Common Tread

Video: Valerie Thompson survives 343 mph crash in world record attempt

Mar 22, 2018

Valerie Thompson is no stranger to speed.

Thompson has been chasing land-speed records since she left NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle drag racing for the salt flats. In 2016, she took the title of world’s fastest female motorcycle racer and now wants to be fastest, period. But those numbers come at a price. 

During a run at the Lake Gairdner World Speed Trials, her BUB Seven streamliner lost control and crashed... at 343 mph. According to a Facebook post by the event’s sanctioning body, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, “Thompson had passed the four-mile marker and reported being at 299 mph when the trouble started. Chase vehicles saw the tail end of the streamliner come up in the air, but the chutes were deployed which helped stabilize the resulting crash. The wreckage was spread out along nearly a mile of the course.” When I first saw this video, I expected severe injury at the very least, but I seriously underestimated the BUB Seven.

Land speed bike builders anticipate crashes like these, and the BUB Seven is no exception. In a Facebook post, Thompson attributed her survival to “the superior design and safety features incorporated in the bike by Denis Manning, John Jans and team." She walked away with minimal injuries, but she’ll be checked for a concussion. And the Australia trip wasn’t a complete loss, either. At an event just before the World Speed Trials, Thompson set a new personal record of 328 mph. After reviewing video and data from the crash, Thompson and her team will return to business as usual: going fast on the flats. 

Not what it looks like. That's just red paint and debris in the mile-long trench left by the slide. FIM photo.

Denis Manning, the designer behind the BUB Seven, was on hand to comment on the crash in the video posted by Bonneville Stories:

“It’s gonna take time to determine the why, but we certainly know when and how. The best news is that she walked away from it. When you’re designing a machine like this, you are overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of getting the record.The theories about how much horsepower, how much frontal area, what kind of drag, all of that, you take into consideration and you make your choices to try to get the record. The dark side, I call it, is that you don’t really know what can happen if you have calamity, tragedy.”

If anyone was qualified to make a guess, though, it’d be him. The AMA counts Manning among the most accomplished builders in the sport. Decades of record-chasing all started as a teen watching Mickey Thompson race his quadruple-engined Challenger. Today, Manning can be found pushing the boundaries of speed with his creations.

A mile of sliding hardly wore through the BUB Seven. FIM photo.

“As the builder, I come away from this very proud that the machine did what I thought it would do. I swore by the monocoque carbon fiber composite, I knew in my heart that it would be all right. But again, that’s just theory. Now, you walk up to it, and the theory, it’s right. Number one, she walked away. Number two, the machine says OK, I took a beating, but here I am.”

Thompson is expected to make more attempts at the overall motorcycle land speed record of 376.363 mph, set by Rocky Robinson in 2010. Hopefully she makes a full recovery as expected and can get back to chasing her dreams aboard the resurrected BUB Seven.