Valerie Thompson Debuts at U.S. Nationals Two time Bonneville land speed record holder and former AHDRA racer Valerie Thompson moved up to the big time, making her NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut at the Big Go, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals ...
Valerie Thompson Debuts at U.S. Nationals
Two time Bonneville land speed record holder and former AHDRA racer Valerie Thompson moved up to the big time, making her NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut at the Big Go, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park near Indianapolis, Indiana. Riding her brand new, shocking pink and yellow S&S powered V-Twin, Thompson made a good impression on fans and competitors alike.
Thompson wowed the crowd right off the bat, posting the 13th best pass against a stiff headwind in the opening round of qualifying for the 16-bike field. To be in the top 16 after her first qualifying pass in the intensely competitive class was a huge achievement, one not lost on veteran announcer Bob Frey. He had the Indy crowd cheering for Valerie as she rode back up the return road, her fist pumping the air after a job well done.
qualifying round 1
13th Valerie Thompson left lane 7.290 at 176.67 mph
"I can't describe what I felt," said Thompson. "It was an amazing feeling, but that doesn't do it justice. I mean, I did it! Everything finally came together. I finally put it down the track and on the grandest stage of all!"
It is, after all, only Valerie's third season of racing. She bought this bike brand new from G2 Motorsports earlier this summer and set about assembling a crew. "I was talking to Jamie McNaughton, a friend from the AHDRA," said Thompson. "He said 'I've got these friends in Milwaukee that used to work with Tom Bradford. They might be interested in doing something.' So he contacted Rob Schopf and Jim Schneider and they said 'Yes.' So I went from Arizona to Wisconsin to work with them and haven't been back home since.
"They're great people. Jim's my rock. He's good friends with Eric Buell and made the first 500 original Buell chassis. He's very well known around this area. Jim's a real tweaker. I spend all my time at his Competition Research and Development shop. He made room for me and I've got my own little space that I've added a feminine touch to."
The team also set out a rigorous testing schedule to get Valerie acquainted with her powerful new toy, running 30 laps before coming to Indy. "Connie Cohen lit the match under me to get out there on good tracks in front of crowds. I called Jim and asked 'Are we ready?' and he said 'Absolutely!'
"I wanted to have a great performance at Indy, but be realistic about our goals, look good and feel good and do an excellent job. And we did that. We also wanted to beat our personal best, a 7.14 at 186 mph at Union Grove in Wisconsin." That number came within reach in Q2.
qualifying round 2
19th Valerie Thompson left lane 7.163 at 181.64 mph
Valerie's numbers improved dramatically on the pass, but her ranking in the field dropped somewhat as the veterans dialed in their machines. "We went there thinking we were gonna throw down realistic numbers and not worry about qualifying, but back came the racer in me!" said Thompson. "My goals had switched. We started thinking 'We can do this, we can do it.'"
qualifying round 3
22nd Valerie Thompson right lane 7.175 at 182.45 mph
qualifying round 4
23rd Valerie Thompson right lane 7.195 at 180.28 mph
But the dream got further away as the weekend wore on. Despite holding their own on the track, Valerie and the team had to watch as their ranking in the field dropped steadily. "It was disheartening to drop like that," said Thompson. "But we're still trying to do the best job riding what we were delivered. We've never fine-tuned the bike, never changed sprockets. We just ran the bike as it was set-up and did maintenance."
Finally, on Valerie's last shot to make the field, the crank sensor failed. It's a weak link in the current V-Twin package, and an all-too-often occurrence throughout the field.
qualifying round 5
24th Valerie Thompson left lane 7.396 at 147.44 mph
"I was tickled pink to go out there and make five passes," continued Thompson, who just a few years ago was racing her Fat Boy down Scottsdale Road. "It's a huge accomplishment just to go down the track and I'm really proud of myself. Every time I get on that bike I learn something new. I'm trying to surge like I'm supposed to at the line and make good, clean passes.
"So we're heading to Concord and making another attempt at it," finished Thompson, who's devoting herself to racing fulltime. "I do all the marketing, all the ordering, pay the bills and drive my truck to all the events."
Valerie's come a long way in a short amount of time. The Buell is a big jump from the V-Rod Destroyer she raced the last two years, but the former semi-pro cheerleader is driven to succeed. Including Schneider, Schopf, McNaughton, and Randy Hobena, Valerie had Lee Coffey, Jerry Cameron, Shawn Higbee and Ron Payne helping her out at Indy. She's assembled a formidable team to compliment her formidable determination.
Valerie Thompson races next September 11-14 at the NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway @ Concord in Concord, North Carolina.