Becoming a Vintage Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Racer: Brittney Olsen
Brittney Olsen has her sights set on conquering the vintage motorcycle racing scene.
Described as someone with enough energy and enthusiasm for six people, Brittney Olsen formed 20th Century Racing in order to campaign her 1923 Harley-Davidson Model J board tracker and a 1938 Indian Sport Scout. In addition to balancing family-life and motherhood, she is also a brand ambassador and spokesperson for numerous antique and motorcycle racing organizations.
A chance meeting with the legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney ignited Olsen's passion for racing. Olsen met Muldowney after watching Heart Like A Wheel — a biographical film based on Muldowney's life and drag racing career. Muldowney's trail-blazing achievements include being the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), numerous Top Fuel championships and multiple NHRA records.
Instead of a ring, Olsen's fiance, Matthew Olsen, gave her a motor for her 1923 Model J. She discussed the bike-build in a 2018 interview with MotoSpirit Magazine, “We built it from scratch around the motor. It wasn’t super rough, but it needed to be completely rebuilt. Most old board-track racers... were typically built from the ground up for the [sole] purpose of racing.”
Olsen got a little expert help with her build. The Model J's frame was built by friend and fellow racer, Mike Lange. Lock Baker of Eastern Fabrications helped build the aluminum gas and oil tank, seat pan, and push bar. Jordan Dickinson from Union Speed Shop covered the custom racing saddle. Olsen excitedly stated, “He (Dickinson) stamped in my logo just like the old board-track racers had on theirs!”
A year and a half after Matthew proposed, the Model J was running and race-ready. Olsen explained that the bike was “pretty bumpy when I ride under speeds of 50mph but as soon as I get past that point, it’s smooth sailing.” The dedicated racing machine has no brakes, no clutch, or transmission. A decompression lever helps when push-starting, and a kill switch shuts the machine down.
Olsen trained herself for the demands of racing by practicing on a Kawasaki 125 during the cold South Dakota winter. She reflected, “Even on my dirt bike, I crashed a lot on the wet, slippery snow. It got me used to sliding on the track.” Still, after her first race in 2013, Olsen stated, “All the practice in the world could never prepare me for the pea gravel half-mile track in Wauseon, Ohio.”
Olsen finished seventh out of sixteen in her first race. Having never raced before, she explained that the rolling start took her a bit by surprise and put her at the back of the pack. “It didn’t bother me though, because in the end I finished, I did not crash, and I carefully passed the fellow who did wipe out. I had begun a new chapter in life.”
There is no doubt that Olsen was bitten by the speed bug at a young age. An avid go-kart enthusiast, she began racing two-stroke quads at an early age. Olsen then took to the drag strip in her 1969 Camero. Reflecting, Olsen stated, “Boy that was a rush, but before I knew it I just wanted to go faster. It’s like a drug… you get addicted and just want more.”
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