When I was 25 years old, I decided I finally was mature enough to ride a motorcycle and stay alive.
I signed up for riding lessons. My instructor was this crazy Danish guy — Birger — the most passionate motorcyclist I’d ever met. His mission was to transfer his passion to each of his students. And I think he did pretty well as we all spent every spare moment cruising the beautiful Swedish country-side, eager to take every opportunity to learn all aspects of riding.
One day Birger took us student drivers to a motor stadion. It had a 2.5-mile long asphalt track with sweeping turns and long straight-aways. The purpose was to get us comfortable on our bikes without the distraction of traffic. Here, we could go at our own speed and practice shifting and braking without risk getting hit or be in anyone’s way.
After a couple of hours of doing laps around the track, I wastotally hooked.
After getting my motorcycle license, I immediately got a road-racing license and started racing that very same summer. In Sweden, you only ride motorcycles in the summer as it rains or snows too much during the fall, winter and spring — it actually rains too much during the summer too, but at least it isn’t crazy cold…
I think the stuff we learned in order to qualify for our racing licenses was skills that have stayed with me and kept me safe ever since. Everyone who learns to ride a motorcycle should have a mandatory track-day and learn to handle their motorcycle under various conditions and speeds without risking (anyone else’s) life and limb. The freeway is not the place to realize you don’t know what to do!
When I started racing in 1987, there were about 300 men and 5 women racers. That year was the first year there were enough ladies to start our own “Ladies’ Cup.” But the Ladies’ Cup was quickly renamed the “half-time show” by the media because we were all so damned polite to each other, drove carefully and pretty slow — no fun to watch OR race. Since we all felt that it got pretty embarrassing we instead decided we better just figured out how to beat the men at their own game. We wanted some action, and the men provided the action for sure.
I rode a bullet-proof bone stock 1980 Yamaha RD 350. I had purchased it from another racer who was ready for bigger and better things. The bike had already been raced (and sufficiently crashed) for six seasons when I bought it. I figured it would know its way around the tracks…
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “I’d rather crash than have a girl beat me!” Hearing that made me want to win even more, but on the other hand… I knew I was racing against stupid young testosterone that didn’t care if he took me out in the process of getting ahead of me — a 30-year old lady (he he). Dangerous. So I just had to be faster and smarter instead!
As a racer, I did pretty good! A couple of years after starting my racing “career” I was the fastest rookie of the year in the 400 cc class (2-stroke). Mainly racing men now since the other ladies were dropping out like flies. By the time 1990 came around, I was the only female racer left, racing about 30-40 guys in 125 cc stock, 400 cc stock as well as the new stock class I helped start, Suzuki RGV 250 Cup.
While my racing career was “hot,” I was lucky enough to attract some great sponsors. Nobody really cared about my racing results — which kind of upset me as I was pretty good! — they wanted to piggy-back on the exposure I got because the media loved the fact I was a female in a male dominated sport. The term “On Equal Terms at 150 mph” was frequently used in advertising featuring me and my bike.
For five years, I was sponsored by Q8 (Kuwait Petroleum) which back then was one of the four major petroleum companies in Scandinavia. I had free gas for all my vehicles including my car year round for years! That was a huge deal in a place like Sweden where the gas runs about $18/gallon.
Then Toyota of Sweden wanted a piece of the action as well and set me up with a customized Toyota Previa van. All lettered up and set up so I could transport my racing bikes inside it. Pretty sweet, if I may say so. And good on gas.
I still have the Kamasa tool sets that I was sponsored with. My man has an issue with keeping them in their respective boxes in the garage, but last time I checked, most bits and sockets were still there. I can’t believe I managed to bring all that stuff with me when I left Sweden! I’m still bummed I couldn’t bring my compressor though (would have been a 110/220 volt issue).
As the only female in a very male-dominated sport, the media loved me. The fact that I beat most of the guys made it that much more interesting I guess.
In 1990-93 I was in the media what felt like all the time. I was dubbed “Sweden’s Fastest Female (on Two Wheels)” and everyone wanted a piece of me — I was on talk-shows, news-shows, did interviews with radio and all major newspapers (which means about 2 radio channels and 3 papers in Sweden), as well as a couple specialty magazines and other publications. My USP (unique selling point) was apparently that I was blonde (Swedish, duh!), wore dresses and had long red nails.
I was invited to co-host a show called “The Guys in the Garage” — which was a great group of some famous bikers, motor-profiles, a comedian and a well-known mechanic and myself discussing motorcycles and riders. (I was looking at a video from that taping the other day — holy crap, my hair was huge!!!)
In 1994, EuroSport hired me to do live commenting for the Road Racing World Championship Moto GP. I soon learned that “Live” didn’t mean that we got to go to the GP races we were covering. Instead, it meant getting up at 2 am and trudge through sleet and rain to a tiny little studio in downtown Stockholm. There, we had to sit for 3-4 hours straight staring at two TV screens showing the race from some exotic country far, far away.
Besides the fact that it wasn’t as glamorous as I expected, I really sucked at being a commentator. I didn’t know much about the racers, the bikes or the locations and felt pretty silly for even being there. I had no idea why they wanted me for the job, but I started to realize that being a girl only gets you so far, being good at something takes dedication no matter who you are… So I quit that real fast. But not fast enough to not get some ridicule from my fellow racers. Oh well, I survived that too.
I didn’t really have a plan how such a move would become reality, but I came up with a plan that I thought would work well — approach American motorcycle companies and get one of them to hire me. Brilliant, right?
But you can’t just make cold-calls and expect someone to hire you over the phone just because you have a cute Swedish accent. So I figured it would be a good idea to visit the international motorcycle trade show in Germany and just go introduce myself to American exhibitors.
I hopped on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, loaded down with resumés and letters of recommendations (funny how easy those letters are to get, you’d think some businesses want to get rid of you!). At the motorcycle show I targeted American businesses that were based in California and simply walked in to their booths and introduced myself.
I managed to line up five-six interviews with some well-known businesses like Fox, White Bros’, Jeff Gordon’s racing team and a few others that I can’t remember off hand, who were nice enough to agree to a job interview — in the US.
So a month or so later, I got on a flight to Los Angeles where I rented a car and started driving around to do interviews.
That’s when I realized that I hadn’t done my homework very well — I had no clue that I needed a work visa or how to get one.
Needless to say, the interviewing didn’t go much farther after they realized I didn’t have a work visa.
Well, things have a way of working themselves out and a week later I got married to an American (and yes, we met in Sweden before I made all my elaborate US plans so perhaps he influenced me somewhat). And in December of 1996, we moved to San Jose, California.