Worthington News

Motorcycle couple on pace to set more land-speed records

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When Richard Hunter took his young daughter for Sunday rides on country roads around Centerville, he thought she would come along just to help pick up the cider from the farm stand.

He never suspected it was a thrill for speed that she was really developing -- a thrill that would lead her to set motorcycle land-speed records 40 years later.

"Dad always had the fastest cars we could afford," Erin Hunter recalled on a recent visit with her parents, who now live in Worthington.

It was more than a love of speed, however, that her parents instilled in their daughter, whose most recent record was 205 miles per hour and who, during the week, is an executive with Facebook in San Francisco.

"I grew up in a family where there was no distinction between what a girl can do and a boy can do," she said. "It encourages me to do whatever my spirit takes me to do."

After the visit with Richard and Judy Hunter at their Potters Creek home, her spirit took her and fiance Andy Sills back across the country on their BMW sport cycles, which are two of many the racing couple own.

Between the two of them, they have set 19 world or national land-speed records and two Guinness world records.

Most were earned at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Utah racing mecca where conditions are just right for setting speed records.

With no gender separations in the world of motorcycle racing, the Hunter-Sills team races both with and against each other.

They both hope to break their 205-mph records by as much as 10 mph in the next race, on new bikes they believe will take them to new records.

Their Guinness records are for the fastest speed on a motorcycle ridden by two people.

Their two-way speed across the flats was 181 mph. Sills drove one way, Hunter the other. Both agreed the person on the back of the bike had the tougher job.

The attempt was a first at the 2011 Top Speed Shootout, an international event. They wanted riders to rethink the possibilities of riding "two-up."

They came to realize tandem races would be far more dangerous than they had thought.

"They probably should not be sanctioned," Hunter said.

Safety is a high priority with both riders. They wear full protective gear during races and on the open road. At Bonneville, the space is wide open, with nothing to run into and no place for an animal to hide.

Safe riding means using your brain at all times to anticipate and strategize to manage the risks, Sills said.

He taught Hunter all he knows, with her riding on the back of his bike for a year before moving on to her own bike.

Sills started riding motorcycles at age 47, during a vacation in Hawaii. He rented a cycle, rode for 16 hours and bought his first Harley-Davidson the next day.

He later switched to sport bikes and discovered what he called the "BMW culture."

After learning speed during high-desert rides, he offered to ride in races for a local dealer, who eventually took him up on his offer.

Hunter started as part of his crew and then decided to become a rider in the second year. That was nine years ago.

That year, she was one of four women in a field of nearly 300 racers. She immediately decided to begin evangelizing the sport to women.

She founded the sheEmoto Award for female land-speed racers. Each year, the award goes to a female rider and to someone in her life who has encouraged her.

For Hunter, that award could go to her mom and dad, who often are part of the crew as their daughter speeds across the desert at 200-plus mph.

"I love that she does it," Judy Hunter said.

Her dad always sends her off with the same advice.

"Be safe and go fast," he says.

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