Originally published in the Bennington Banner on August 6, 2017

MANCHESTER — Liz VanDelinder knows how it feels to be the only woman on the track, and she’s ready to change that.

The 26-year-old motorcycle racer hasn’t always had a need for speed, however.

“I didn’t grow up riding bikes, I didn’t even start until I was 20 and my boyfriend got me a dirt bike to go riding with him,” said VanDelinder, a graduate of Burr and Burton Academy. “I hated riding in the woods, it just wasn’t my style.”

Though dirt biking wasn’t her cup of tea, VanDelinder’s partner Kevin Allen encouraged her to try riding on pavement. The infatuation was immediate for the novice rider, who set her sights on racing after making her first turns on the track.

“Racing is extremely independent, so I think that’s why I initially gravitated to it,” said VanDelinder. “It teaches you to be very disciplined out there, which comes into different parts of your life afterwards.”

In 2014 VanDelinder began racing in the novice class at the New Hampshire Speedway’s Loudon Road Racing series, placing in the top three for five of her races and earning her first top finish that October.

Following a successful first season, the racer decided it was time to move on up.

“My biggest fear moving up a class was that I wasn’t going to be fast enough,” said VanDelinder, who began racing in Loudon’s amateur class in 2016. “Nobody wants to be out there just tagging along in the back the whole time.”

Those fears proved to be unfounded when VanDelinder finished ahead of over half the field in her first amateur race.

“You really deal with the highs and lows of your own expectations out there,” said VanDelinder. “I’ve definitely felt good about getting out of the gate, going quickly, and getting competitive.”

The biggest success for the racer, however, is inspiring more women to ride.

“I’ve had all of these parents approach me to say that their daughters love to watch me ride, and that’s huge,” said VanDelinder. “You’re so self involved in racing, you sometimes forget that people are watching..”

VanDelinder is often the only woman on the track in her class, accentuating her position as a role model for young girls.

“There are only four or five women in the [Loudon] series right now, and over 100 guys,” said VanDelinder. “To have those little girls come up and feel like it’s accessible because I’m doing it, that’s just incredible.”

VanDelinder follows in the footsteps of female racers like Shanya Texter and Melissa Paris, drawing inspiration from these trailblazing motorcyclists.

“There are a lot of disappointing rounds, and it can be even more discouraging to continue when you let yourself feel like a minority out there,” said VanDelinder. “I remember the successes of the women I look up to in racing, and know they’ve been exactly where I am.”

Though motorcycle racing is a decidedly male-dominated sport, VanDelinder takes pride in keeping up with — and often beating — the guys.

“As a female you have everything expected of you as the others do,” said VanDelinder. “You’re there to be a racer just like the rest of them.”

Though she is held to the same standard as her male counterparts, VanDelinder acknowledges that men and women are inherently different when it comes to racing.

“Women and men think very differently both on and off the track; when you’re the only woman in a race, you’re surrounded by a bunch of aggressive dudes,” said VanDelinder. “You have to figure out how you’re mentally going to deal with that. I’m not going to handle a situation on the track the same way that they will.”

Despite differences the racer has enjoyed community and camaraderie with her colleagues, who view her as an equal competitor.

“It’s empowering to feel like you’re part of a group that’s very different from you,” said VanDelinder. “My favorite compliment that I often hear is that people can’t tell me apart from the guys out there.”

VanDelinder has found rapid success during the few years she’s been racing. She’s gained sponsorship from the gear company AXO, and is supported by both Michelin Tires and MotoRace based out of Wilbraham, Mass.

Beyond her success on the track, the racer was recently inducted into the North East Motorsports Museum as one of the most influential women in racing of all time.

“Our small network of ladies definitely has a big impact at the track,” said VanDelinder. “I’m really proud of the success my pony-tailed friends have had.”

Going forward, VanDelinder hopes to give back to the sport that has given her so much.

“Kevin and I have been trying to work a lot more with kids, and getting them into road racing when they get older,” said VanDelinder, who regularly works with the Penguin Road Racing School based out of Winchendon, Mass. “We definitely want to get a lot more kids and a lot more women involved — really any of those minorities that aren’t there right now — because anybody can do it. It’s just about putting in the work.”

The racer, who aspires to eventually compete in the “expert” class, is also interested in making the sport more accessible to women by creating gear designed to fit their anatomy.

“There are a lot of extreme sports that women do where we just don’t have access to the safety great that we need,” said VanDelinder. “I’d love to develop more in that field. There needs to be more research and development for women’s products out there, so more women can get into these sports.”

In the future, the racer hopes to see a lot more ponytails on the track.

“It’s definitely not something to be intimidated by if you’re even slightly interested,” said VanDelinder. “There’s a whole community of people that want you there.”

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