Pickleball Magazine: Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer Joins the Fastest-Growing Sport

Pickleball Magazine: Fastest Female Motorcycle Racer Joins the Fastest-Growing Sport

It was an honor to have the opportunity to work with the fastest female motorcycle racer, Valerie Thompson, on the latest cover story for Pickleball Magazine. Valerie is an inspiration to many women and I enjoyed listening to her excitement for her new-found passion for pickleball as she utilizes to sport to help prepare her to set out to reach 400mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats later in August. 

Read the full story below and check out the complete July/August 2021 Pickleball Magazine issue HERE.



By: Laura Gainor

Valerie Thompson is the world’s fastest female racer on two wheels and after playing the nation’s fastest growing sport just eight times, she has built a permanent court at her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, bringing her competitive determination and mental focus to pickleball. 

Her passion for speed led to street racing her Harley-Davidson Fatboy on nearby Scottsdale Road. Friends finally told her to take her passion for speed to the racetrack. “Organized drag racing was lot more fun and much safer than street racing, so I set a goal to “go pro.” 

In 2006, she began competing in the All Harley Drag Racing Association (AHDRA) series while attending a variety of drag racing schools to hone her riding skills. After traveling 14 states she captured the Best Appearing Team award and placed 3rd in just her second year of AHDRA racing.  

While still drag racing, she seized the opportunity to race a friend’s Harley-Davidson Panhead at the famed Bonneville Salts Flats in Utah where she set an AMA National Speed record her first time on the bike. She instantly fell in love with land speed racing and has been going strong ever since.  

Today, Thompson holds 10 land speed records, is a member of several prestigious 200 mph Clubs and was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2018. The land speed motorcycle streamliner she races is named the BUB 7, designed by Denis Manning, John Jans and Team 7 Racing. 

The BUB 7 features a monocoque chassis with a one-of-a-kind 3000cc V4 engine and a three parachute braking system. Instead of a steering wheel, Valerie guides the streamliner with a yoke system. For maximum safety, her seat is custom formed to her body and the tiny cockpit she jokingly calls the “world’s fastest office.”

“Once my helmet goes on and I’m strapped into the cockpit, I can barely move, but I’m totally focused on the moment at hand,” said Valerie. “I experience a combination of anticipation, anxiety, adrenaline, and a pinch of fear. It’s a pure rush that’s hard to describe. It’s similar to how I feel when I step on the court to play a mean game of pickleball with my friends and husband, Ray. There is no greater concentration than that!” 

In March of 2018, Valerie piloted the BUB 7 streamliner at Lake Gairdner in Australia to a top speed of 328.467 mph, making her the fastest female motorcycle racer in the world. 

A few days later her team attempted to break the current world record of 376.363 mph, but Valerie crashed at more than 363 mph, sliding for over a mile before coming to a complete stop. Miraculously, she walked away with no memory of the crash at all. 

“The wind caused the crash. We don’t race that motorcycle with more than 3 mph of wind in any direction,” recalls Valerie. “Everything happened so quickly. I am trained to release the parachute, pull my arms in close to my body. It’s incredible there were only minor cuts and bruises from the crash. It’s real testament to the superior design of the BUB 7, I feel lucky I’m here to tell the story.”  

Now three years later, insert pickleball and it couldn’t be a better match with racing to help her mental and physical training as she continues her quest to capture the fastest motorcycle title.  

“Pickleball and racing go hand-in-hand,” said Valerie. “They’re very similar in some respects. It requires a good fitness regime, great concentration and quick reaction time. During a race everything seems to move in slow motion, but you have to be planning your next move and react quickly. For me, it’s the same with pickleball. I need to plan my shots, but be prepared to react quickly as the game evolves.”

It didn’t take long for Valerie to fully commit to the sport with professional lessons and her own court. Valerie was elated when she discovered her neighbor was the former USA Pickleball President, Jack Thomas. She’s taken many continued lessons with Jack and at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Scottsdale until her home court was finished. 

