First Sons of Speed Winner Brittney Olsen: Talks Track, Competing & Juggling Motherhood with RacingApril 25, 2018
A while back, I got a chance to sit down with first Sons of Speed winner Brittney Olsen and play a round of 20 Questions. We first met back in 2014 when we were both on the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run from Daytona Beach to Tacoma. I’d met her talented husband Matt a few years earlier in Sturgis through his father Carl, of Carl’s Cycle Supplies. Carl is pretty much the premiere knucklehead go-to guy in the U.S.
Fortunately for me, Matt and Brittney were willing to schlep my gear across country while I rode taking footage of the event. For that, I couldn’t have been more grateful. The only reason the two of them weren’t riding that year is because they’d just welcomed their son, Lock, into the world a little over two months earlier and they were driving chase truck for Carl with the baby in tow.
Miss Brittney, as family and friends refer to her, is quite an amazing woman with enough energy and enthusiasm for six people, and her success in life is not based on being just a pretty face on the racing circuit or from family connections. She is a fiercely dedicated racer whose success comes from hard work, ambition, endless research into a sport she’s passionate about and her competitive nature.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Sons of Speed is an old school racing event put on by custom bike builder Billy Lane. Inspired by early 20th century velodrome board-track racing, the hair-raising sport got its name from the wooden tracks racers used to fly around at breakneck speeds, often with disastrous results.
In fact, the short-lived sport was and still is considered to be the deadliest form of racing in the history of motorsports, due in large part to the oil slicked tracks from the total loss engines on bare-boned bikes with no brakes.
Lane’s first-ever event took place during Daytona Bike Week 2017 at the New Smyrna Speedway, and it was, by all accounts, an immediate success. Now, let’s get down to that round of questions.
First off, tell me about your bike, the one you ran in the Sons of Speed event.
I raced my 1923 Harley Davidson J Model board tracker. I also race a 1938 Indian Sport Scout. It’s a different bike, but it’s more versatile, so I can race it on short track, half mile, road racing, on the beach, in the dirt. It’s just a weapon of a bike, as well as my ’23 board tracker.
How long have you been riding your ’23?
I’ve been racing my 1923 since 2013.
Did you and Matt put it together, or did you find it in a certain condition, or what?
We built it from scratch around the motor. Matt gave me the motor as an engagement gift, and it was in very rough condition when we got it. It wasn’t super rough, but it needed to be completely rebuilt. Most old board-track racers that you see competing are like that. They’re all typically built from the ground up for the purpose of racing.
When you were in Daytona, did you have an opportunity to get any track time in before the event?
Not necessarily, no. I went in on Friday, that was the allotted practice day, and I did about five laps. Just got a really good feel for the track, a really good feel for being out there with other riders. Tuned my bike, tuned my carburetor, you know. Made sure that the bike really felt good on the track. Then I went out Saturday and did the couple practices that we did the day of the race, the heat, then went on to win.
When we spoke earlier, you said something about having to leave and fly back and forth between Daytona and South Dakota during all this due to the fact your son broke his leg while you were gone. That must have been stressful. How did you deal with that?
Yeah, right. Well, while working with American Flat Track (AFT), promoting the pro flat-track racers, they had sent me out end of February, so I was in Daytona since beginning of March. When he broke his leg it was the end of that first week working for AFT promoting the TT, which was a huge inaugural race. I had to fly back for about four days after that. Lock’s accident was just one of those things that happen when you’re planning and living life.
You know, it was such a historical year for AFT, because of Indian getting back involved in flat-track racing, which is something flat track fans haven’t seen in probably — well, some of them ever in their lifetime. So, to be able to help them, you know, that was our first goal. Our second goal was to go out and win the Sons of Speed.
So, I flew back to Daytona to continue to help AFT and then go into the racing. It was crazy how it happened, because the pros raced on Thursday and our practice was Friday morning at 11:00. I didn’t even get out there ‘til 2:00, because we were changing my sprocket and tuning my carburetor.
And then there are certain things you just can’t do until you’re actually out on the track riding and training with your bike and seeing what your bike likes and if your bike is jibing with the track, jibing with the heat and temperature. And it performed beautifully. It was amazing. I felt really lucky, but we prepare very, very hard for races. We put in a lot of work beforehand, so that when we do get to the races the bike is ready.
Your response actually touches on my next question. Do you plan on making any changes in the future to your bike or maybe in your approach to racing?
Yeah. One really big thing that I’m excited about is the talk of a bigger displacement class for the SoS. Right now it’s topped at 61 CI, and you know everybody is going to figure out how to make their bikes faster and bigger. Bigger is not necessarily always better, but it certainly opens the door for a lot of dirt-track racers.
