Kees Van Der Ven interview
Posted on November 20, 2023
A good friend from many years ago Harry Van Hemmen was one of the leading journalists in the sport in the 1970s and 80s and travelled the World with the Grand Prix series. A Dutchman with a very professional attitude to his work, Van Hemmen remains one of the true media legends of our sport and he was kind enough to deliver us this very cool interview with one of the all-time best Dutch Grand Prix riders, Kees Van Der Ven. Read below.
Kees Van Der Ven interview - Harry Van Hemmen
I have to start with a confession. During the preparation for my conversations with Kees van der Ven, I collected the main results of this multi GP winner in 3 classes. How long have I known Kees ..?.. more than forty-five years, that's for sure. Still, I was surprised when I completed his list of results. In the 70´s and 80´s I had been following the 500cc class where the money was for me, while Kees started his career in the 250cc. I had undervalued Kees van der Ven. OK that's step one. Step two was to make an appointment with my fellow countryman who has been living in Portugal (on the coast between Porto and Lisbon) for years. I worked with Kees as a journalist until 1990 and the conclusion still stands: Kees van der Ven is down-to-earth, honest, modest and always himself. Last month we had 4 days off for a 761 km ride from my place in Spain to Portugal. “Kees, it's time to catch up,” I wrote. “That would be nice Harry,” was his response.
I have put Kees' results in a separate list. Kees is the youngest of 6 children from a farming family in Bakel in the south of Holland. His brothers were fans of local motocross ace Frans Sigmans and so the youngest of the family also became interested in motocross. “With my nose pressed against Frans's shop window, I saw the beautiful motorcycles that were on display. At home we had all kinds of cross mopeds. My parents didn't allow me to race, so I had to hide the Rond-Sachs bike that I had saved up. A friendly neighbor drove me to the races and it soon was obvious when he drove into our farm in his Fiat 600 with a trailer. When I won my first race a short time later, my father became my biggest fan.”
His brothers Toon and Jan took the youngest Van der Ven under their wing. Toon became the man for the bikes and specialized in suspension. He expanded this into his VRS Racing Service, see Toon van der Ven's Facebook page. Jan was the man who took care of the timekeeping. Sjef Goossens was a friend of Kees and he joined as his mechanic. And after Kees started working for his role model Frans Sigmans, Kees van der Ven's career accelerated. “I learned how to be a mechanic working with him and on Wednesday afternoon when the shop was closed we would train together. This is how I became a much better rider. Until I started beating Frans, my teacher didn't like that very much.”
KEES VAN DER VEN'S RESULT LIST IS IMPRESSIVE.
His first national title was in 1975 in the 250cc Juniors. Van der Ven quickly rose to the national top and rode 250 GPs since 1977. He has eleven Dutch motocross titles on his list. Both in the 250cc (7x) and the 500cc (4x). Kees was a factory rider for KTM for most years of his career and on that brand he achieved his best results in the world championship: second, five times third, fourth, twice fifth, seventh and eighth to name only the top ten rankings. He won the COUPE des NATIONS a team race for countries in 1984 with John Hensen, John van den Berk and Jan Postema. Kees van der Ven became the very first (before Eric Geboers) Mister 875cc in 1986 after winning a GP in all 3 solo classes 500cc – 250cc – 125cc.
Kees was included 18 times in the Dutch team for the Motocross des Nations (500cc), Trophee des Nations (250cc) and Coupe des Nations (125cc) international motocross competitions. Should I continue? On to the enduro world: during the first Le Touquet beach race he broke a vertebra. Kees about this race and the first time: “I rode on a sloping side but didn't see that there was an open space to let cars through. It was a hard crash. For the French KTM importer, this 3-hour race on the beach in northern France was a very important race commercially. The following year I came back and won this beach race 5 times in a row.” Later he would also win on the Scheveningen beachrace in Holland.
Another striking result, at the end of the 1984 Six Day Enduro was held in the Netherlands around the Assen circuit. “I liked enduro riding. I had learned how to be a mechanic at Sigmans shop and quickly changing tires came easily to me. To my own surprise I won the 500cc class although I began the six days with an engine that would not start. I had sealed the carburetor with silicone because of a lot of water along the way. As a result, before the ISDE had started, I
already had 60 penalty points. Nevertheless, I finished second in the final standings after winning the final test in Norg. Oh well, maybe it's better I did not win my class because that might have cost the Dutch Venko-Honda team their Six Day overall victory.”
KEES AS TEAM BOSS.
