Flat Track racing is a motorsport reserved for the brave at heart and quick of body. Stand on the inside of the first turn at any Grand National Mile watching riders charge in four and five abreast at 120 mph and see if you don’t get chills. Women who’ve excelled in flat track racing are few and far between, but fans of the sport have the good fortune today to be able to watch two of the most talented female riders ever to don steel shoes: Meet Nichole Cheza and Shayna Texter.
Cheza, 23, of Clio, Michigan, is the sole female racing in AMA Grand Nationals. She had a successful career as an amateur and then, in the class that is now called Pro Singles, she earned podium results. Cheza moved up to the top level, the GNC class, in 2005. She spent most of her rookie year injured or recovering from injuries and in ’06 she came back slowly, trying to regain her confidence. The breakthrough for Cheza came on the half-mile at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, on July 7, 2007 (Nichole says it’s easy to remember, 7-7-07) when she qualified for her first Grand National. It marked the first time a female rider scored points in the historic championship since Tammy Kirk in 1988.
“That was a real thrill, qualifying for my first Grand National,” Cheza recalled. “I was shaking I was so excited and emotional at the same time.”
Since then, Cheza qualified for two Grand Nationals each in 2007, 2008 and 2009. This past season, 2010, she had another breakthrough, experiencing a career best of qualifying for three Grand Nationals. Her best result in 2010 was a 13th at the Canterbury Mile in Minneapolis.
Cheza says it’s all about improving every year. Her immediate goal is to finish in the top 20 in the final standings. She ultimately would like to become the first female Grand National Champion.
“I work just as hard as the guys,” she said. “If I keep working and improve every year I don’t see any reason why I can’t run up front consistently.”
Following Cheza through the ranks is a 19-year-old sparkplug from Willow Street, Pennsylvania, named Shayna Texter. At 5-feet even and 95 pounds, Texter just may be the smallest pro rider in all of flat-track racing. Don’t let her size fool you—she’s one tough competitor. This third-generation racer from a famous racing family won numerous amateur championships and even scored a Pro Sport (now called Pro Singles) victory in 2008 in on the Vernon Downs Miles in Upstate New York.
Texter was hoping to follow Cheza into the Grand Nationals this coming season, but her family suffered major setbacks last year. First, her dad, former pro flat tracker and road racer Randy Texter, passed away in August, then just last month her grandfather Ray “Tex” Texter, the family patriarch and founder of Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Harley-Davidson, also died.
“It was a rough year for the family,” said Shayna, whose brother Cory is also a Grand National racer. “It was tough to focus on racing, but that’s what we do. It’s in our blood. Hopefully my brother and I can keep the Texter racing legacy alive.
“When dad died, it cut the funding for our racing,” she said. “I was hoping to go on to the big bikes this year, but I really want to win a Pro Singles race before I move up. Right now the plan is to move up in 2012.”
Shayna has a unique riding style where she often doesn’t put her left foot down in the turns, especially on clay tracks, instead keeping her foot on the pegs even when she’s in a full-lock broadslide.
“I think part of it is because of my weight,” Texter explains. “The quicker I can get the weight back on the seat after I come out of a turn, the sooner the bike will hook up. If I keep my feet on the pegs, that transition is faster. That’s the only problem I have being 95 lb., is getting the rear tire to get traction out of the turns.”
Cheza and Texter have become good friends. Shayna says she looked up to Nichole and often goes to her for advice as she progresses in her racing. Now the helping goes both ways.
“Nichole and I talk almost every day,” Shayna says. “At the track we’re constantly helping each other out. I come off the track and give her feedback and she gives me feedback. We constantly text and it’s kind of like we have a sister bond going on. Coming up through the ranks she definitely helped me. Now we kind of benefit each other.”
Both Cheza and Texter have become crowd favorites. When Cheza won the Dash for Cash on the Springfield Mile a couple of years back she got a standing ovation that lasted for a good minute. Texter, too, routinely gets the biggest applause when Pro Singles riders are introduced.
“I definitely feel the appreciation the fans give us,” Cheza said. “And when I’m signing autographs I constantly have people tell me, ‘my daughter or wife wants learned to ride a motorcycle because of you.’ Or they say because of me their wife or daughter comes to races with them. That’s a good feeling and I think Shayna and I do help inspire and give confidence to girls who want to ride.”
Both Cheza and Texter say they don’t want special treatment because they’re female racers. They both want to be on the track solely on their merits as riders.
“I want to be treated equally,” Texter says. “If I’m going to get an advantage, I want to help the sport out as a whole, not just to help myself out. I want to be considered a great racer, not just a female racer.”
While training at a local track recently Cheza was locked in a fun battle with a local rider. After they came off the track the local rider said, “I couldn’t pass you out there. I couldn’t get off the corners as well as you were. I felt like a girl.” Nichole laughed and gave the guy a good punch. “I’m sorry, not like you,” he backtracked. “I mean like a girl who doesn’t know how to ride.” Nichole said she and everyone else had a good laugh as the rider tried in vain to make good on his lame comment.
Indy Car has Danica, motorcycle road racing has Elena and Melissa and now flat track has Nichole and Shayna.
–Larry Lawrence, The Rider Files