Since February when she began playing, Valerie has found many friends and fellow racers who also play. Just recently she had the biggest photoshoot of her career for Bentley Magazine with “photographer of the stars,” John Russo. (celebrity A-list photographer). An avid pickleball player himself, the motorsports photoshoot quickly turned into a long discussion about their mutual love of the sport. “Now I’m even more excited about the game, I hope John and I can play next time I’m in California.” 

“Valerie is a true athlete, with very quick hand-eye coordination and she moves fast on the court, so pickleball is a natural for her,” said friend and fellow player, Andy Starr. “She’s a lot of fun to play pickleball with and continues to improve her game by having the opportunity to play on her private backyard court, in which I was instrumental in convincing her and her husband, Ray, to build earlier this year.”

Pickleball and fitness training consumes a lot of Valerie’s time now having attended two LevelUp Camps in Utah, really helping excel her game.  She has a vision to host her own tournament on the Bonneville Salt Flats, creating an unreal experience of racing and playing pickleball on the world’s fastest racecourse.  

The Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials, held August 28 – Sept. 2, will be the first time since her 2018 crash that Valerie has raced the BUB 7. The first priority is to execute practice runs to ensure everything performs as needed after a three-year rebuilding effort. If “break-in” runs go well and weather and track conditions allow, the team will attempt breaking the world speed record for the world’s fastest motorcycle title.

“There are a lot of eyes on me and I have to be my best when racing on the Salt. I must be 100 percent focused and ready to react to the weather, the track and most importantly, the machine. Pickleball plays a key role in helping me train to make motorsports history.” 

“Friends tell me I always go 2,000% when I set a new goal,” laughed Valerie. “Pickleball is a critical element of my racing fitness regime. It helps keep me stay fit and improves my reaction time. I may retire from racing when I go 400 mph, but I’ll be playing pickleball long after that. ”

Valerie will have a central role in the upcoming documentary film, “Rockets and Titans,” sharing her and Manning’s quest for the world’s fastest motorcycle title. Visit ValerieThompsonRacing.com for details on upcoming races, the bikes she races and the official movie trailer. 

The worldwide motorsports press nicknamed Valerie “America’s Queen of Speed.” From all appearances, the queen’s court appears to be one where you play pickleball. Godspeed Valerie, we wish you luck! 

USA Pickleball Interviews The Holderness Family following release of “The Pickleball Song” [VIDEO]

USA Pickleball Interviews The Holderness Family following release of “The Pickleball Song” [VIDEO]

Earlier in June, USA Pickleball caught a glimpse of The Holderness Family, internet famous for the creating original songs and parodies, as they were filming on a pickleball court. We were ecstatic at the thought that pickleball would be in one of their upcoming songs! We needed to know what they were up to and if we could help out, so we reached out to their producer and the info we received was that they were in fact working on a pickleball video and including pros, Michelle Esquivel, Ben Johns and Tyson McGuffin in the lyrics of their song.

We jumped in to help and the talented Steve Taylor, at Digital Spatula, provided professional pictures of these pros in action to include in the video, and we patiently waited to see what hilarious song was to come about pickleball.

“The Pickleball Song” was released on June 21st and immediately pickleball fans were sharing the video across their personal social media channels, within Facebook pickleball groups and online forums, laughing at comedic song and texting our beloved pros that they were internet famous!

Naturally, the best thing to do was to call on Michelle Esquivel, known in their song lyrics as “consistent as hell, like Michelle Esquivel,” to get on a video interview to talk pickleball and give them some pro tips on how to learn the game. What followed, was this entertaining video interview with Kim and Penn Holderness. “I didn’t choose pickleball, pickleball chose me!”

Watch the full interview featuring Kim and Penn Holderness, Michelle Esquivel and Laura Vossberg Gainor of USA Pickleball to check out what other surprises we gave to the family to help them with their pickleball game!

Soon The Holderness Family will be sporting protective eyewear from RIA Eyewear, thanks to Michelle’s safety tip.

The Holderness Family Launches “The Pickleball Song”

The Holderness Family Launches “The Pickleball Song”

The Holderness Family, known for their viral music videos, has hit the pickleball court! And, after playing once they’re hooked and ready to up their game. While creating the most epic song – “the Pickleball Song,” of course.

