Spotlight: Valerie Thompson

Marilyn HawkesApril 30, 2020
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Photography by Blake Bonillas
Photography by Blake Bonillas

Queen of Speed

Fans of Scottsdale resident Valerie Thompson know her as the “Queen of Speed,” a moniker she wears proudly. Thompson is the world’s fastest female motorcycle racer, a former banker who didn’t start racing until she was 38. A decade and a half later, she’s an eight-time land speed record-holder with membership in the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic stymied her goal of breaking a four-wheel speed record for the first time, on a Treit & Davenport Target 550 Streamliner – an alcohol-fueled vehicle equipped with two supercharged Dodge V-8 Hemi engines – at the World Speed Trials in Australia. If Thompson breaks the 415 mph record at a rescheduled event, she’ll be the first woman to break 400 mph in a piston-powered vehicle. “I’m 52, I’m fast and fabulous and I’m not giving up.”

What’s your top speed?

The fastest I’ve ever gone on a motorcycle was 363 mph, with a crash. But the certified record I got was 328 mph. So that’s my claim to fame, the 328. They don’t count crashes. [She walked away with minor cuts and bruises.]

How much do you worry about crashing?

I never think about crashing. I did crash in Australia [in March 2018, driving a BUB 7 motorcycle streamliner] and I got back in the car [the motorcycle she races resembles a car].

How are you preparing for the Australia race?

To get ready, I prepare mentally and in the gym. I have to handle 43 feet worth of almost 5,000 horsepower, so in order to do so, I really need to get some guns, more muscles. The acceleration is monstrous, but the adrenaline is there. It doesn’t matter what mph I go, it’s everything else that really matters, like making sure I’m shifting and paying attention to the timing lights. I go approximately 10 miles from start to finish and I don’t know what it’s like to go 400 mph, but I’m gonna find out.

Any good-luck charms?

I have a whole package of things that I take with me when I race. Right before I went to Australia and crashed, I asked my mom, who was in the hospital [and has since died], “How fast do you think I’m going to go? Write it down.” She wrote 380 mph. So, I took a photocopy of the paper. I have a rabbit’s foot from a friend and little note from my husband: “To the love of my life, you will and always will make me proud, so be safe. Go fast. I love you with all my heart.”

What is it like being in a male-dominated sport?

When I started racing, there weren’t a lot of women doing it. You have to create some sort of path for other people to follow. The bike or the car don’t know if you’re a male or female, and it’s not going to reject you because you’re female.

You have an adrenaline-seeking personality.

I do, but I didn’t know I had it until I started racing… That’s when my confidence started. You think you have confidence, but until you do something that is 100 percent out of your wheelhouse, that’s when you really feel like, “I got this. I can do it.” That’s what I say about everything.

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