We’ve been racing board trackers for decades now, so to be able to open up engine restraints, I think with that bigger displacement class you’re going to see a lot of bigger, faster bikes come out, more participants, and it’s just going to add to the show. I can’t necessarily say exactly what we’re planning and what we’re building, but it is definitely in the works.
That last part of your answer also touches on my next question. Are the growth expectations for board-track racing heading towards larger tracks with larger crowds, especially considering the success of the Sons of Speed event?
The bigger the tracks the faster the speeds. If we get a mile track, whether it’s dirt or pavement, we’ll be able to sustain 90-95, 100 mph bikes. The smaller the tracks, obviously the slower we go. Seeing as how there are no brakes, no clutch, no transmission and they’re all direct drive, so these bikes will push easily over 100, if we have the space, the bigger the tracks the funner they are.
The smaller the tracks it starts to get me concerned. My bike is specifically built for half mile dirt tracks, and to see it on a half mile oval and make the minor adjustments like the sprocket and such to run on this track — it was a great track, but the smaller the track is somewhat concerning, because it eliminates participation and participants. I think the larger the track the faster it will be and the more entertaining for the crowds.
Speaking of concerns, did you have any safety concerns regarding the event?
You know, yes, I did. I did initially. On practice day — and I’ve been to track practices where you have one guy on one corner and one guy on the other corner and you just hope that no one gets hurt — I was 90% not going to race the SoS due to safety concerns. I feel that safety is everything, and I normally race on dirt. At the races that I race there are specific tech people, there are specific corner flagmen and there is a specific organization for the race.
Going out and competing with a lot of new bikes and newer racers to the bikes, it’s concerning as another racer. But I also know that I was there at one time and that everybody’s got to start somewhere. Everybody was in really good spirits and raced really well, but I think safety-wise there are a lot of things that have to be looked at.
And I know with first-year events everybody is, (1) excited, (2) they’re testing and getting used to their machines. I know as the years go on and as Sons of Speed builds it’s going to be a fabulous race.
You know, when you go racing there’s a specific mannerism that you have to have. Safety is always #1, and then #2 is you need to run a good, clean race. You’ve got to qualify, and if you don’t qualify you can’t get hurt about it. You just have to kind of move on.
There’s a typical racing structure that not very many people totally get. I knew there was some of that going on, and that will make or break a new event. And I think that going from 90% not going to race was because my family and my team weren’t there.
But my interim family and team had sponsors that really came out and supported me, like the local Antique Motorcycle Club of America members. So, I was fortunate, and it really gave me the confidence I needed.
I also feel that my experience on the dirt made my racing experience on the asphalt so much better. It was almost easier.
So, were there any tech inspections everybody had to go through?
No, not really. Everybody had a really good idea of who was bringing what and what they needed to bring, so really no inspections. I feel that in these coming years and with more practice it will be evident that tech inspections will take place. But right now there’s only one class with limited racers, so a tech inspection wasn’t really necessary.
Shifting gears a little bit, did you expect to do as well as you did, or were you like Bill Rodencal who, as he said, wasn’t in it to win it as much as he was in it to ride? Like your run in Wauseon in 2013, would you have been happy just to finish?
You know, before, when I was thinking about not competing, I didn’t really care. But once I decided I was going for it, because I didn’t want to let all of my supporters down, yeah, I absolutely wanted to win. I planned on it after that.
Since, you won, I imagine you’re pretty happy with the outcome of your performance. Do you have any thoughts on constructive changes to events like these that might enhance the races for both the racers and the crowds?
Yes, I’d like to see full-face helmets for the riders for the sake of safety. As I said before, safety is everything to me. As far as for the fans, I think it would be great if these events incorporated more of a nostalgic feel to them like TROG (The Race of Gentlemen). You know, like everybody dressing up in period gear and maybe having tents set up for them to hang out in. I think that would be great.
So, what did you think of the asphalt track in Daytona as to how it would compare to the original tracks?
I got this great movie called Glory Days that was done by the AMA, and it was amazing to hear what these old time board trackers had to say. I mean, like, slivers that were 14 inches long piercing through wool and leather. So, I don’t really think we can experience what it was like to race on the boards, and I don’t think it’s anything close to racing at New Smyrna.
Those guys were going up on high base tracks at speeds that we can’t even imagine, so I guess I can’t relate it to racing now. At New Smyrna, it was awesome. We were able to have traction, which we don’t normally have on the dirt, and we were able to get going up there really fast.
I think the boards were just a whole different phenomenon. They were probably a bit shakier to ride on, too. I can imagine when they started going to dirt it probably wasn’t as thrilling, but it’s an honor to still be able to race it.
We’ve actually been denied on some tracks to ride because — like in Sturgis when people have gone and they’ve researched board track they’ve become aware that board track is one of the most dangerous forms of motorcycle racing of all time.
