ABERDEEN, SOUTH DAKOTA:

It’s hard to explain to someone who does black-flips for the latest, greatest, shiny new plasticized-toy, why some of us would rather have the rusty, old, and worn. It’s a love of history and craftsmanship, coupled with the romantic idealism of how this thing has survived for decades, centuries even; the fantastic notion that it has lived a life before–and yeah, I know you can argue a thing can’t live, but you’d be wrong. Just ask antique motorcycle racer Brittney Olsen.

Brittney comes by her passion for old things naturally. Her grandpa used to pick stuff out of the garbage and restore the treasures he’d find, from random junk to old cars, and Brittney is carrying that love forward.

Things from the past seemed to be made to such a high quality standard that is almost unheard of in today’s markets. Old things are so mechanical, this too, like the thrill for speed and racing, I believe is part of my genes and runs in my blood.

It’s one thing to be passionate about the styling and quality of antique motorcycles, or to yearn to ride them, or to show them off at events… but to race them? That’s an entirely different mindset, especially for a girl in a male-dominated field.

It can all be blamed on Shirley Muldowney, the legendary racer whom Brittney met at the wise age of three.

She’d seen Shirley’s movie, “Heart Like A Wheel,” and thought she was meeting a movie star. Shirley graciously took the time to explain to young Brittney that, no, she was actually a drag racer. Something about Shirley’s story lodged in Brittney’s brain.

From that point forward I knew the door had been opened for me to race whatever I wanted. Somewhere down deep in my genes the urge to go fast and compete started leaking into my blood stream.

When her dad noticed how hard she rode her go-kart, he helped her save for a stock two-stroke quad, one she started racing–not only racing, but beating the men and boys! And when she got her South Dakota driving permit? Well, of course she took her 1969 Camaro out to the drag strip!

Boy that was a rush, but before I knew it I just wanted to go faster. It’s like a drug… you get addicted and just want more.

Around this time, her two passions began to converge:

The love of old things. And racing.

Now let’s add another spoke to the wheel.

Brittney had always had a thing for bicycles. In fact, because of the abundance of girls named Brittney, she became known as BettieBicycle: the girl who took a Schwinn Pea Picker Krate and added a 70cc motor.

Some custom bike building friends suggested she take her newly acquired skills and apply them to a motorcycle and the idea intrigued her. But first, she had to find her inspiration.

I looked through magazines, books, blogs, and online picture albums until I came across a picture of a 1920s Excelsior.

Brittney fell in love with the elegant machines, and when she found out Ignaz Schwinn actually bought the Excelsior Motorcycle company in 1911, that made her love them even more.

Hmmm… so she loves old stuff. Loves racing. Loves bicycles. See where this convergence is going? I knew you would. You’re smart like that.

Brittney became enamored with the idea of building a 1919 Excelsior Big Valve. She even drew sketches in her notebook.

She also started attending the Great Plains AMCA meetings (Antique Motorcycle Club of America) in her hometown of Sioux Falls, and she was just nineteen! Can you imagine how she stood out in that room?

Like a kid just begging for more information to soak up, I took in all that I could from those guys! Still everyone told me… those bikes were really rare and hard to build. It wasn’t until I met my husband, Matt Olsen, who always told me it was possible!

Ahhh… Here’s where the story really gets fun and romantic.

Matthew Olsen was born into the world of antique motorcycles. His father, Carl Olsen, has been restoring big-twin Harley-Davidsons since the early seventies, a passion Matt inherited and has thrived in, making quite a name for himself in the antique and vintage motorcycle world. Perfect match for Brittney, right?

After watching her first boardtrack race with Matt, he asked if it was something she’d be interested in doing herself and naturally, she said yes.

And now the story gets really dreamy.

Instead of giving Brittney an engagement ring when he proposed, Matt gave her a 1923 Harley-Davidson motor as a base for her racing boardtracker: the perfect key to Brittney’s heart. From there, they started collecting parts and pieces, and had a frame built by their friend and fellow racer, Mike Lange.

It seemed to go so fast once we got my frame: Lock Baker of Eastern Fabrications flew out here to help build an aluminum gas and oil tank as well as a seat pan and push bar for my bike. Jordan Dickinson from Union Speed Shop covered my custom racing saddle and stamped in my logo like the old board-track racers had on theirs!

Matt and Brittney had the bike running and ready to race by May 3, just a year and a half after Matt proposed with the engine. So what’s it like to ride a 91-year-old motorcycle?

It can get pretty bumpy when I ride under speeds of 50mph but as soon as I get past that point, it’s smooth sailing!

Keep in mind, this is a bike with no brakes, no clutch, no transmission, a bike that needs a good push to get started, and a decompression lever and kill switch to stop–an entirely different experience from the 125 Kawasaki she’d trained on through the cold South Dakota winter, a fine way to prep for the vigors of racing.

Even on my dirt bike I crash a lot on the wet, slippery snow. It gets me used to sliding on the track.

After some tuning and refining, Brittney entered her first antique motorcycle race in July of 2013 in Wauseon, Ohio.

I must say that all the practice in the world could never prepare me for the pea gravel half mile track in Wauseon, rolling starts and racing with no brakes! Wauseon had been quite the experience, having never raced motorcycles in my life.

Even with the rolling start throwing her off a bit and putting her back of the pack, Brittney still finished seventh out of the sixteen entered.

It didn’t bother me though, because in the end I finished, I did not crash, and I carefully passed the fellow who did wipe out. I had begun a new chapter in life.

That’s not the only new chapter in Brittney’s life. Matt and Brittney are expecting their first child, a boy who will doubtless be raised in the seat of a motorcycle. So what about Brittney’s racing career? The timing on Baby Olsen’s arrival is perfect. He’ll be born in May, just two months before the first race of the season in July. Brittney, who has been keeping fit and eating healthy during her pregnancy, plans to be there on her 1923 Harley-Davidson Boardtracker. And the baby? He’ll be right there with them, part of the family tradition, learning from the best about how to preserve the magnificent history of early motorcycle racing.

In addition to Brittney’s racing, here are some other exciting ways she and Matt are encouraging people to keep the passion for antique motorcycles alive:

20th Century Racing will be sponsoring a 14-year-old-girl from Ohio to race their 1948 Harley-Davidson Hummer in the vintage 165cc lightweight class at the antique races. Cool, eh?

But wait!! There’s more….

Brittney, along with three hundred plus motorsport racers, is competing for over $125,000 in sponsorships from Champion Spark Plugs in their Search for a Champion video contest! The winner will be decided through votes. And get this! You can vote once a day, every day, until March 23rd! So go vote for her. NOW!!! Vote every day!! Let’s put this girl in the winner’s seat!!

 

And if all of that wasn’t enough to make you give Brittney a standing ovation, check this out. THIS IS AMAZING!!!! The GOLDEN TICKET of coolness!

20th Century Racing is sponsoring a sweepstakes called The Cannonball Golden Ticket. (If you don’t know what the Cannonball is, click this link to read all about it.) The grand-prize winner gets, not only paid entry and expenses, but a chance to ride Matt’s 1936 Harley-Davidson EL from Daytona Beach, Florida to Tacoma, Washington!! Can you believe that??? Click to read all the details of this unbelievable prize package!

Whew! Quite an exciting year for her, eh? For sure, Brittney and 20th Century Racing is something to watch. Keep up with her many, many adventures on her blog and her Facebook page.

And maybe one day, she’ll find that Excelsior Big Valve that inspired her and eventually brought her together with her two great loves: Matthew Olsen and Antique motorcycle racing!

Until next time…

Later gators!

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