Elena Myers just might turn out to be a future Valentino Rossi-or would that be "Valentina"?At a recent track day sponsored by Kawasaki at the newly repaved Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (although the event was restricted to Kawasakis only, the entry fee was only $95-a great deal and an excellent corporate move that I feel more manufacturers should follow), I was approached by Kawasaki's Jeff Herzog during a break in the track sessions. "Hey Kent, would you like to run a few laps with Elena during her next session?"
I'd been watching Elena Myers doing laps on a ZX-6RR with only one other rider in tow for a few sessions already. When I asked why she wasn't riding with the regular groups, I was informed that the track regulations forbade her to participate in group sessions because of her age. She could only ride solo, "accompanied and under the supervision of a legally licensed rider/driver." So, how old is she? "12 years old" was the reply.
Most people would think that riding with a 12-year-old girl on a track would require a good dose of patience, figuring that you'd have to lead her by the hand around the course-but I knew better than that. There have been way too many instances when I've been riding along at a motocross track and some 12-year-old future Ricky Carmichael on a little 80cc motocross bike would suddenly appear out of nowhere and sail over my head as he disappeared into the distance. But roadracing is a different riding discipline, and the vastly increased speeds require mental precision rather than just outright aggression.
As I prepared for my session with Myers, SPEED Channel TV racing commentator Greg White pulled me aside and whispered, "Dude...seriously, man, she's fast. You're gonna have to pin it." Even with White's warning and my refusal to underestimate her riding ability, I must admit I was wholly unprepared for what I was about to witness as I rode up to her and said, "Go ahead...I'll follow you."
What I saw for the next five laps was not a 12-year-old girl, but a racer who displayed excellent track vision, very good corner entrance and midcorner speed and an excellent sense of traction on turn exits. Mid-Ohio is one of the trickier circuits in the U.S., yet Myers knew how to carry good momentum through the 2.2-mile circuit's numerous turn combinations that require getting one apex right to position yourself correctly for the next few that follow. And White wasn't kidding; Myers' pace was fast enough that if I slacked off the slightest bit, she would quickly pull a couple of bike lengths. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
I was even more impressed when I found out a few more important facts: It was only Myers' second time on a four-stroke production 600 (she mostly races 125 GP bikes and a 450 supermoto bike!), and it was her first time at Mid-Ohio. And she has been riding motorcycles for only four years. Clearly, Elena Myers is a natural talent of the first order.
"I'd heard a lot of stories about some girl riding a supermoto bike and winning endurance races up in Northern California from a couple of friends," says John Ulrich, Team M4 EMGO Suzuki owner and editor of Roadracing World and Motorcycle Technology magazine, "but I get so many calls from people saying their kid is the next Rossi that I'm a natural skeptic. My friends were pretty excited about this kid, though, so I arranged for her to attend a track day at Fontana [Raceway in California]." Ulrich was quickly impressed. "We put her on a 125," he recalls, "and next thing you know, she's carving up all the expert session guys on literbikes! Here is this little girl on a 125, never been to Fontana before, and she's shredding all the he-men on big 1000s like they were standing still. Chris [Ulrich's son, who races in the AMA Superstock Series] followed her around for a while and came back laughing and raving about her riding." Ulrich quickly signed her up for his "Kids: Don't Smoke!" junior racing program (promoting youth tobacco/drug/alcohol avoidance), giving Myers the necessary support to help her get some proper riding experience under her belt before she turns 16 and is eligible to ride in the AMA series.
Perhaps the greatest part of this whole tale is that Myers' parents are the exact opposite of the overbearing and controlling "tennis dad" syndrome you often see associated with an obviously talented kid like Elena. Even though Matt Myers used to race, he's not pushing his daughter into an alter-ego racing career and supports whatever she wants to do with her life. "She's just a girl who happens to love racing and seems to be good at it," relates Matt, "but if she suddenly decided that she didn't like it anymore, hey, that's fine with me. Her mom isn't crazy about her racing, but she supports Elena as much as she can." Despite Elena's love of racing, she's not neglecting other, more important areas of her life-for example, she's a straight-A student at her local school.
Elena Myers is determined to make it to the top, and she doesn't want any special dispensations along the way. When it was suggested that there are plenty of regional women's championships she could participate in, she quickly brushed those off: "I don't want to do that. If I'm going to be the best, I need to race against the best."
You might want to remember her name. I think you'll be hearing it a lot more often in the future.