It seems that land-speed record holder Leslie Porterfield is everywhere these days, so it was only natural that we grab her for the cover of our Gear guide. As the owner of Hig Hive Cycles, an independent dealership in Dallas, and the 2008 AMA Racing Female Rider of the Year, the 33-year-old racer is fully submerged in the world of motorcycling. Porterfield, who started riding when she was 16, also writes a column for 2Wheel Tuner, a sister publication of Dealernews.
We talked with Porterfield in the final weeks of preparation before her next record-seeking run at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Already a member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club, she said she was shooting for something over the 250 mph mark. If she hits it, she’ll add that achievement to the three land-speed records she holds.
Porterfield was bitten by the racing bug at 19 when she took a road-racing course. She first took to the salt in 2007. A bad crash left her with seven broken ribs and a punctured lung, but she returned in 2008 to grab her speed records. She’s tried her hand at motocross and is even planning on racing Baja, but playing in the dirt is mostly for fun. “I think I’m programmed [to think] if I’m flying through the air, there’s usually something wrong,” she says.
Dealernews: Tell us a little about High Five Cycles.
Porterfield: I opened this [15,000 q. ft.] shop about five years ago. I run it a lot like a franchise store, but I don’t have the luxury of a franchise. I sell only pre-owned motorcycles. I thought it would be a different concept to go with all makes and models. I carry everything from scooters to dirtbikes to used Harleys and all the major manufacturers. … It’s kind of nice not being brand-specific. I also have a big parts-and-accessories department and a full service department as well.
We’re in a position where we can take in any make and year. There are things that we have to be very cautious about and it comes with a lot of challenges, but there are also a lot of beautiful antique bikes. This gives us quite a big niche. A lot of other dealers refer work to us and we also get a lot of work on your conventional late-model sportbikes and cruisers.
Our store is different from the other dealerships in town. I stay open very late on Thursday night and host a big bike night. I’ll have up to 500 or 600 motorcycles in my parking lot. It’s become such a huge event. My whole store stays open. We do service. We sell parts and motorcycles. My whole staff is there. It makes for some late nights, but it’s turned out to be a really huge event. Being creative like that in times like these has helped business quite a bit.
Dealernews: How has the economic downturn affected your business?
Porterfield: It has increased my parts and service departments because people are fixing up older bikes. People are keeping a lot of the bikes that they would normally trade in when they purchase a new machine. I have seen some declines in my sales department. We still sell quite a few used bikes, but the volume has definitely declined since last year, most of it due to retail financing being our No. 1 challenge.
Dealernews: What impact does your racing program have on your store?
Porterfield: I have quite a bit of local press that has found my story interesting. That’s been a real bonus because of the lack of advertising dollars that I have. It’s helped quite a bit and really put us on the map.
I get a lot of local and national press because of it. That’s been good for the store, which si a good thing because this is something I started doing because it’s been a longtime dream of mine. I’ve been involved in many forms of competitive motorcycle riding. I’ve been riding since I was 16. Bonneville was always a big dream of mine. Now it’s become really good for business as well, which is a great bonus.
Dealernews: What is your goal for Bonneville this year, and what keeps you going back?
Porterfield: My top record right now is 232 mph and I’m shooting for the 250 mph range.
It is a very unusual place. Bonneville itself is very otherworldly, just stark white salt for miles, nothing growing, nothing living. It’s like being on he surface of another planet. And the people are fantastic. My goals are to be a better rider every time, learn something from it and push myself to the limits, too.
I work out quite a bit. I stay in shape. Mentally I go through every run and think of the perfect run. I think that’s very important. A lot of people ask me if I’m afraid after my big crash in 2007. I have to put any thoughts like that out of my head. I don’t think of what bad can happen. I don’t think about crashing or what happens if. All I focus on is the best possible way for me to achieve my goal.
Dealernews: What’s it like out on the salt?
Porterfield: It’s funny, I didn’t realize when I first started going to Bonneville that there is so much to riding a motorcycle to a world’s record. Just one elbow in the wind can cost several miles an hour. Aerodynamics are very important, as is body position and shift points. A lot of things go into it and the motorcycle takes a lot of preparation. It’s definitely a lesson in patience because you have such a long time before going back out to the salt. It’s a yearly event, so you have to be pretty patient.
It is physically demanding. Being out on the salt flats in August, it’s hot. You’re out there from 5 a.m. until dark … and the runs themselves are physically demanding. There’s a lot more to it than just hopping on the bike and twisting the throttle, especially with the turbo-charged machines. They can be quite a handful.
Dealernews: Did you ever imagine your racing exploits would catapult you into celebrity?
Porterfield: No. I never did. I’m really surprised at the recognition I’ve gotten. Being a racer this is something that I did strictly for my own personal satisfaction. It was something I did for fun. It was chasing a dream of mine. I had no idea that I would get so much notoriety, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve met so many great people, and it’s really amazing and flattering when people come up to me. I never could have imagined this. it’s amazing and I feel very fortunate.