Are we done with all of Kees' best results? Oh no. I remember his days as team manager of the CHAMP MOTOCROSS Team. In 2000 I was at the Finnish GP in Heinola and saw Grant Langston become 125cc world champion. The South African was in battle with James Dobb all year but won by a wide margin. Kees van der Ven was the team manager of the Champ team. “In 1993, after my own career, I had a role with the Chesterfield Team and their rider Pedro Tragter became 125cc world champion in Australia, but my part was limited. Pedro worked closely with his father Hans and they formed a strong duo. Grant Langston also had his father by his side, but he was very hard on his son and rarely satisfied. It was always about first place and they reached the world title with us and then continued in America. Erik Eggens was also in our team at the time and he became third in 2001. Erik was also a rider with an fanatic father next to him. Steve Ramon became our second world champion in 2003. And Ben Townley became the third 125cc world champion in our CHAMP KTM Team in 2004. He wanted to be the fastest on every track in every training- I worked closely with him.”
When I occasionally visited a GP at the beginning of this century, I always looked out for Kees to get his view on what was going on. It was mentioned in the motocross world that Kees van der Ven was a distant team boss. Kees explains: “I was certainly not a team manager who wanted to be in the spotlight. Who had the loudest voice after the race. Who came into the picture every race to prove his value for the sponsors and visited KTM every week. We worked with three people on the circuits: I walked around and looked at what could be better lines than the rider used. And how the engine sounded and whether the suspension was correct. Then I consulted with my closest team members, my brother Toon for the suspension and Harry Nolte who prepared the engines. Together we came up with the best bike for our riders. Jocke Karlsson was a rider who apparently took notice where I stood in the crowd. When I pointed out a better line, he almost ran over my toes with an immediate reaction.”
HOW DID A DUTCH COUNTRY BOY END UP IN PORTUGAL?
Everyone will agree with Kees van der Ven's fantastic list of results as a racer in the 3 GP classes. With Maico and KTM in the 250cc; with KTM in the 125cc and 500cc; finally finishing the 500c on a private Honda. This makes him the most complete, successful Dutch motocross rider. It is not without reason that I mentioned that Kees van der Ven is underrated. For those who want to know all of Kees' results, I would say search the Internet. For me it is more interesting to ask our main character: how did he end up in Portugal?
“At the end of the last century we had already been to several races in central Portugal. And then you meet someone from the area who says why don't you look for a house here if you like the country. So we bought an apartment in the village where I still live today. My accountant wanted to take over that flat when I found a larger apartment. A little later, a plot next to our next apartment was on offer to build a house. I then made a complete drawing myself with the correct dimensions and layout how I wanted my own house to be built. A large three-store house with a double garage at the bottom. And a big pool as I hate gardening. That sketch was then sent to the architect and the builder and I could closely monitor the progress of construction. Here people are flexible with construction, a big difference with the Netherlands. In the beginning we lived here a part of the year, but later we moved to Portugal permanently. I still have a place to stay in Brabant when I am with my son’s family and granddaughters.” As grandfathers, we talked about what it feels like when the children, especially the grandchildren, live far away. We agreed: everyone has his or her own life and nowadays you can be back in Holland in a few hours' flight.
Nine Years KTM Factory Rider
There are riders who have changed brands more often. There are plenty of athletes who fell into a black hole after their sporting successes and those who lost a lot of money. Kees van der Ven kept his act together! You notice that in everything. No boasting, no conflicts, no exaggerated demands. After a few years with Sigmans on Husqvarna and a Maico from importer Piet van Dijk, an offer was made. From Yamaha and not KTM. I listen to his fascinating his story. “During the 1980 Trophee des Nations races in Maggiora, Italy I was visited by someone from Yamaha Europe. A friendly Japanese.” That must have been Tanakasan who contracted Mikkola for the 500GP´s earlier I respond immediately. “Yes, it is possible,” Kees continues. “In any case, he made a proposal for what I could get if I signed for Yamaha. Contract money, bonuses, a mechanic and a bus. The complete package. What now I wondered. I'd never had anything like this happen before. You hope for it and now it became serious.”
That choice seemed to me a quick one to make, Kees!
“Well, things turned out a little differently because Gert Brouwer, the KTM importer, found out about it and immediately called Mattighofen. And then I received an invitation from director Trunkelpolz (the T in KTM – HvH). Harrie Goossens was the chairman of the Cross of Aces in Sint Anthonis. He also arranged contracts for many top riders in the Netherlands and abroad. Harrie traveled with me to Mattighofen.”
