onstage for a lot of it.”
Music stayed at the front, and after getting a record deal, Kenny went touring with his band, Shelby. “We were quite successful,” he says, “but I got into a big argument with my song writer partner and decided to take a break, and started racing motorcycles.” The jump wasn’t as out of the blue as it might sound. In the mid-1990s, Kenny bought a 1974 Norton 850, discovering after the fact that his father had ridden a Norton. “My dad has always been a motor head,” Kenny says. “He sponsored a top fuel dragster, so I’ve always been into racing. I guess that was some sort of weird latent thing.” At the same time, he registered the domain nycnorton.com, documenting his Norton restoration online.
In 2000, he got a featherbed frame and started building his first race bike. “I always wanted a Manx, but I could never afford one. So I decided to build a featherbed Commando,” he says. Kenny finished that bike and competed in his first AHRMA race in 2004 at Mid-Ohio race track. “I remember seeing Jay Springsteen, Tim Joyce and John Ellis,” Kenny says, “and now I’m racing those guys.”
More than just racing, he was winning, ultimately securing the BEARS championship four times. “When the economy tanked in 2008, I was taking every bit of free time I had and applying it to racing,” Kenny says. He’d built a competitive Seeley Commando 750, and when other racers said they wanted one, he bit. “Suddenly, I was making a living doing this,” Kenny marvels. In 2010 he incorporated NYC Norton, building custom Nortons for the street and track.
Moving into Formula 750 on his Seeley 750 Commando and, more recently, 500 Premier on a Seeley Matchless G50, Kenny kept racing — and winning. Along the way, his builds attracted the attention of Café Racer TV, appearing in two episodes.
Kenny’s proud of his TV appearances, but doesn’t like to think he’s doing any of it for the attention. “I don’t want to be a spark shooter. I feel like racing is the one thing I can hang my hat on. I try to be humble. I’m in awe that a human can have something inside themself they’re not aware of. I discovered at 40 that I had a skill inside me I didn’t know about.” MC