While they enjoyed it immensely, some of the people that were at the first event have said that they thought the feel of it was more like a demonstration or a re-enactment, or maybe an exhibition is a better word for it, than an actual race. How do you feel about that?
I have to think about that. I guess whenever I put on an exhibition — it depends on how many people are on the track, but we all put on a show. That’s the difference between an exhibition and an actual race.
If we were putting on an exhibition, the guy that would have been behind me, I’d have dogged it a little bit. I would have let him pass me and then I’d have passed him right away and then I’d have slowed back up so he could pass me again. There would have been anywhere between five to 10 lane changes to put on a good show.
A re-enactment — you know, that goes back to people saying, ‘Well, she’s got a weight advantage, no wonder she’s flying,’ or, ‘no wonder nobody has passed her,’ or, ‘no wonder why she’s so far ahead of everyone.’ I’ve gotten that or that I’ve got a twin cam in there. Well, it looks like I have a twin cam because of my cam cover, but it’s just a single cam.
But lots of bikes that were out there racing last year, a lot of them it was their first year racing. When it comes down to motors, we’ve been formulating my motor for the last five years; building, rebuilding it, blowing it up, rebuilding it, blowing it up, etc.
So, doing that so many times, every time you figure out you can do this and it will increase horsepower or do that and it will increase horsepower. Each time you get in there you realize this is why this time it seized. Maybe if we put a little bit of two-stroke oil in, so we can keep the valves oiled, maybe that will help it.
It’s those little things that all add up, and after a while the clearances and tolerances that you need to set up your motor with, you just sort of become one. And then also as you’re doing this, your riding skills get better and better and better.
It really shows, too, the technology from the teens to the technology from the ‘20s. Once we start seeing these guys with these 1920’s Indians — they’re built like Swiss watches — they’re really, really hard to keep up with. That’s what I’m really excited for. In the open practice the guys that brought these Indians and the 74-inch JDs, it’s seeing those guys come out with those bikes, it’s going to be a real race. To me, I feel like it’s a real race.
I could imagine, yes, seeing some of the slower bikes, the bikes not performing as well, going 55 mph, I could understand that being a re-enactment. But if you have someone out there with a full-face helmet, full racing leathers, full gear on going wide open right out of every turn, turns 4 and turns 2, that’s a real race to me.
You basically just answered my next question, because a lot of people have brought up what, in their minds, is a weight advantage. Do you think it had any influence on your win?
When you get out there and you have a weapon of a bike like mine — it’s a real deal race bike. It’s a weapon. If I don’t ride it wide open I’m going to do more damage to my motor by lugging it. And you have to ride it skillfully, otherwise you tend to hurt yourself real bad, if you don’t.
It’s a little bit of everything. I work really, really hard to train to keep my physique strong, to keep my endurance strong, and I train a lot on dirt bikes, on mini bikes, on big bikes. A lot of people don’t realize that.
I’m constantly trying to better myself as a rider doing classes, trying to make as many races as I can go to, watching the pros and how they ride and applying that to my board track and my Sport Scout. It’s helped me so much.
I’m sure a lot of people don’t know that. They’d rather chalk it up solely to weight advantage. Now, let’s talk about your early years growing up. When you were a kid, did you ever envision yourself being where you are today?
You know, yes and no. I always had an interest in racing, so whether it was cars, or motorcycles, or whatever, yeah, I always knew this was something I wanted to do and that I was going to pursue it in some fashion. It’s just something that’s always been a part of me. Whether it was specifically motorcycles or not was another thing.
So, what would you say to young girls or women with an interest in racing? Any advice to them?
Absolutely. I’d tell them to pursue it and to learn everything about it that they could. Like I said earlier, I do everything I can in an effort to learn about my sport. I follow racing, I take classes, I watch the pros, and I just try and learn from all of it. But, yeah, I definitely think they should pursue it, if they have an interest in it. Just go for it.
Ok. Winding down now, what’s your biggest strength, in your opinion?
I’d have to say confidence, my drive for success, my love for competition, my family and my faith.
Before we wrap it up, I want to take the opportunity to thank all my sponsors for their continued support: Indian Motorcycles Sturgis, Daily Direct’s Haul Bikes, Avon Tyres, Carl’s Cycle Supply, Jerry Greer’s Engineering, Lightshoe, Doc & Maria Batsleer, Mike Weesner, Motorcycle Service Company, Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorney and Talking Motorcycles with Barry Boone.
Besides being a spokesperson or ambassador for American Flat Track, the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, the AIME expo Custom Culture and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, Brittney formed her own team, 20th Century Racing. If you’re interested in following their progress, they’ve got a blog on WordPress and their website is 20thcenturyracing.com, where you can find all the latest news.
Photos by Bryan Helm