How a Christmas Gift Launched a Record-Setting Racer – Jody PerewitzFebruary 13, 2019
Growing up in a moto-centric family, Jody Perewitz began riding when she was old enough to walk, but there was absolutely no history of racing in the family before her record-breaking run at Bonneville in 2011. Up to that point, Team J’Witz didn’t build race bikes nor did they ride them, so it was a whole new learning curve for everyone involved. While she was at the Flats, however, she soaked up as much knowledge as she could from other racers and industry people she knew.
It all started with the fact that her father, renowned custom builder and painter Dave Perewitz, had never been to Bonneville during speed trials. Being an ace daughter, she sprung for the trip as a Christmas gift with zero thoughts of racing, but Dave’s reaction was that they couldn’t go there without doing so. So Jody countered, “Okay. Well, I’ll ride whatever we build.” As it turned out, they were fortunate enough to get some good people behind them and sponsors to build a bike and go out and make it happen. Once there it was the incessant guffawing going on when voicing her goal of attaining 200 mph that pushed her to succeed—in spite of the laughter. In her words, “Everything just kind of evolved from there.”
Perewitz has since found herself setting over a dozen records. Her professional accomplishments include nine land-speed records sanctioned by the Loring Timing Association between 2011 and 2016 that saw a July 13, 2013, Class APS-PBF 1650 run at 202.991mph; four more through Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials where she scored her history-making “first female in the 200 Club with an American V-Twin” with a top speed of 207.803mph; and two others with the East Coast Timing Association. Add to that her Sons of Speed win and the recent completion of the 2018 Motorcycle Cannonball, where she made all of her miles—a point of pride for her and a first for the event—and she’s been livin’ life full speed ahead.
Here’s what transpired during our interview:
MotoSpirit: Your life’s been pretty full over the last seven years. What do you see so far as your biggest achievement?
Jody Perewitz: I had originally thought Bonneville, going over 200 mph on an American motorcycle, was my biggest achievement, but now I think completing the Motorcycle Cannonball Race. I rode all the way across country on a 1926 motorcycle. That was a huge accomplishment. And then something as recent as last Friday winning the Sons of Speed and beating a two-time champion is a huge accomplishment. So, I guess I’m lucky to have accomplished all of these things in my life, but I don’t want to put one over the other.
MS: On the flipside, what’s be en your biggest obstacle so far, and how have you met or overcome it?
JP: As far as riding, I would say the weather can be a challenge. It’s something you can’t control. In land-speed racing, weather can plague you. You can have the perfect machine or be the best rider, but if the wind isn’t right or the salt’s too wet it just plays such a big factor. The other thing is trying to make money while doing all these cool things. All these great things I have accomplished so far don’t pay… it’s not like there is a huge purse I can win. It’s just a piece of paper or trophy. Ha, my mortgage company won’t accept that for payment!
MS: How many titles or records do you hold to date?
JP: I have 16 land-speed records, including being the first female to go over 200 mph on an American motorcycle—and I’m actually still the only woman with that distinction—and on the Cannonball I was one of only three women to complete all of the miles. We are the first in the history of the event to be able to make that claim. That was actually my goal because I knew I couldn’t win for a number of reasons (her age and the age of her bike—it’s complicated), but I at least wanted to complete all my miles, because no female had done it yet. And, of course, winning the Sons of Speed race is a HUGE accomplishment!
MS: What or who is your greatest source of support? Most female racers I’ve spoken with say family. Does that apply to you as well?
JP: It really does. My brother is actually the one who taught me to ride. He’s a few years older than me, and whatever he did I wanted to do, and he was always there to teach me and tell me, ‘Sure, you can ride my bike.’ I am very fortunate to have a good older brother, Jesse. My dad is probably my biggest supporter. He is my best friend and encourages me to follow two wheels like he has.
MS: So, when you’re not racing, what do you normally ride?
JP: I have a bunch of different bikes, but I have an FXR that is my favorite. It’s a ’93 with a Twin cam.
MS: Do you have a dream bike?
JP: I wouldn’t say I have a specific dream bike, but I’d like my motorcycles to get older. I’ve got a Dyna I’m looking to unload and I am itching to add an older J model, like a 1915. So my dream bikes would be pre-1936. But no matter what, I want to ride anything I own.
MS: Recognizing you compete in various forms of racing, what’s your favorite bike to race?
JP: I would say my first race bike, the purple (100ci) V-Twin, my land-speed bike. That bike is a favorite because that’s the one that took me the fastest and got me the racing bug. My land-speed number bike 264 will always have my heart!
MS: I’m sure I know the answer, but what’s the best part of racing, and as a racer and a competitive person, what
JP: The adrenaline, going as fast as I am on whatever machine I’m on. To answer the second part, to do things that other people haven’t done. I want to be the first because no matter what you can’t replace the first. You know someone might steal my records, but I will always be the first to have gone as fast as I did. That kind of stuff you can’t replace. I just love to be able to do anything on two wheels, that’s what really drives me.
MS: So, where do you see motorcycle racing going in the future?
