Shayna Texter finding success -- and fun -- in flat track dirt bike racing
At 5 feet, 95 pounds, Shayna Texter might be considered a flyweight, but in the male-dominated American Flat Track Series, her 14 victories are quickly making her a heavyweight in dirt track motorcycle racing.
One of only two females in the rough-and-tumble sport of professional dirt track racing, the 27-year-old Texter is third in the AFT Singles standings this season with a shot at the championship. She's only 10 points behind Ryan Wells and trails leader Dan Bromley by 59 points with eight races remaining in the 2018 season. Her June 30 victory at the Allen County Fairgrounds in Lima, Ohio, came in dominating fashion.
After recording the fastest lap, she won her heat race, her semifinal and the 15-lap main event by nearly five seconds. The first factory-supported rider in AFT Singles history also provided Husqvarna Motorcycles with that manufacturer's first victory in AFT racing. And her accomplishment came with her own team, ST52 Racing.
"What has impressed me about Shayna is that she not only is very talented as a rider, but she's also very smart," said Gary Nelson, a veteran motorsports executive who raced in amateur flat track events in California as a teenager and now serves as Texter's mentor.
"[At Texas] I was watching Shayna and the team searching for that feel that she was looking for. Finally, I just said to her, 'You know a lot of times in racing you don't get the perfect setup, but you have enough talent and skill that you'll be able to make up the difference.' I think she took that to heart. She went out there and finished second in that race with a bike that didn't match the feel that she was looking for. I was quite impressed with that, because I think the light came on in her head that she has a ton of talent."
One could say Texter's talent is genetic. She began riding a motorcycle at age 3, but didn't start racing until she was 12. She grew up riding a dirt bike in the field at Harley-Davidson shop of her father, Randy, and watched him become the American Motorcycle Association U.S. Twin Sports champion.
In 2011, she became the first woman to win a Pro Singles main event, just one year after 48-year-old Randy Texter died from cancer. Her victory came at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, a fitting place since that track houses the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum where her grandfather, Glenn Fitzcharles, is enshrined.
Texter enjoyed success in AFT Singles, but when she moved into the premier GNC1 (now AFT Twins, custom-built twin cylinder motorcycles generating 90-plus horsepower) in 2014, she struggled. While riding for Richie Morris Racing, she made the decision last year to return to AFT Singles (production-based 450cc motorcycles with upward of 60 horsepower). She hadn't won in four years and she needed to regain her confidence.
And regain it she did. A quarter of the way into the 2017 season, Texter found herself in title contention. She eventually had to settle for a career-best third in the standings, but she recorded a series-leading five victories.
Still, Texter wanted a change for 2018, one that would allow her to return to her roots and the reason she started flat track racing -- to have fun and family involvement.
"I enjoyed my time with Richie Morris Racing and I had some great mechanics, but I wanted to be able to first and foremost have fun," said Texter, who competes against her brother, Cory, in AFT Singles. "For me, it was a lot of chasing championships when I was with (Richie Morris Racing); a lot of pressure to go out and perform every weekend."
This year a good friend from her hometown in Willow Street, Pennsylvania, is one of her primary mechanics. Her other mechanic is the father of her boyfriend, Briar Bauman, who competes in AFT Twins. Before they came on board, Texter was working on her motorcycle with her grandparents and stepfather.
"They helped me get the bike prepared, pack the hauler, work on stuff week-to-week until I could get my mechanic full-time," Texter said. "I still work on my own bike whenever they let me. I did a lot of work for Daytona and the first three rounds until I got my mechanic going. As crazy as it sounds, I almost enjoy working on motorcycles more than I do riding them just because of the challenge."
That hands-on experience is what Nelson believes pays dividends for Texter.
"She understands all of the changes that are available to her," said Nelson, a championship NASCAR crew chief, former NASCAR executive and now team manager for Action Express Racing in IMSA. "In flat track racing they do it all in a very compressed schedule. You get like five minutes of practice and then you have to qualify."
The heat races begin immediately after qualifying, then the semifinals, and finally, the main event. It's possible for a rider to be eliminated at any point along the way.
"For her to be able to work on that accelerated schedule, make proper decisions and make it all the way to the main event, that's quite a job for anybody," Nelson said.
In an effort to emphasize efficiency, Nelson invited Texter and Bauman to attend the Daytona 24-hour race so they could "see how we operate as a race team ... that you can calculate your moves."
After Daytona, Texter spent time training with Jared and Nichole Mees at their Florida home. Jared is the current AFT Twins champion and Nichole is a former flat track racer. They worked with the Concept2 rower and ski machines, some free weights and did a lot of running and bicycling. Texter views her weight and height as both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the track.
"You take me to a track that has right-hand corners ... and there's actually a jump, I struggle," Texter said. "It takes me a lot longer to get my foot down and get the bike turned. I struggle on the days the track is slippery because I don't have my weight to put on the rear wheel to get traction. When I talk about suspension, it's a disadvantage because there's nobody else out there with my size and weight and riding style. For me, there's no baseline. We have to figure it out and do our homework.
"It's an advantage at the mile [tracks] because I'm able to get tucked in and get straightaway speed a little bit better."
Texter noted Nelson was the person she "runs stuff by" on the weekend.
"He's always watching [even when he can't be there]," Texter said. "He knows how to win races. He knows how to win championships and he definitely helps keep me grounded."
Texter said her motorcyle number, 52, also plays a key role. Her father's number was 25, but that was already taken when she received her national number, so she reversed it for No. 52.
"It's solely in memory of my dad," Texter said. "For me, every time I look at my number, there's a cross in the middle and for me, that's kinda my connection to my dad up above."
Deb Williams is a North Carolina-based writer and former editor. She has covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. She has more than 30 years of experience covering motorsports and was the 1990, 1996 NMPA Writer of the Year.