Motorcycle racer Kerry Smith finds happiness on the racetrack
Kerry Smith is a Jersey girl who loves speed, loud engines and the thrill of victory. She’s a fierce female who doesn’t mind paving the way for other motorcycle racers to follow in her tire tracks. Just try to keep up with her—I dare you.
“It was unwritten that I would start riding motorcycles at some point,” she says. Smith, 36, grew up in Milltown, New Jersey, less than an hour outside of New York City. Her father raced vintage bikes and owned a motorcycle shop. “Growing up, I thought everyone’s dad raced motorcycles. As I got older, I realized how unique and awesome my family is.”
Frank Smith bought his daughter her first trials bike—a relatively small, lightweight, single-cylinder motorcycle—when she was six or seven. “I immediately rode it into a bush,” she says. “Dad realized that I was not quite ready yet.” She continued to watch her father’s races and practice riding. She took the written and riding motorcycle test when she was 19, buying her first street bike when she was 24. In 2007 she signed up for racing school and her passion ignited. She hasn’t slowed down.
Smith loves the vintage motorcycle culture and thinks people underestimate how many women ride. But cruising back roads and racing around a dirt track are two very different things. When Smith races, she’s racing against men. “There are a few kick-butt women out there,” she says. “In a race I might be the only woman, or there might be two or three others. I get a lot of interesting attention, so a thick skin is a must.” One guy asked if her leather racing suit made her look like Cat Woman. (“Ummm, no.”) “But when I get out there and pass most of the men, I change from being a woman to another racer.”
Though she now lives in Portland, her team and her racing bike are in New Jersey. Giannini Racing is in South Orange, and Frank Giannini makes sure Smith and her teammates are riding safe and fast machines. “Racing is dangerous,” she says. “Many of us have a job to go to on Monday, so there is a high level of respect. I think you have to be really into it to do it. It’s not something to take lightly.”
Smith’s passion has her racing from May through October. In 2011 she won the United States Classic Racing Association Championship. It’s the same championship her father won in 1996. In 2013 she won the American Motocyclists Association Clubman 350 class at Mid-Ohio Vintage Days. Three years ago she shipped her bikes to Australia to race the renowned Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. Out of 250 participants, she was one of two female solo bike racers.
She balances her racing with her job in the study abroad program at CIEE in Portland. Racing is a physically demanding sport, and she stays fit by working out at Orangetheory Fitness and riding as much as she can. Getting ready for a race takes just as much mental preparation as it does physical. Before a competition, she’ll study videos and work through tracks in her mind.
“As intense as racing is, it’s also my happy place,” she says. Her parents, Frank and Cathy Smith, attend every one of her races. Her aunts, uncles, friends and boyfriend also fill the stands. “Some have called my family the Premiere Vintage Racing Family, and I take pride in this.”
The racing bike that stays in New Jersey is a 1971 Honda CB350, built specifically for her with customizations and enhancements. Her track/street bike is a 2003 Suzuki SV650. She uses this as her instructing bike when she’s teaching at Tony’s Track Days in Massachusetts. She rides a 2006 CRF150 on dirt, sand and ice. “My boyfriend and I have ice tires with sharp screws that allow us to use the bike on frozen ponds and lakes. Riding ice is awesome,” she says.
While she’s been able to escape serious injuries, Smith is acutely aware of how dangerous this sport can be. In 2005 her father nearly died from a motorcycle racing accident that ended his career. “I am very aware of what can happen, and this makes me a smart rider,” she says. She concedes that, at times, this “smart riding” can hinder her performance. It has taken her longer to get faster than some of her competitors. But she doesn’t want to put her parents through any more anguish. “My mom asked me never to skydive…but she never asked me never to race motorcycles!”
Melanie Brooks loves to write about Maine. Her work has been published in magazines and blogs throughout New England.