It would be the first and last time that Kees van der Ven sought advice! “Trunkenpolz opened with “you are not going to Yamaha because they are taking Neil Hudson.” Perhaps he knew more or the big boss was bluffing. I put that Yamaha offer on the table in front of him and that's how I went to KTM. I became a factory rider but was actually a test rider because I rode pre-production motorcycles. Fortunately, if something on a proto-type bike broke, neither of us ever complained about that. I never had the specially built bikes that Suzuki and Yamaha used. But I was satisfied with it. In the 250cc I continued where I left off with Maico. And I remained loyal to KTM, even though something happened at the end of 1983 that took me by surprise. Trunkenpolz's right-hand man, Kalmann Cseh called me and said congratulations. I thought how does he know that our son Kevin had just been born. No, he called that KTM would put me into the 125cc class for 2 years in 1984 and 1985. I didn't like it at all.”
TYPICAL KEES VAN DER VEN.
This is where a Van der Ven characteristic emerges that makes him so respected. He protested for a moment and went on with the job he was hired to do. “I had never ridden GPs on a 125cc bike. I was basically riding standard bikes up until then. In the 250cc, Jobé was my opponent and La Porte and they had better and better looking bikes in the eyes of many. We were the same age but in the 125 the big bulk of racers was ten years younger. About a week before the 125cc World Championship 1984 started, I picked up my new machine in Italy. I was able to train with it for a short time and it worked out well. It had a strong engine with a heavy crankshaft so you could ride it well on the throttle. We had the first Grand Prix race in Vittorio Veneto in northern Italy. Yes a hard track and I won both heats!”
Not only that, Kees, but after six Grand Prix years you had a machine that also looked great. OK, more important was that your 125cc KTM got off the start super fast. And when I look back at the videos now, that bike suited your riding style. That year 1984 you could have become world champion!
“I couldn't agree more.” After Italy, Kees won the opening heat in the Netherlands (Stevensbeek) but was hit by Jeff Nilsson in the second heat and disaster struck. “I fell on a jump, the swingarm hit my face and broke my eye socket. Strijbos won that GP. Two weeks later I was back in action again and won again three rounds in a row in Belgium and Austria, but had a puncture in the second race. The fourth GP was in Germany and I won it just ahead of Michele Rinaldi who came back from an injury and started that day with just 17 championship points. Another two weeks later, Roggenburg was in Switzerland and I broke my hand there. I often rode on the flat
spots of the track on the edge and hit a post with my hand. I missed San Marino and then Rinaldi and Maddii took the victories and I continued to suffer from bad luck. I dropped out seven times in 1984 with a flat tire.”
With 2 GPs to go, the World Championship standings were: 1. Maddii 271 points; 2. va der Ven 235 and 3. Rinaldi 229. “In Kuopio, Finland I even had a puncture in both heats; a double zero. Corrado Maddii would become champion that was clear with Luxembourg the last GP to finish the season. Too bad Corrado was torpedoed by Fanton on Saturday and broke a leg. As a result Rinaldi did not want to race because he thought Corrado deserved the title, but he was persuaded or forced. Michele became champion and I got stuck in third place.”
A BIG BONUS IN LE TOUQUET?
I think Van der Ven could have gotten more out of his career when it comes to money. However, he was satisfied with what KTM offered him. You won Le Touquet 5 times, you must have agreed on a big bonus, Kees? "No. I thought I could win a summerhouse like Carlqvist. Not so, I could get a free start in Dakar. Little did I know...” You handled your own affairs without much negotiation. “But I was satisfied with what was offered. Look, I rode in the Grands Prix with the Camel vest and those factory guys couldn't. Then, as the highest placed Camel rider, I won the biggest bonus.” Kees puts a big smile, I see a happy person in front of me.
In the 250cc he only had a chance at the world title for one year in 1982. KTM gave him a Moisseev engine in his machine. Kees won the USA Grand Prix in Unadilla. Good for the KTM sales. “One week later KTM had made posters that said: KTM – Kees The Man.” But Van der Ven did not become champion. Oh one more time about Unadilla Kees, in 1987 there was the Motocross des Nations the biggest race for teams and the Netherlands should have won. That would have been amazing. You rode very strong with two second places, John van den Berk fought like a lion but Dave Strijbos let you guys down. “Yes, he was so busy with money matters and contracts that he performed far below his capabilities.” Nobody can take that victory away from you in the Coupe des Nations 125cc Nations Cup for teams. "Sure not. Rinaldi won twice and I finished behind him. John van den Berk also rode very well there and we had the ideal disruptor in Jan Postema who was one lap behind held up the Italians. They were furious but team Netherlands won by 3 points.”
STILL ON HONDA.
We lean back in the luxurious garden chairs. KTM ended their collaboration and Kees continued in the 500c on a private Honda in 1990. “I just wanted to try it on a Japanese bike, see if I had missed anything but no. It didn't go bad at all. KTM has done a great job right up to the MotoGP. But don't let KTM say they are one big family. If you don't perform, you're out. They kicked us out after winning 3 World 125cc titles for the brand. Very disappointing.”
