Record-holding female motorcyclist to speak at Lincoln Highway event
When Stacey Bortz showed up to a motorcycle drag race with her custom Harley-Davidson, the reputation of the bike preceded her, as it had been owned by a male racer.
“People were aware of how much power this bike had, and they really didn’t expect a woman to come along and be able to ride it as well as the other owner,” said Bortz, 37, of Uniontown. “I actually beat his time. I ran it faster than he ever did.”
As the fastest female driver of a street-legal Harley-Davidson in the world, Bortz has been speeding past the expectations of others since starting her racing career in 2010.
The first woman ever to race in the Hot Street and Outlaw Street classes of the American Motorcycle Racing Association, Bortz will discuss her experience with the sport at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lincoln Highway Experience, 3435 Route 30 East in Unity, for the museum’s “Fast Women of the Lincoln Highway” event.
“I really want to break barriers for myself and for women,” she said. “Don’t question your ability to do anything that you want to do. Confidence and determination will take you as far as you want to go.”
Kristin Poerschke, office manager at the Lincoln Highway Experience, said motorcyclists love the Lincoln Highway, especially from Latrobe eastward, because of its winding turns and mountains. Staff learned of Bortz’s accomplishments from writers at Thunder Roads, a motorcycle magazine.
“Because she’s somewhat local, we thought that would be a cool twist on some of the programs we’ve done in the past, something different,” Poerschke said.
Bortz has had an affinity for motorcycles since she was a child.
“My dad used to have one when I was little, so I always would ride with him and knew I wanted to ride a motorcycle then,” she said.
She bought her first bike, a Suzuki 550, when she was 24, to ride for enjoyment.
Then came her first Harley-Davidson, an 1985 Ironhead Sportster, which she had built for performance. Two years later, she learned to race on a Harley-Davidson Super Glide.
She attended races with Gregg Dahl, owner of Gregg’s Machine Shop in Uniontown and crew chief of GMS Race Team. He has raced motorcycles since 1987 and holds numerous records.
Bortz quickly became fascinated with the sport, which is more challenging than it appears. Today she races with Dahl’s team on a customized Harley-Davidson.
“With bikes like ours, you don’t just pull out,” Bortz said. “You have them revved up high. It’s definitely an art. You have to learn how the clutch and the gas work together in the best way to get you off the starting line as quick as you can. That’s really where the whole race lies — in your first 60 feet.
“You can be a good racer, but you can’t guarantee that you’re going to make a good pass,” she said. “There are so many variables. Everything changes. The weather changes. The track changes. Your machine changes.
“It all depends on you and how you operate the machine, so that’s the challenge of it, but it’s also the beauty of it,” she added. “You’re constantly working on yourself to get better and competing with yourself as well as your opponents.”
In the association’s Hot Street class, Bortz holds the record for the 1⁄8-mile at 122.25 mph and the record for the 1⁄4-mile at 148.23 mph. She was the third female pilot to graduate from the Johnny Vickers Nitro School in North Carolina. She earned her top fuel license, which allows her to go as fast as a quarter-mile in 6.9 seconds on nitro fuel, on a top fuel Harley-Davidson.
Being the minority in a sport largely dominated by men, Bortz initially faced sexism from male competitors.
“There’s a lot of head games in racing, so I think they tried to use that to mess with me a little bit, but for some reason … that kind of pressure doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I just go out there, run my own race and focus on what I do.”
Through her success over the years, Bortz said she’s earned respect.
“There are men in different places we go that just don’t like the idea of being beat by a woman, but I think they definitely take me seriously and respect me as a racer because there aren’t a lot of men out there that would get on my bike and be able to make it perform the way I can,” she said.
Representing women in the sport means everything to Bortz.
“I always say that I’m a better rider because I’m a woman, not in spite of it,” she said. “I always tell women to try it. Just get on it and do it. There’s a lot of people that didn’t expect me to do well or told me I couldn’t do it, and I did it and I’m good at it.”
Dahl said he enjoys watching the reactions of people who have not seen Bortz race before.
“They just freak out,” he said. “They can’t believe what they’re seeing.”
Despite her impressive performances, Bortz continues to set new goals for herself.
“You can never go fast enough,” she said.
Nicole Chynoweth is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].