Valerie Thompson has accomplished a lot in 15 years of competitive motorcycle racing, but she’s not ready to put the brakes on any time soon.
Valerie Thompson could say her lucky number is 376.363. It happens to be the miles-per-hour speed she clocked as she piloted her BUB 7 Streamliner motorcycle on that fateful course towards gaining status as the “World’s Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer.” And that number could get changed, as she’s not planning to put the brakes on her dreams anytime soon. At 52, she is an eight-time land speed record holder, a member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame, ranked on “Dealernews’ Top 100 Leaders in Powersports.” She has also co-starred in a Super Bowl commercial and appears in Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions television broadcasts as a celebrity vehicle presenter.
While she is also the only female rider featured on the “World’s Top 10 Fastest Motorcycle Riders” list, Thompson prefers to think that she’s blazing a trail for other women wanting to excel in the male-dominated world of land speed motorcycle racing. Certainly, this motivation comes across in the forthcoming documentary “Rockets and Titans,” from Executive Producer Dana Brown and P-51 Pictures. Brown, whose best-known film is the award-winning “Step into Liquid” (one of the highest grossing sports documentaries in history) and “Out of Nothing,” an equally acclaimed motorcycle racing documentary which captured Thompson pursuing her quest over the course of 18 months.
“I was immediately hooked on the thrill of high speed on two-wheels and have never looked back.”
“I welcome more female competitors in land speed racing and would like to see competitions that are half women and half men competing together on a level playing field…or road in this case,” she says, reflecting on her life since the completion of the film and her many accolades. “Some people think there are records for women, but there are not. It’s all about speed, and therefore, my goal is be the fastest person on earth regardless of gender. A racing bike itself does not know if the rider is male or female, its ultimate performance is based on the skill of the rider.”
Looking back on how she got to this point, she then insists it took a lot more than luck to get to that record-making land speed number. The Tacoma-native, who spent 13 years of her adult life in the banking world, was initially content in staying on a slower and safer track until her late 30s. However, a job layoff woke her up to realizing she wanted more out of life—to go faster and further in the world. It may surprise some that she bought her first bike at 38, soon after she lost her job. After attending Arizona Bike Week, she sold her Tacoma house, moved to Scottsdale, and threw herself into motorcycle racing at a time when others are either settling down or settling in to an existing career.
“I was immediately hooked on the thrill of high speed on two-wheels and have never looked back,” she muses, making it clear that age and gender should never be impediments in trying something new…and doing everything you can to get up to speed in something you want to be the best at it.
Thompson soon started cruising with a group of more experienced riders who warned her that, “If you can’t keep up, we’ll leave you behind.” Rather than feel daunted or intimidated, she saw it as a green light to hone her riding skills quickly and push herself to the limit. She also adds that being herself and ignoring chauvinistic detractors enabled her to blossom as a competitive rider.
“Let me tell you, it was not initially easy keeping up with those boys,” she says, beaming. “Today, those same guys are saying, ‘it’s not easy keeping up with the girls.’ I went from being at the back of the pack to being told to take my high-speed habits to the racetrack. Of course, in getting from then to now, it took a while before I realized I had the drive to be an excellent rider and formidable competitor. Through it all, people often told me I must be very happy because I had that ‘pregnant glow’ whenever they saw me ride my street bike. Once I discovered the power of that inner glow, I carried it with me down to the racetrack. Although I am not pregnant, of course, there is something to be said for a deeper sense of happiness coming from within.”
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Thompson explains that her sure-fire way of dealing with the gender bias inherent in the motorsports world was to focus on what she could control and maintain a positive outlook. “It proved to be the best way to deal with critics while producing optimal results for my sponsors, my team, and myself,” she continues. “By my second year of competition, I became a top qualifier at major racing events, eventually being ranked third in the nation out of 40 riders in the ‘All Harley Drag Racing Series.’”
Thompson and husband, Ray (who has a racing background and supports her goals by working with her racing team and promoting her achievements), now live in Paradise Valley in a home they recently purchased. While a healthy work-life balance is important to the couple, “retirement” is not an option, as they would rather live their best lives in the present. After all, racing has taken her and Roy all over the U.S. and the world. As she sees it, it is the only way to travel.
“When I was in banking, I was always saving money for my retirement years,” she says. “I’m 52 now and have learned that life is uncertain. None of us know what tomorrow will bring, so I’m spending my retirement funds now on what I enjoy most, which is re-writing racing history and breaking speed barriers. There’s an old joke about how to make a small fortune in racing … start with a big one! I quickly learned there was a lot of truth to that old saying now that I’m paying for travel, racing parts and crew expenses.”
“I love giving advice to women outside the world of motorsports because I can use racing as a metaphor on achieving goals despite a variety of obstacles.”
When she is not at the track or at a racing event, she and Ray embrace everything Scottsdale has to offer, from the great weather, to hiking and bike trails and the many consignment stores selling one-of-a-kind furnishings and accent pieces (“I recently bought two huge lion statues that are almost as tall as I am, and I’m still brainstorming names for them,” she says). Her other favorite free-time haunts include Sumomaya for sushi, Hillstone, Zinc Bistro in the Kierland, and CosBar for the rush of test-driving and buying new and innovative, luxuriant skincare and sun protection products. However, she will always find time to chat with other women and share her thoughts on how to get ahead personally and professionally.
“I love giving advice to women outside the world of motorsports because I can use racing as a metaphor on achieving goals despite a variety of obstacles,” she affirms. “There is joy in being able to give back to women, especially those interested in competing in this sport. I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned, even if they are competing against me.”