One conclusion is easy to draw after this story: Kees van der Ven is satisfied with his performance and has done well business-wise. During the CHAMP years under the wing of Jan Tinnemans who marketed his Champ dog food, Kees learned a lot from this businessman. Afterwards he did a job for other teams and then left the sport and has been enjoying the peace and quiet in central Portugal for years. He speaks the language, is recognized by the locals and still enjoys his rides through the vineyards and forests. “No longer as a lead rider. Last year there was a tree trunk on a full gas straight and I flew off. Another vertebra broken.” Did you come out of the motocross career unscathed? “Well my left knee is bad.” In fact his injury list is pretty long. “Not long ago a broke my collarbone when I went too fast on my mountain bike and flew over the bars.”
TWO SPECIAL MOMENTS.
Finally, I think of two moments that always come to mind when I respectfully think of Kees van der Ven. After the Stadioncross in Amsterdam, 5 of his loyal fans asked me this question: “Harry, when our Kees is a frontrunner in races, how can it be that competitor Gerard Rond appears in the newspaper and on TV?” I explained that Gerard cleverly chose the best wheel. In other words, he had contacts in the right place like newspapers and TV. “Okay, so after your explanation my fans knew what was going on,” Kees laughed. He wants to ad something. “Sometimes it said that Gerard had dropped out of a race with mechanical problem. But Gerard put his bike aside just when he thought he was going to be beaten.”
A second moment was Saturday, June 18, 2011, when I entered the pits of the Spanish GP in La Bañeza. I saw Harry Nolte come running towards me. “Have you heard, Mariëtte has died.” When I arrive at Kees' house in Portugal I see that his mustache is gone. “It did not grow on the sides anymore.” It makes him younger; he is now 66 years old (born 18 June 1957 – so that Saturday in 2011 was his birthday) and looks good. He leads us into the salon and we look at the photos of his granddaughters on the mantelpiece. In the middle I notice an old black and white photo of a couple with a small child on their arms. “That's Mariëtte.” Just like that Saturday in 2011, I feel my hairs stand up and the emotions running to my eyes. He and his wife were always together. “Yes, she became ill and even had to be flown back to Holland quickly, but she died within two weeks.” Kees can talk about his loss. Together they had chosen Portugal as a place to live and completely unexpectedly she passed away. After some time he found a new partner in his village and feels at home in Portugal. We had long conversations that made such an impression on me that I wrote this story without listening to my recordings of our talks.
KEES VAN DER VEN RESULT LIST
250cc: 7 titles from 1975 to 1983.
500cc: 4 titles 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990.
World Championship 250cc: Maico 27th in 1978 (one GP, Schwanenstadt, Austria).
World Championship 250cc: Maico 5th in 1979 (first GP victory Hyvinkää, Finland).
World Championship 250cc: Maico 2nd in 1980.
World Championship 250cc: KTM 3rd in 1981.
World Championship 250cc: KTM 3rd in 1982.
World Championship 250cc: KTM 3rd in 1983.
World Championship 125cc: KTM 3rd in 1984.
World Championship 125cc: KTM 4th in 1985.
World Championship 500cc: KTM 5th in 1986 (first GP 500 victory Vimmerby, Sweden).
World Championship 500cc: KTM 3rd in 1987.
World Championship 500cc: KTM 4th in 1988.
World Championship 500cc: KTM 8th in 1989 (last GP win Huskvarna, Sweden).
World Championship 500c: Honda 7th in 1990.
World Championship 500cc: Honda 13th in 1991.
World Championship 500cc: Honda 32nd in 1992.
GRAND PRIX winner: 18 times.
GRAND PRIX heat winner: 33 times.
18 times member of the Dutch National Team in the Motocross des Nations 500cc, Trophee des Nations 250cc and Coupe des Nations 125cc.
COUPE des NATIONS winner 1984 with Hensen, van den Berk, Postema.
LE TOUQUET Beach Race: Winner 1982, Winner 1983, Winner 1984, Winner 1985, Winner 1986.
Winner of the SCHEVENINGEN beach race Holland.
Winner of 24 hour enduro of BRETAGNE France.
ISDE ENDURO World Championship 1984: 2nd in the 500cc, winner of the final test.
First MISTER 875cc: winner in 125cc, 250cc and 500cc GP since 1986 (Eric Geboers 1987).
TEAM MANAGER of the CHAMP MOTOCROSS Team with 3 world champions:
Grant Langston 2000, Steve Ramon 2003, Ben Townley 2004.