Check out “The Pickleball Song” and our full interview with the Holderness Family as pickleball pro, Michelle Esquivel (AKA Consistent as Hell) gives Kim and Penn some tips to up their game. 

Spikeball, Pickleball and Volleyball Battle it Out in ‘Pro vs. Pro’ Video Series

Spikeball, Pickleball and Volleyball Battle it Out in ‘Pro vs. Pro’ Video Series

By Laura Gainor – Featured in the May/June issue of Pickleball Magazine

What do you get when you have the best players in spikeball, pickleball and volleyball come together to show off their talents in their respective sports?

A “Pro vs. Pro” video series with top-ranked pickleball players Ben Johns and Kyle Yates playing pickleball and spikeball (a.k.a. roundnet) against Preston Bies, pro roundnet player, and Casey Patterson, pro beach volleyball player.

The video series on Preston Bies’ YouTube channel called “How to Roundnet” all started with Preston taking a break from spikeball to do a 50-day pickleball binge where he trained two hours a day.

Preston, 27, of Santa Barbara, California, got stoked about pickleball and wanted to play against the best. So he did a Google search for “best pickleball player in the world” and found none other than Ben Johns’ name pop up. He figured, why not message Ben on Instagram and ask if he wants to come out to California to do a pro vs. pro video series to play spikeball and pickleball, and to bring a friend with him.

So that’s exactly what happened. Ben called Kyle Yates and asked if he was up for the challenge, so both of them flew to California to learn how to play spikeball and show Preston and Casey how to excel in the game of pickleball.

“Ben and I are always up to try something new, so when we are invited to play with the world’s best at anything, of course we’re going to say yes!” says Kyle. “My favorite part about the Pro vs. Pro competition was seeing just how amazing these other pros are at their respective sports. I was in awe of some of the shots Preston was able to hit in roundnet—and it was pretty fun to show off a bit and feel comfortable on the pickleball court!”

Not only did these incredible athletes excel at each other’s respective sports, they had some fun along the way—including Ben using a slipper as a pickleball paddle to see if he could still win against the spikeball pros in a match. Spoiler alert: Ben won.

“For playing pickleball just three months, Preston is pretty good,” says Ben. When asked if he was going to try to play roundnet again in his free time, he replied, “Free time is a word I don’t use a lot these days! But if I get the chance, I’ll absolutely play again.”

According to Chris Ruder, Founder and CEO of Spikeball, Inc.—with approximately 4 million spikeball units sold—there are about 10-20 million people who have played roundnet.

Another spikeball pro competitor, Chris Hornacek, who recently hit the courts with Tyson Aposotol for an intense singles match, is also a pickleball pro-in-the-making, which proves there are many parallels between the two sports.

“I announced on Instagram that I was playing pickleball and suddenly a ton of spikeball players were sending me direct messages saying, ‘Yeah, I play!’ and telling me where I should travel to play pickleball,” says Chris. “Everyone points you in the right direction on how to improve your game.”

With millions of passionate players for a backyard game that complements pickleball nicely, we look forward to this network of athletes continuing to join us on the courts and work their way to the top of the pro circuit. See you in November at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships!

Check out the Pro vs. Pro video by Preston Bies of “How to Roundnet” below and visit our @USAPickleball Instagram channel for more exclusive videos and photos from competition!

Ponte Vedra Newsline: Pickleball Serves up Fitness and Fellowship

Ponte Vedra Newsline: Pickleball Serves up Fitness and Fellowship

Thank you to Tiffany Phelps of the Ponte Vedra Newsline for shining a spotlight on the explosive growth of pickleball in Ponte Vedra, Florida and for including Vossberg Gainor in the feature. Check out the full feature on their WEBSITE.

A special thanks to fellow pickleballer, Terri Wilson, for introducing me to Tiffany. The social + friend network that comes with pickleball is priceless. 

