Interviewed by Aninda Sardar
Valerie Thompson is not a name many of us are familiar with, which is a shame really. For this girl from Scottsdale in Arizona can ride the wheels off anything that runs on two wheels. Don’t believe me? Just look at her bio and you’ll know I’m not kidding. She’s a seven times land speed record holder and is currently the world’s fastest motorcycle rider from the fairer sex, having clocked an incredible 304.263 miles per hour (489.663kmph) at the Bonneville Salt Flats. With numbers of Indian women riders steadily increasing, we, at Fast Bikes India, got talking to America’s Queen of Speed who mixes fashion and fast bikes effortlessly.
When did you get started on bikes?
Valerie (Val): I started riding motorcycles in 1999. After a back seat ride on a friend’s bike, I realized I wanted the front seat and throttle. I purchased a brand new Harley-Davidson Sportster on my first visit to a local dealership. Three months later, I sold the Sportster and bought a more powerful Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. I have been addicted to two wheels ever since. (Editor note: I eventually went to work for this dealership)
A lot of racers we know of got started on motorcycles because they had been exposed to motorcycles at a very early age. Was it the same with you?
Val: You are correct; lots of racers I know grew up in a family interested in cars, motorcycles and racing. That was not my experience. In fact, I was in my 30’s when I rode on a motorcycle for the first time. I know racers who were riding mini-bikes before they were 3! So yes, I came to my current vocation much later than most of my contemporaries.
Not every bike enthusiast goes into racing, what got you hooked to racing and speed?
Val: Two things really. One is physical, the other is more cerebral, an internal passion to achieve new goals, especially if its never been done before. Racing is a very visceral physical experience, a bit like riding a roller coaster. Everyone’s different, some people want the front row, and some folks won’t even get in line to buy a ticket. I’m a front row fan, I love the physical rush you feel going fast and the acute mental focus during the experience. I also thrive on reaching new goals and breaking barriers. I guess when you roll all that up, it translates to a passion.
What is it about speed that makes it so addictive for you?
Val: The euphoric physical adrenaline experience, the challenge of going 1 mph faster than my quickest competitor and the personal satisfaction derived from reaching one of my goals.
Can you tell us a little about the machines that you use in racing?
Val: Right now, I race three very different types of motorcycles. I own two race bikes; one is for NHRA drag racing, the other is used for land speed competition and setting new records. My new NHRA Pro Stock Buell drag bike has over 360 hp and is designed to run as fast as possible in a quarter-mile or 1,320 feet. My land speed-racing bike is a “lightly modified” BMW S 1000 RR that has achieved a top speed of 217 mph on a 1-mile racecourse. In land speed racing, course length varies, depending on the sanctioning body and type of record you are trying to set.
The third bike I race as a contract rider is the Team “7” Streamliner, owned by Jon Jans, Joe Harralson and Motorcycle Hall of Fame member, designer and team leader, Denis Manning. Unlike my conventional BMW that you sit on and ride exposed to the wind, a streamliner is designed so the rider is in a fully enclosed cockpit. The “7” is designed to be the fastest motorcycle on the planet. With a top speed of 304.263 mph (489.6 KMH) at the 2016 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials, I became the first female over 300 mph on two-wheels, earning the title of “Worlds Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer.”
When you’re not on a bike, where are we likely to find you and what would you likely be doing?
Val: (Joking) On the phone or the computer seeking sponsorship for my racing teams! Seriously, I’ve worked as a vehicle presenter for over seven years at two of the best auto auction companies in America, Barrett-Jackson and Metro Auto Auctions, here in my hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona. I also make 20+ celebrity appearances at trade shows and major motorsports events promoting my sponsors and clients, so spend a lot of time in our motor coach or airplanes. When I’m not working or traveling. You’d also probably find me in a kitchen. I love cooking and enjoying healthy meals, whether I’m at home or on the road. I enjoy spoiling my dog and cruising on my Harley, but my real addiction is shopping for high fashion high heels, going to Cos Bar for beauty essentials and getting my hair done at the DryBar!
If it wasn’t motorcycle racing, what do you think you would have ended up doing?
I would probably be working to help children or animals through a non-profit organization, possibly in marketing where I could help drive fundraising initiatives and public awareness.
Was it difficult to be accepted as a female racer? Can you tell us a little about the challenges that you may have faced?
Val: When I first started racing, there were fewer successful women in motorsports. So yes, I experienced some difficulties and resistance my first few years. Some racers or crewmembers made derogatory remarks, either to me personally, through “pit gossip,” or via social media. A few sponsors had concerns about females having enough physical strength or stamina to be a winner. Today, based on my achievements, and the success of many female racers in a variety of motorsports, I rarely experience that type of negativity anymore. If I do, I see it for what it is, let my record speak for itself and move on.
Have you ever been fined for speeding on a public road? Where did you get your first speed ticket?
Val: I don’t like to admit it, but the answer is yes, I received at least one speeding ticket when I relocated to Phoenix. In fact, that mistake encouraged me to visit the local drag strip where I could go as fast as possible in a safe and responsible manner. If you want to go fast, go to the track. The best way is the NHRA!
Three things you never ride without …
Val: That’s an easy one. First, I always ride with a high-quality helmet that fits correctly. Second, I always wear durable shoes or boots that allow for easy gear changes and braking. Third, I rarely have a passenger. I prefer to ride solo; it gives me more flexibility, better control and one less thing to worry about.
Over the last couple of years India has seen a tremendous increase in women riders in what had predominantly been a male domain. As a veteran rider, what would you say to the Indian rider at large, especially the women riders?
Val: Wow, I could write several books around that question. Rule #1: Safety first. Have the proper equipment, including proper fitting helmet, durable shoes/boots and gloves. Learn about the bike before you ride. Take a riding course through a local dealership. Always watch the traffic in front of you, make sure other drivers see you. And most importantly, don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it. Try it. You may love it or you may not, but you won’t regret that you’ve never tried it. I guess that’s been my motto in life so far too!
The Best protection any woman can have… is courage!!