If you’ve heard anything about Valerie Thompson, it’s likely the news that she accomplished an impressive 328.467 mph run on the BUB 7 Streamliner in 2018, making her the World’s Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer. Not only that, but Thompson is an eight-time land-speed record holder and a member of seven 200 mph Clubs, one 300 mph Club, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Those are impressive feats, but they just scratch the surface of who Thompson is as a racer and what she intends to achieve.
At the 2021 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials (Aug. 28 – Sept. 2), she will pilot the BUB 7 Streamliner across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in an attempt to break the overall motorcycle speed record of 376.363 mph, set in 2010 by Rocky Robinson on the Ack Attack Streamliner.
As fast as she is, Thompson has not always been a racer. Prior to dedicating herself to racing full-time and taking ownership at Valerie Thompson Racing, she worked in a bank – which inadvertently helped her take her racing career to the next level.
“I finally got laid off – they said I could move to Ohio or I could get my severance package and move on my way, so I decided to take a leap of faith and took a little time off to decide what I wanted to do,” Thompson said, reflecting back on the end of her 13 years in the financial world. “I could quickly go back into the banking industry. I was definitely a good employee and knew what I was doing there, but I knew that there was something else for me.”
Her start in motorcycle racing came shortly after this major life development. “I got started in racing because I was racing on the street, and somebody had told me to take it to the racetrack, and once I got there I never left,” Thompson reminisced. “I was hooked on motorcycle riding after my first time on a bike. It did not take me long to catch the fever.” That’s a feeling motorcycle enthusiasts everywhere are sure to share with the record setter.
While driven by passion, the beginning of her racing career was not entirely without hiccups. As a woman in a male-dominated sport, Thompson had to overcome some biases, yet persevered through them all. “When I was just getting started, I encountered some bias not only from competitors, but potential sponsors and team owners as well,” Thompson said. “The first time I raced at Bonneville, there were only three other female competitors, so we really stood out. A lot of people didn’t take me seriously until I established myself as a serious competitor capable of breaking records.”
Even so, Thompson still looks back on that time positively, keeping up her good nature. “I collected my first two records with team owner Keith Ball, who had a lot of faith in me and provided my first two rides at Bonneville,” Thompson said. “Now I have Denis Manning, designer of the BUB 7 streamliner and AMA Hall of Fame member, as a mentor and team director. So yes, I encountered some bias among males in the sport, but I’ve had many more positive experiences than negative ones. I’ve been very fortunate in land speed racing where you are judged primarily on what you achieve on the track.”
Setbacks happen at the highest levels of competition, and Thompson has experienced a mix of good luck and bad. In 2018, days after setting her 328 mph record, Thompson suffered a crash in the BUB 7 Streamliner in Lake Gairdner, Australia, a moment she is hoping to make up for.
“I’d just shifted the BUB 7 into 3rd gear and was building speed when high winds launched the bike 20 feet into the air, leaving wreckage for over a mile,” Thompson recalled. “We were less than 20 mph away from capturing the world’s fastest motorcycle title. That’s why I’m so anxious for the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials. We have the bike, we have the team, now all we need is a good track surface and fair weather.”
Thompson will be racing in the rebuilt BUB 7 Streamliner at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials. She’ll be strapped into the bullet-shaped fuselage and piloting the 500-horsepower streamliner for the first time since crashing at 363 mph. And she is nothing but grateful for this second opportunity.
Thompson, also known as the Queen of Speed, plays a lead role in the upcoming documentary “Rockets and Titans.”
“It’s about our team, along with the other teams that are competing for the record, and who will be the first to go 400 mph,” Thompson explained. “Denis Manning and the rest of our crew is a big part of this film, and you’re going to go to this movie and see the documentary and you’re not going to leave with a dry eye. Your eyes are going to be all wet.”
She laughed before continuing, “It gives me goosebumps and chills just thinking about sitting in the movie theatre, just watching it.”
Documentary features aren’t handed out to just anyone. Thompson has paid her dues, earning membership in seven 200 mph Clubs.
“When Kerry Alter asked me to ride his BMW S 1000 RR, that was the turning point of going over 200 mph,” Thompson said. “That’s where it started, this monstrous feat that I was really going for. I always wanted to be fast.”
Her dream was realized through her persistent efforts. Not only did she surpass 200 mph multiple times, she went on to pilot a motorcycle at well over 300 mph – her record-setting 328.467 mph run in the BUB 7 – earning her rare and prestigious membership in a 300 mph Club.
As exhilarating as these achievements are, there is another that Thompson is especially proud of earning: induction into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame. “It was recognition of my accomplishments over a long racing career, not a single event or record,” Thompson said, explaining why the honor was the most difficult to achieve.
That which is most difficult to achieve brings the greatest payoff. And in the case of breaking the world record for top speed on a motorcycle, with great risk comes great reward.
While the pandemic postponed or canceled racing events that Thompson would have participated in – including last year’s Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials – Thompson did not let that stop her from preparing for this year’s event. Her fitness regimen is a significant part of her training, and she picked up a new-to-her sport in preparation: pickleball.
“I’m not going to lie, I am a full pickleball player now,” Thompson confessed. “I just started playing in February and I’ve already built a court at home. I sometimes play for more than three hours a day. Besides a great cardio workout, it really helps with heat conditioning and improving my reaction times. I also have a personal trainer who guides my fitness regime which includes everything from weight training to my diet. The Salt Flats is an extremely hot environment where you can get sunburned just from the sun’s reflection off the white salt. Our typical race day is well over 12 hours, so conditioning is a top priority.”
Racing and pickleball may seem like two entirely different sports to a spectator, but to Thompson, they go hand in hand. “There’s so many similarities in pickleball and racing,” Thompson explained. “It’s good for me, because it’s acclimating me to the Salt Flats.” The 25-mile salt flat surface is intimidating, but for the Queen of Speed, conquering it is just a matter of preparation.
“Every time I step on the pickleball court, I feel like I’m in race mode. It gets me in race mode, so that’s my training,” laughed Thompson.
Of course, there is more preparation that goes into professional racing than just getting physically and mentally fit.
“I still have a lot of racing goals to fulfill and that requires funding, so I’m always looking for sponsors and team supporters,” Thompson said. “I am the best brand ambassador a sponsor can find, just give my teams and me an opportunity to show you. I also want people to know how thankful I am for everyone who has helped me chase my dreams. From sponsors, team owners, friends, and fans to my husband Ray, I could not have done any of it without their support. I can’t express my appreciation enough.”
The support Thompson receives all goes toward one giant feat.
“I have a front row seat to history,” Thompson said.
We’ll be rooting for Thompson as she attempts to break the world record. Stay tuned for our follow-up report after the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials.