x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Canadian Honda challenge win shows she's a natural on a motorcycle

At age 14, Stacey Nesbitt has already won a national biking series, but her path to that success is even more remarkable.

Stacey Nesbitt has achieved much in a short space of time and has dreams of someday racing in Moto2, or perhaps even MotoGP. Courtesy of Statoni Racing Team
Stacey Nesbitt has achieved much in a short space of time and has dreams of someday racing in Moto2, or perhaps even MotoGP. Courtesy of Statoni Racing Team

This is my favourite "feel good" story of the year, though being a curmudgeon, why I feel good about it may not be immediately obvious. You see, political correctness really frustrates me. Though the Motoring editor would much prefer I use kinder, gentler words, I find no kind or gentle way to express my deep annoyance at society's acceptance of the aggrandising of one specific group's accomplishments simply because it is supposedly done in the pursuit of good.

To we cynics, of course, it matters not that the goal of such outright bias is positive; prejudice for or against is still prejudice and often diminishes the supposed benefactor as much as its victims. Not knowing whether one's achievements are the result of your actual performance rather than favouritism weighs heavy on the conscience of even those who benefit from the preferential treatment. That's why I was so happy to write this story.

You see, though it is ultimately why I wrote this story, what truly makes young Stacey Nesbitt so special isn't that she's a young lady riding a motorcycle - that's commonplace enough these days. Nor is it that she's just a wee wisp of a thing, barely 14 years old and barely 45kg in full leather armour. Nor is it that she is a girl (or, if we were being completely politically correct, a young woman) who won Canada's 2011 Honda CBR125R Challenge, becoming the first woman to win a fully accredited national road-racing series in the country (and perhaps, as some have even contended, the world).

No, the most amazing thing about Stacey Nesbitt is that she's only been riding a motorcycle for two years. Yes, two years. No minibiking since she was a toddler. Her father didn't push her into junior motocrossing when she could barely walk. Nor did she even spend a whole bunch of time riding pillion behind dad on his Harley. Oh, there was the fact that her first family outing when she was but four days old was to a Joey Dunlop (Ballymoney's most famous road racer) charity exhibition back in her homeland of Northern Ireland. And dad did like his motorcycling, though he never raced himself. But Stacey had no motorcycling experience to speak of before she jumped on a racing bike.

Indeed, as her father, Grant, tells it, she took to the sport rather reluctantly, her first foray onto the track ending up with her running away at a RACE (Canada's local governing body) school that is a prerequisite for actually competing. "She frightened herself," Grant says, "she didn't want to go back out and that first year [2009] only our oldest daughter, Toni, raced."

It was hardly a surprise, since Stacey's total sum experience in motorcycling up until that point had been a few spins around the driveway on a pocket bike and watching races from the stands.

With no experience with a clutch, the sisters both had to be pushed off from the starting line. "That's how bad they were," says the now-beaming father. "They really didn't know how to ride a motorcycle. Stacey learnt to ride a motorcycle on a race track."

It was only after a year of watching her sister compete in the CBR125R Challenge that Stacey bugged her father for another chance, and her first foray was a local race at Canada's Shannonville Motorsport Park at the end of 2009. Soaking wet, racing in a downpour in what was essentially her first real ride on a motorcycle, she finished second last.

It's been a steady rise to the top of the heap since then. "2010 was a learning year," says Stacey, who went from finishing at the back of the pack to "being able to run with the boys in front".

The turning point seems to have been a visit to the Michel Mercier's FAST riding school at the end of 2010.

And even though her lap times were slower on the more powerful Kawasaki Ninja 250 than her own 125, both father and daughter credit the school with teaching her how to ride better and, perhaps more importantly, how to analyse her technique and improve her riding style.

"I had raced an entire year without really knowing the basics of racing a motorcycle," admits Stacey. "I knew how to change gears and open the throttle, but I didn't know anything about throttle control, turn-in points or even what or where an apex was." She obviously takes instruction well. She was holding second place in her next race before crashing out.

Nonetheless, Stacey's goal at the beginning of 2011 was only "to become the first girl to reach the podium in the CBR125R Challenge." She exceeded that by some margin by winning the second race of the series and going on to win five of the championship's 10 events, taking first place overall by more than 50 points.

Of course, Stacey is not the first female to distinguish herself in motorcycle racing.

In North America, Canada's Kathleen Coburn beat all the boys in a national amateur 600 race in 1985. In 2009, American Melissa Paris was the first female to qualify for a World Supersport race and finished second in the USGPRU GP250 championship.

More recently, 18-year-old Elena Myers became the first female to test an 800cc MotoGP racer by riding Suzuki's 200-plus horsepower GSV-R at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Stacey wants more. She, of course, hopes that she can continue her success in this year's CBR250R Challenge and then progress on to 600cc and 1000cc superbikes. She even admits to dreaming about someday racing in MotoGP "or at least Moto2 [MotoGP's feeder series]".

She's already sampled the bigger bikes and can't wait until she's racing those. "I rode a 600 at Shannonville," she says with the enthusiasm that most teenage girls reserve for boy bands.

"It was just so awesome; the power, the speed at the top of fifth gear and the way the brakes bite. Everyone told me how scared I would be but it was just so much fun."

Indeed, listening to Stacey enthuse about speed and power like any teenage boy similarly lucky enough to be riding around on racing motorcycles is proof positive that the gap between male and female is ever narrowing. And that's not being politically correct.