JP: I think your backyard racers, the guys that do it on the weekends, the guys that don’t do it for money, the guys that don’t have any support; I think that that kind of racing is going to get bigger. Hooligan-kind of stuff, even the Sons of Speed stuff, I think that stuff is going to get really big because it’s the average person that’s going out there that’s risking these things. They go out there and they might win a little bit of money but it’s certainly not covering all their costs. There’s not a ton of media coverage on this kinda stuff, and I think it’s just going to get bigger because more people are getting into it. You don’t have to have a million-dollar sponsorship and a giant rig and eight different bikes to be able to do it.
MS: Any changes in racing you’d like to see in general or suggestions for improvements?
JP: Well, I’d like to see more women getting out there, but I want to continue racing against men. I don’t want to see it get segregated with a women’s class, so I hope that stays. Maybe some corporate sponsors! The people in the races that I participate in truly have a passion for it. Obviously, it’s not for money… so a little sponsorship dollars would be nice.
MS: What advice for new female riders or women who want to try their hand at racing do you have?
JP: Get out there on two wheels. Take a motorcycle safety course. I am a huge advocate because I grew up on motorcycles, I knew how to ride, and my dad still made me take the course when I turned 16, and I loved it. It was fun and I liked helping other women that were in my class. I am a huge advocate of it because it lets you get out there and teaches you the right way to ride and if you don’t like it you’re not committed to anything. It’s like 300 bucks for the course and if you don’t like it that’s okay, but at least you tried.
MS: Given the chance, what would you like people to know or ask you?
JP: I like people to ask me how Bonneville works in the sense of how do you get a record. That’s why Bonneville is so humbling. It’s not about your top speed, necessarily, it’s about your average speed and that you have to maintain that speed for a mile. It’s not like drag racing where you hit one top speed and you’re done. With land speed, they get you entering the mile and then exiting the mile, and it’s your average speed in that mile, then you have to turn around and go in the opposite direction and it’s your two speeds averaged. That’s how you set a record.
My highest record is 207 mph, but I went 206 one way and 208 the other, so it’s the average of 207. But, on my 208 run I entered the mile at 199 and exited at 214, so my average was 208, and that’s my official number. It’s hard on your machine and it’s hard on yourself because you have to keep going to set it.
MS: What kind of reactions have you been getting from men in racing? We asked Ana if she’d been mansplained.
JP: I’d be willing to bet that Billy Lane was shocked that I won that race, ‘cause the guy that came in second, he was leading the whole race, and my little bike is not that fast. I had one opportunity, and I knew that the only chance I’d have to pass him would be on the last turn and I thought ‘I’m going to take this opportunity and give it everything I’ve got and try to get ahead,’ and I did, and I know Billy was surprised/happy for me.
Now, in land-speed racing men like to challenge me. It happens all the time. They like to see either how much I know about the bike or what I know about racing—and I always want to be able to answer somebody. Motorcycles are my business. I want to know and I should know. I surround myself with knowledgeable people and I learn from them. Some people think I just ride the motorcycles, and that’s not what I do. I think knowledge makes me a better rider as well. I can figure out problems if I know what I am looking at or hearing. I do dip my feet in a lot of different things. I want to get on as many two wheels as I can. I think it makes me a better rider, a more well-rounded rider, a more knowledgeable rider.
MS: We talked earlier about luck, opportunity, and willingness to take chances as the trifecta needed for success, but what makes you a better racer?
JP: I’m passionate about it and I put into it everything I have. I don’t want to do it half-ass. I don’t want to do something that I’m not going to get better at. I want to do something as much as I possibly can and put everything into it because that’s who I am, especially with two wheels. I’ll give it my all.
MS: What, in your mind, is the biggest misconception about women in racing?
JP: I guess maybe that women aren’t going to be as good as men. I don’t really pay attention too much to stuff like that because I feel we can do anything we put our minds to—men as well.
MS: Speaking of which, is there anything about you that you’d like to set the record straight on?
JP: Ha, it’s funny you should ask that. On the Cannonball it was brought to my attention that some people thought I
was going to be a snob, they actually told me and said how I was nothing like how they’d assumed I was going to be after getting to know me. So, I don’t know if I come off that way, but that’s not me. I know I am really lucky to get these opportunities and I am so grateful for them, but that was kind of funny.
MS: Any regrets on stuff you have or haven’t done throughout your career?
JP: None, because I believe everything happens when it’s supposed to happen and I feel as though I’ve taken advantage of everything I could have in front of me, but I guess I could say that the only thing I wish I’d potentially done is give my dad a trip to Bonneville for Christmas like 10 years earlier (laughter).
MS: And finally, what’s next for you? Any records you have your eye on or other types of racing you’d like to try?
JP: I’d like to do the 2020 Cannonball on an older bike that I might be able to win on and keep racing the Sons of
Speed. I don’t know what Bonneville holds right now, but maybe potentially getting back there, maybe riding somebody else’s bike. I would like to go 250 on an American V-Twin. I want something that you have to work for. I like a challenge.
With that, we wrapped it up, but one of the things Jody wanted to acknowledge is how important all of her support is to her, making it clear that she’s very aware that she couldn’t do it without them, whatever part they play. Manager of marketing for the family business, Perewitz Cycle Fabrication, she’s also a chip off the old block as an accomplished artist in her own right and her work can
regularly be seen on social media. Shortly after our interview, she was named Woman of the Year by Cycle Source readers and a documentary entitled Shoot the Salt by Silodrome was set for 2018. With all this going on, we wish her many more happy years in the industry she loves.
Images courtesy of Mike Edwards @photo1now