By Tiffany Merlo Phelps

Laura Gainor had just launched a marketing company, Vossberg Gainor, while living in Chicago when pickleball hit her radar quite by accident in 2019.

“I was introduced to USA Pickleball through my husband because he used to have George Bauernfeind as a client at a previous agency. George is the chief marketing officer for USA Pickleball,” said Gainor, whose husband works in sports marketing.

USA Pickleball became Gainor’s client, and Gainor quickly realized that she wanted to learn to play the sport to be a more effective pickleball marketing consultant.

“On my one-year anniversary of launching Vossberg Gainor, I rebranded my website to have the unique niche of Pickleball Marketing. USA Pickleball continues to be a client, among others,” she said.

In October 2020, Gainor and her family moved to Nocatee, specifically because of its 12 new pickleball courts (for Nocatee residents only). She normally plays twice a day, every day.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the USA, and it is a thriving social sport with a huge friend network,” said Gainor, 38. “It actually became more popular during the pandemic because people could play outside and socialize safely.”

Gainor’s enthusiasm for the sport can be found throughout Ponte Vedra Beach — both indoors and outdoors.

Reza Shafii plays pickleball three days a week at the Ponte Vedra YMCA every morning. He has been doing so since 2018 when he moved from Maryland where he also loved playing pickleball. There, he saw the numbers go from 20 people playing to 300 before he and his wife moved to Florida to be near his daughter and grandchildren.

“If you start this game, you won’t know when to quit,” said Shafii. “The fundamentals are the key. My goal is to encourage people to play better.”

Shafii said the camaraderie in pickleball is very different than in other sports, and it also provides an excellent cardiovascular workout. He added that any Ponte Vedra YMCA member can join in on the game at any time, and the Y offers wooden paddles for beginners.

“The advantage of this game is fellowship,” said Shafii, 71.

Shafii has taught his grandchildren how to play pickleball and loves the multi-generational aspect of the sport. It is an easy way to teach respect and compassion for each other, he said.

USA Pickleball Ambassador Mike Guyot, a Nocatee resident, was introduced to pickleball 14 years ago while living in The Villages near Ocala. Before long, he became an instructor with a 4.0 rating (skill level ratings fall between 0 – 5.0 in half point increments). Next Guyot captained teams and became a member of the Pickleball Community Volunteer Group. Once he moved to Nocatee, Guyot continued to play and was looking for ways to reach more pickleball players. That’s when he became an USA Pickleball Ambassador.

“The primary goal of an ambassador is to help the sport grow, welcome people and train players,” said Guyot, 72.

According to USA Pickleball reports, there are 4.2 million players in the United States, and the average age for all players is 41 years old. Also, 2020 marked the 55th anniversary of pickleball being invented by three fathers looking to keep their bored children active in the summer. Two stories exist about the origin of the game’s name, according to USA Pickleball. The prevailing one is that one of the fathers got a dog a year or so after the game was invented and named it Pickles. The dog often ran off with the ball, and so, when an official game name was needed, well, “pickleball” stuck.

The growing popularity of pickleball did not go unnoticed by Austin Taylor and Mike Miles, The Yards’ finance and operations director and general manager, respectively. They took over the Oak Bridge Club after it failed as a golf course and country club, said Miles. Construction of 12 pickleball courts, slated to open in October, is currently underway at this Ponte Vedra Beach sports and social venue, located at the Oak Bridge Club in Sawgrass. It also includes a renovated 12-hole golf course.

“After a great deal of research, we landed on pickleball, and our whole business model is for profit,” said Miles. “This is pay to play, and we may or may not have memberships. There will be no fighting for court space as you will get your own court, and you will be treated as a member during that time.”

Miles said “Pickle Garden at The Yards” will include LED lighting, covered social areas, a cabana available to rent and a pro shop with equipment rentals. Taylor added that this is a venue where clinics, tournaments and programs will be held while still meeting the needs of all types of players by offering a reasonable hourly rate — all open to the public.

To find public courts and play times, Gainor suggests checking out places2play.org.

Photo by Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Nocatee resident Mike Smiley playing pickleball recently at one of the 12 courts in the area.