Interview: Lehman Keen, the man behind The Keen Project Safari 911

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The Keen Project Safari 911 No. 2, photo by Alex Bellus

The Keen Project Safari 911 No. 2, photo by Alex Bellus

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Lehman Keen is best known for building Safari Porsche 911s, but before that he was a professional race car driver with a childhood that revolved around Porsches.

Naturally, his racing career mostly centered on Porsches, and at one point he worked for Hurley Haywood. Like everything in life, there are politics and some drama in racing, and eventually he burned out.

The Keen Project Safari started in 2013. Keen was working on a 964 Porsche 911 backdate project, which he sidelined to build a Safari 911. He executed his vision and almost immediately friends and others that heard about the car wanted one.

The Keen Project Safari 911 was born.

After driving The Keen Project Safari No. 2 build, Keen spoke with Motor Authority over the phone about his career, his Porsches, and the future.

(Answers below have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

ALSO SEE: The Keen Project Safari 911 first drive review: a time machine for any adventure

Question: How did you get into cars?

Answer: I didn’t really get into cars, I got into Porsches, because I knew Porsches before I knew cars.

My dad bought a black 930 when I was three years old. I grew up in that 930, which was pretty rough. He got a nicer, black 930 later, and he had that until I was about 14 years old.

The first race I ever went to was the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1995 and we rode in that car. I grew up cleaning the BBS wheels.

He sold the 930 and bought a 993 GT2 race car when I was about 14 and started in PCA. I remember at 15 years old being in the rear of that car hanging onto the roll bar while blasting down an airstrip at 175 mph.

Lehman Keen after a race win in 2009. Grand Am Rolex GT

Lehman Keen after a race win in 2009. Grand Am Rolex GT

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Q: How did your racing career start?

A: I started in PCA and quickly went into club racing as I was quick out of the gate. After winning each event, my dad put me in some professional races in 2004 and 2005. That evolved over the years to be something I could turn into a career. Eventually, I made the transition from amatuer to professional racing.

I was in a Porsche most of my career with some of the biggest Porsche race teams in the USA like BRUMOS Porsche and Alex Job Racing. I was heavy into sports car racing for 10 years competing in both ALMS and Grand Am ROLEX at the same time, and then in the IMSA series. The experiences were amazing including hanging out with Hurley Haywood, who ended up being my boss.

It was a pretty awesome run in professional racing from Daytona to Sebring, and being on the podium multiple times. Pretty cool stuff for a kid that started in PCA.

2011 Sebring 12 hours ALMS. Lehman Keen interviewed after qualifying on Pole in the GTC class

2011 Sebring 12 hours ALMS. Lehman Keen interviewed after qualifying on Pole in the GTC class

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Q: Why aren’t you racing anymore?

A: I got a bit burned out on it. I loved it, but it turned into a real job that became really stressful with a lot of politics. Eventually I didn’t enjoy it like I used to.

Although I didn’t do everything I wanted to, I checked a lot of boxes. Over time it just became a little less interesting.

Starting The Keen Project showed me I could be involved in the car—and Porsche—world in a very different way. Suddenly my focus wasn’t solely on racing anymore.

Q: What inspired you to do The Keen Project Safari 911, and how did we get here?

A: I’ve been fortunate to drive some amazing 911s over the years and my career, including the old vintage stuff, like a ‘74 RSR, 935 K3, 993 GT2, 993 RSR, and more. At this point I know what a good 911 drives like, and what a good 911 should feel like.

The Keen Project is now over five years old. I love what Porsche has with its East African Safari history. The whole idea was a car I could bomb around in, whether it’s downtown Atlanta or back in the woods. I didn’t want to worry about curbing a wheel, scratching the paint, or whatever else happened, and all the while I’m still in an old 911 with the feel and the sound.

In racing, you are evolving the car and making it better with tweaks. I’ve been doing that same thing here. Driving the cars to make them feel better, the way the clutch, steering, and everything feels, even how the motor revs. Starting with a great car, just doing little tweaks here and there to make it better is how this started and what it’s about.

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