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Valerie Thompson

America’s Queen of Speed

  • 4 min to read

The average observer probably wouldn’t realize how uncommon it is to view Paradise Valley resident Valerie Thompson at her home office, getting ready to wade through paperwork and do other mundane office tasks.

It isn’t that managing her businesses affairs is rare, it’s that seeing her at all while she’s working is quite the challenge. But when you consider she’s typically moving at over 300 mph, it’s understandable. 

Thompson’s “day job” is that of a professional motorcycle racer, and she’s one of the best. She holds eight land-speed records, is the first female member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club Board of Directors and is a member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

To say she likes to go fast is an understatement.

In 2018, Thompson piloted a highly customized, specially-built motorcycle called the BUB 7 Streamliner to a record speed of 328.467 mph, earning her the title of World’s Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer. 

Long before setting her world record, Thompson was a frequent visitor to Arizona during Bike Week. During that time, the native of Tacoma, Washington decided that the only place she would be willing to leave the northwest for was Scottsdale. In 2004, she decided to make her move and her motorcycle racing career began the following year.

“I had never left Tacoma. Vacations were to my garden, or to shop at the mall or to visit my parents and grandparents,” Thompson said. “I was not a traveler until I started riding motorcycles.” 

Since then, Thompson’s racing career has taken her all over the world, to places including London, Ireland, Germany, Slovenia and Australia. 

Shortly after moving to Arizona, Thompson recalls that a fellow rider told her that her racing and riding was “out of control” and that her fast-riding ambitions should be taken to an actual race track. 

“After learning how to drag race on my Harley Davidson Fat Boy, I learned that I had the need for speed,” Thompson said. “I felt like I was born with the need to go fast in my DNA.” 

Thompson started out her career in drag racing, but discovered that her real passion was in pursuing land speed records, so she started competing at the heart of land speed record chasing: the Bonneville Salt Flats. 

“When you’re a racer, you always want to go faster. You always want to be the fastest,” Thompson said. 

Thompson competes for top speeds at the Bonneville Salt Flats, which is a vast, extremely flat, 20-square-mile expanse of salt and mineral-covered land in northwestern Utah. Motorcar racing has taken place at salt flats since 1914, including tracks in Australia and Bolivia. 

Land speed racing is performed one vehicle 

at time, starting when the driver crosses the “safe zone.” At the start, the streamliner bike is towed by a truck until it reaches a speed of 50 mph. The truck then releases the bike and it zooms down the 10- to 12-mile track.  

“In a matter of ten seconds, when I go through the timing light…I’m going 320 mph,” Thompson said. “I have to finesse my foot, and quickly.” 

Thompson has been racing the streamliner for Denis Manning (owner of BUB Enterprises and builder of the streamliner) and Team 7 Racing or “BUB 7,” since 2016. 

The name “BUB” came to be after a friend of Manning lovingly called him “Big Ugly Bastard.” Manning looked at his friend and said, “That’s the name I’m going to give the streamliner.”

Racing motorcycles at 300+ mph also comes with its share of risks.

At last year’s World Speed Trials, Thompson survived a crash possibly caused by a gust of wind blowing her bike sideways. The motorcycle flipped multiple times and she slid for a mile before the bike stopped. She was going 363 mph. 

“I don’t remember doing any of the ‘Evil Knievel’ flips,” Thompson said of the crash.

Luckily, because of the frame of the bike and the many safety precautions, Thompson escaped unscathed. There is also a bailout procedure in case of emergencies, which Thompson and her team go over during tech inspections before each race. 

When the team is racing at the salt flats, Thompson says they truly enjoy spectators coming to watch the races. 

“When people drive by on the highway, they can see us race,” Thompson said. “Once you pay an entry fee, you can come in, walk the pits, talk to the racers. When we see people coming, we get excited. We get to educate people that come and see us.” 

At the next event, Thompson will also be racing the Target 550 Streamliner, a larger version or “car,” which has four wheels instead of two. On this machine, there are two Dodge Hemi supercharged engines and Goodyear tires designed to withstand speeds up to 600 mph. 

Thompson is always challenging herself and pushing limits. Her ultimate goal is to retire after achieving a 400 mph (or possibly 500 mph) run on a bike and in a car. 

When Thompson isn’t hanging out on two wheels, she loves to shop, relax by the pool and spend time with her husband and friends. And what comes next after she reaches her goals?

“I don’t know what I want to do after my racing, to be honest,” Thompson said. 

Thompson’s next race is August 10-16 during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats. 

Thompson stars in the upcoming documentary Rockets and Titans, which follows the people and teams competing in the “cross-continental battle for the world’s fastest motorcycle title.” The film will be out later this year. For more:

Awards and accomplishments

  • Only female racer on “World’s Top 10 Fastest Motorcycle Riders” list – 2019
  • Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame Inductee – 2018
  • Named one of the “Top 100 Leaders in Powersports” (Dealernews) – 2019
  • First female member of Dry Lakes Racers Australia (DLRA) 300 MPH Motorcycle Club – 2018
  • Recipient of DLRA “Fastest Lady on the Lake Award” (328.467 mph) – 2018
  • First female appointee to Bonneville 200 MPH Club Board of Directors – 2017
  • Recipient of “Top Speed Award” at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials (304.263 mph) – 2016
  • Guest Celebrity Rider/Speaker for International Female Ride Day – 2013-2019
  • Co-starred in Super Bowl Commercial
  • Featured in award-winning documentary films, including “Why We Ride” and “Mega Speed” (Discovery Channel) 

Bonneville salt flats

  • The Salt Flats were formed when Lake Bonneville dried up. The lake filled much of the Great Basin, which included most of the state of Utah. The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of Lake Bonneville.
  • The Bonneville Salt Flats are comprised of approximately 90% common table salt.
  • The crust of the flats is almost five feet thick in places near the center, with the depth narrowing to less than one inch near the edges.
  • The first land speed record was set in 1914 by Teddy Tetzlaff, who went 142.8 mph. Craig Breedlove was the first person in history to reach 500 and 600 mph at the flats. 
  • Knight Rider, Independence Day, SLC Punk, The World’s Fastest Indian, Gerry, The Tree of Life, Top Gear, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End were all filmed at the flats.