If Shayna Texter’s last 12 months were a Hollywood flick, the dirt bike racer’s life might’ve been fictionalized into a swelling melodrama as she fought through a dramatic, painful nightmare of rejection and sexism.
On the big screen, the first woman to finish on the season podium in any division of professional motorcycle racing would’ve battled through an ugly boy’s club of chauvinism and abuse. She’d fight her 200-pound motorcycle through wolf packs of motorcycles carrying men ready to wreck her.
Fortunately, sometimes a little human decency finds its way into big time sports. In the real world of American Flat Track racing, the male competitors treated Texter like any other racer—even as the 26-year-old, Pennsylvania native whipped their backsides on the dirt week after week.
“I would say it’s 99.5 percent males on the Flat Track pro tour,” Texter says. “I know I’m the only female running in the single cylinder motorcycle class. But there weren’t any struggles getting the men to treat me the same as any of them. I look at myself as a motorcycle racer. I’m not female until I take my helmet off after the race. The other guys treat me like a racer when we’re on the bikes. I treat them the same.”
She adds: “The only place where a little extra competition might happen is in the paddock before a race—because my autograph line is longer.”
If “treating them the same” somehow involves regularly beating the male riders, Texter is correct. Standing at a modest five feet and adding only 95 pounds to her 2017 Honda CRF450R motorcycle, Texter won five national races in 2017 for a total of 12 wins for her career. She finished in third place overall for the 2017 March to October American Flat Track season, making her the top female in the sport’s history.
In fact, a perusal of motorsports history reveals she now ranks among the most successful women in any kind of racing—standing with drag racing’s Queen Shirley “Cha-Cha” Muldowney, INDYCAR winner and NASCAR star Danica Patrick and rally driver Michele Mouton—all women who raced alongside (and beat) men on a major stage.
The American Flat Track racing scene Texter calls home plays out on a short, oval course of dirt small enough to fit into any arena coast to coast. When the green flag drops, Texter joins a squadron of lightly armored riders as they roar onto the grit in a tight pack. Jostling for position, Texter continually drifts her dirt bike around the track—riding that razor’s edge between finding grip and dumping the bike.
She grabs what speed and acceleration she can along the tracks’ limited straightaways before she puts her boot down into the dust to counterbalance the motorcycle as she throws the machine’s back wheel into a controlled glide through every turn. Texter doesn’t steer the handlebars as much as wrestle them while feeling her way around in a long slide.
Flat Track is the only racing series that pits American-built motorcycles from Indian and Harley-Davidson against Japanese dirt bikes. And Texter was born to be the first woman to mount a serious effort in the sport.
Soft-spoken and measured in her responses, she’s clearly a veteran with interviews and doesn’t have to search for an opinion. That’s to be expected when you’re one of the bright young faces of a sport eager to build new stars ready for promotion.
Born and raised by a racing family, Texter remembers riding for the first time at age three and wanting to race immediately. Her father, Randy, was a successful motorcycle competitor himself on dirt and tarmac. He got his promising daughter into amateur races against the grownups before she was 13. Her father only got to see Shayna race as a pro for a couple years, passing away at age 48 in 2010.
While Randy didn’t have the chance to see his daughter win her first race in 2011, that initial victory gave her competitors the opportunity to honor her achievement and remember the passing of her father.
“I turned professional in 2008, as soon as I could at 16. I won my first national race three years later. That was a huge win and a big moment in my life. I remember coming off of turn four and coming to the finish line with the entire paddock of riders in the other classes standing out on the racetrack to congratulate me,” she says.
“While it was a huge achievement to be the first female to win an American Flat Track race, it was more emotional for me to have my first win without my father there. He taught me so much about motorcycles—how to ride them, how to race them, how to fix them. He taught me racing on a dirt track and the business side of racing. I had a love of motorcycles and racing bled into me as a family affair.
“That day I won my first national, I think everyone up there congratulating me were honoring him, too. So, it was a victory for me and my family.”
That family atmosphere still fills Texter’s racing life. Her 30-year-old brother Cory races in the twin cylinder class on the same tour. (Yes, she’s beaten him, too.) Together with their friends and racing teams, they manage an often grueling travel schedule as one big clan, hanging out with each other in the pits and saving the competition for when the lady and gentlemen start their engines.
“The lifestyle of a racer is tough. It’s a March-to-October season, so you’re on the road for seven months from track to track. It’s about 50/50 between driving and flying. It’s always hard leaving home, and I’m always missing family vacations. In this sport, we’re not living the luxury life that you see in MotoGP or Formula One.”
She adds, “But I love racing motorcycles, and that’s a short career, so I have to make the most of it.”
The lack of luxury and prestige Texter endures is symptom of a sport with a hardcore, dedicated fan base, but without the exposure and money of other major motorsports.
“I think my story isn’t about being a female in a man’s sport. It’s as a female breaking through in a sport struggling to make it big. In American Flat Track, we still need the money side to grow. A lot of riders have full-time jobs and put everything into their love of the sport to race on weekends. They use any money they win from one race to race the next, so the passion is deep.
“So, we’re still trying to get the word on Flat Track out to people. The sport grew in 2017. NBC Sports picked us up and definitely helped to bring us to a bigger crowd.”
While expanding awareness of Flat Track is the sport’s grand mission, Texter embraces her personal role in bringing more women into her brand of motorcycle racing. While she remains the only woman competing on the circuit on a regular basis, Texter does see a female face donning a helmet here or there along the tour. More importantly, she sees the female ranks growing in amateur racing—promoting a healthy crop of competitors just one generation behind Texter.
“I see [the young female ranks] growing every year. It starts with the fans as I’m seeing more girls attending the races. I’m meeting them in the paddock and talking to them when they ask for autographs. Now, there’s also a female class in Flat Track Amateur Nationals that didn’t exist when I first started in competition.”
With her breakout season of 2017 in the books, Texter will get a bit of rest before 2018 kicks off at Daytona Bike Week. She still needs to finalize her plans to join a new racing team, seek sponsorship deals and find out what bike she’ll ride next year. She hustles through all of that knowing that she won’t be a racer forever.
“I dream of going into the medical world, and I’m currently going to school for it,” Texter explains. “During the season, I was working on my bachelor’s degree online. I want to go into physical therapy or sports medicine.
“But even when I leave competition, I know I’m still going to stay active in the sport in some way, and I’ll be happy to see more women out there when I’m done.”
Perhaps that could be the end of Texter’s would-be Hollywood story—the physical therapist and former, accomplished and decorated racer watching a new generation of female riders chasing her records.