You can read this as a tardy race report, or more appropriately as a glimpse at the most brutal motorcycle racing series and the emergence of a diminutive female as a competitor at the top.
No sooner does the national anthem hit its last note than an Apache attack helicopter soars upward, banks a few times for a good show, then thunders out of view. Seconds later the booming of the Apache is overpowered by the music of twin-cylinder motorcycles roaring to life. Mechanics lugging starter motors scurry out of the grid as the HarleyKawiTriumDucati symphony reaches full thunder.
The AMA track boss, a no-nonsense lady if ever there was one, stomps her way in front of the rows of bikes. She snaps her forearm forward at one-second intervals and points an authoritative finger at each rider. This touches off a volley of clutch-feathering/tire-spinning/front-lifting as each blasts forth on their warm-up lap.
Returning to the grid, they take their positions, engines revving purposefully. A few look around, most stare straight ahead at turn one. A trophy girl parades across with the 10-second sign. Riders crouch. Seconds tick. RPMs skyrocket. BAM, the flag drops!
The Sacramento Mile is underway.
The first thing you notice is the pack. The bikes circulate in one big mob. There are no back markers like you’d see in a roadrace. As the pack approaches on each lap, the ground starts to shake, there’s a deafening roar as they blur by, then they’re past and you’re hit with a high-speed dust cloud, like the tail of a comet. The sound fades and the cloud is gone as fast as it arrived. You pivot and follow the pack through turn Two, then Three, then Four. They tuck in, left hands on the tank, and here comes that ground rumbling again. All this in 38 seconds.
No wonder fans at The Mile know how to cheer. Arms wave wildly, fists pump, and everybody is out of their seat as the riders scream by. Every rider carries a nickname: “Flyin” Bryan Smith, Jared “The Jammer” Mees, and “Jersey” Jake Johnson—the number-one plate holder. To call it close racing is a woeful understatement. Bikes return to the pits with tire marks burned onto their side number plates.
In the Main Event so many vie for the lead that it’s a wonder the announcer can keep all the nicknames straight. It’s a five-way battle between Smith, Mees, Johnson, “Slammin” Sammy Halbert, and “B-Rob” Brandon Robinson. Smith is on board a Kawasaki, a Versys-powered 650 that is blisteringly fast. The bike has been specially designed to compete only on mile tracks, unlike any other at the race. The tank is a sliver that scarcely rises three inches above the frame. It’s a wonder the fuel inside is enough for the 25-mile Main event. But looking at the cutting-edge crispness of the rest of the bike and the sanitary nature of Smith’s pit, you get the impression his team knows exactly what they are doing. And when Smith tucks down tight against that low tank and rockets ahead on the straights, your impression is confirmed.
Johnson and Mees fight fiercely with Smith in the Main. The three form a tight pack for the whole race, with Halbert and Robinson keeping constant pressure, just a bike-length behind. At times Smith loses the lead but he reels it right back within a lap. When the checker falls they roar by, Smith taking the victory, then Johnson, Mees, Robinson and Halbert.
But the night’s show-stopper is the Pro Singles race and Miss Shayna Texter. Standing five feet sharp and weighing 95 pounds (with steel shoe), Texter takes command right off the line. She is the first to turn one and almost instantly establishes a gaping lead. A hard-fought battle rages for second and third, but Texter remains well ahead. It’s almost as though she’s running an entirely different race.
This affords time to study each rider’s stunning transition from full tuck on the front-straight to winging through turn one. In one motion they snap themselves upright to attention while their waist bounds forward from the back of the seat up onto the tank, right elbow shoots skyward as the bike tosses over and left foot touches down. With each, it’s a skill. With Texter, it’s poetry. While others seem to use their body weight to sling the bike into submission, her transition is so smooth as to be almost imperceptible. It’s as though the bike scarcely notices her tiny frame as it sails through the corner completely unrattled by the rough dirt below.
As the 12-lap race passes its half-way point, the pack of Stephen Vanderkuur, Jake Shoemaker, Dominic Colindres and Gerit Callies seems to expend so much effort battling for second and third that Texter might remain unchallenged for the win. But as the race nears the end, things change quickly. The pack suddenly catches Texter in what seems like three turns. Because they’ve caught her so quickly, the instant thought on every fan’s mind: Can she hang on?
Soon the answer is no. Vanderkuur and Shoemaker pass her in quick succession on lap 11. Deflated, the crowd watches what seemed like a sure win slip through Texter’s fingers. “She must be getting tired,” some say. As other racers close in on her, even third place now looks uncertain. But suddenly there’s no more losing ground. Texter is tucked in and locked on to Vanderkuur and Shoemaker. Four turns to go and, as with the whole race, her form exemplifies smoothness.
Charging through the back straight Vandekuur/Shoemaker/Texter are ankles to axles. It will be decided by the final turn, and the crazed crowd may bring down the grandstand. The pack charges in, pitches their bikes over and Texter begins to make her move. Sling-shotting out of the turn, they enter a three wide dash for the finish. Texter’s perfect cornering fluidity results in tremendous drive. Halfway down the straight she has passed Shoemaker and is closing on Vanderkuur to retake the lead—if only the track will allow her enough distance to get it done. She edges beside Vanderkuur, they streak across the finish line—a photo finish with her wheel just a spoke-length ahead of his.
The crowd goes into orbit as Texter adds to her string of firsts for women in motorcycle racing. With this victory, she is the first female to win a Grand National event at a mile-long track. “It just feels like a fairy tale,” she says.
Podium speeches and champagne wind down the night. Racers excitedly shuffle their way to each other’s pits to celebrate, skid shoes sound out a ringing thud on the sandy soil. Once the track is clear, officials open the stands and the fans take the infield to join the fun. No whiff of pretention – more backyard cookout than fashion runway. A meet-and-greet line forms at Shayna Texter’s pit, her giant grin is constant.
The house lights dim and fireworks erupt. On the far side of the track a couple of true devotees can be seen walking a lap of the sacred ground. They follow the blue groove of rubber that is the racing line, stopping every so often to gesture with imaginary handlebars. One kneels down and grabs a pinch of dirt as a souvenir.
Courtney Olive is a Motorcycle Daily Contributor who lives, rides, and writes in Portland, OR. Motorcycle time travel is one of his favorite pastimes.