Published in the summer 2010 issue of MyLIFE magazine
People with a fascination for speed have assembled at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the deserts of northwest Utah for decades, to watch and to race high-speed vehicles of all types. Numerous world land speed records have been set at Bonneville, where the smooth salt surface is ideal for racing.
In 2008, Leslie Porterfield made history at the Salt Flats of Bonneville by becoming the fastest woman on two wheels. She did this by recording a land speed record of 232.52 miles per hour on her 2000cc modified turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa. In March, Guinness World Records named Porterfield the fastest woman in the world on a motorcycle, a title previously held by Marcia Holley, a motocross rider and stuntwoman who recorded a speed of 229.36 mph in 1978.
Porterfield is no stranger to the limelight. In 2008, she was named the American Motorcyclist Association’s Racing Female Rider of the Year. She also holds two other land speed records, clocking in at 240 mph at the 2009 BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials and garnering accolades as the first woman on a conventional motorcycle to enter the prestigious Bonneville 200 mph Club. She was also featured in a Discovery Channel documentary, “Speed Capital of the World: Bonneville.”
While her crew began prepping for the next round of speed trials, which begin in May in El Mirage, Calif., Porterfield took some time to talk to MyLIFE about how she got started in the sport, as well as her experiences and her goals for the future.
Porterfield said she started riding motorcycles when she was 16 years old because it was “a cheap way to get around,” adding that she “fell in love with it immediately.” She also learned to work on motorcycles and became equally passionate about that. “The passion came from having an old, beat-up motorcycle that I had to fix all the time,” she said with a smile. She began racing at the age of 19 and developed a keen interest in the performance side of motorcycles.
It was surprising to learn that Porterfield was shy as a teenager. “I really attribute a big change in my life to motorcycling,” she confided. “It’s something that I instantly clicked with and absolutely loved. Motorcycles are so unique, because of the people. If you ride up to a gas station and someone else is on a motorcycle, it’s such an icebreaker. People are really friendly in the motorcycle community, and I’ve met so many people.”
Four years ago, Porterfield opened a motorcycle dealership in Dallas called High Five Cycles. “Now that I have my own dealership, I can work in any department. It’s great! At times, I could be changing tires, looking up head gaskets for someone at the parts counter, or giving someone specs on a showroom motorcycle they’re interested in purchasing,” she said.
When asked if she has found it difficult to excel in motorcycle racing because she’s a female, Porterfield said there are advantages and disadvantages to being a female racer. “Having a smaller frame helps me tuck in on the motorcycle and be more aerodynamic,” she said. “Unfortunately, I have less upper body strength, which is a disadvantage.” Porterfield also noted that perception is changing and that women are becoming much more accepted in the world of racing these days. “It’s no longer just burly, tattooed men that ride motorcycles,” she joked.
Before setting her records at Bonneville, Porterfield was involved in a serious crash in 2007, in which she broke seven ribs, punctured a lung and suffered a concussion. But, she was determined to make history. “I got back on the motorcycle as soon as the doctor gave me clearance,” she said with conviction. “It was something that I was very passionate about and determined to do. It was great coming back in 2008 for the next event after my wreck and go from a bad accident to being really successful.”
Since the accident, she has studied the setup of her motorcycle, making subtle changes to suit her riding style and handling. She has also become more focused on the surface she rides on. “The conditions weren’t optimal in 2007 when I crashed, which was a big contributing factor,” she explained. “I’ve also learned to be more patient and not push the limits when there is an unnecessary risk.”
So, what’s next for the resolute racer and record breaker? “I don’t just want to be the fastest woman in the world,” she said emphatically. “I want to be the fastest person in the world. That’s what’s next. It’s a very high goal. I’m looking at that 250 mph mark.”
She just might attain her goal. Porterfield is building a brand-new motorcycle to race at Bonneville in September. “I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I’m hoping that it’ll be the perfect fit for me. It’s a lot of work. It does take a lot to build a really good and fit machine for Bonneville.”
Given her many accomplishments in a world that is still heavily dominated by men, it’s easy to see how Porterfield has become a role model for young women. “It’s amazing how many e-mails and phone calls I get from young female riders that are just now getting into the sport, wanting to start racing and needing advice, or some wanting to become instructors,” she noted. Porterfield admitted that she never expected to become a role model and inspiration to these women, but she feels it’s one of the greatest rewards to come of her success so far. “It’s really nice to be able to give them advice and give them inspiration to follow their dreams.”
Off the bike, Porterfield has a strong commitment to helping a charity called StandUp for Kids, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless children in America. “I met the founder of the program, Rick Koca, who shared many stories with me. Some were tragic, and many were great, inspirational stories of kids facing challenges and overcoming them. In my time as a volunteer, every teenager that I met has a touching story and unique challenge,” she said. In June, Porterfield and StandUp for Kids will raffle off a Honda CBR1000 motorcycle, and the proceeds of the raffle will benefit the charity.
Porterfield said she feels fortunate and blessed that she can make a living at something she’s so passionate about. With her attitude of determination and her expertise, it’s clear that Porterfield’s goal of becoming the world’s fastest person on a motorcycle is within reach. As she continues to achieve new milestones in her career, she will undoubtedly continue to serve as a role model for aspiring motorcycle racers and others with a serious fascination for speed.