The Queen of Sturgis. Bettie Bicycle. 20th Century Racing. These handles may ring a bell, as they all epitomize the jodhpur-wearing, antique-motorcycle-racing, toddler-chasing mother named Brittney Olsen. Hailing from Aberdeen, South Dakota, Brittney’s spirit was raised in the hands of those she looked up to in the gasoline culture towards which she gravitated. Today her bright and bubbly spirit can be seen transformed on the dirt tracks of America into a vicious and voracious boardtrack racer of a 1923 Harley Davidson.
We can all sit back and think on the characters that shaped our lives as children. These people shine simply for being wholeheartedly themselves. The aura of such people sparked something in us that would make us turn in our 3rd grade essays claiming that we wanted to be “just like them”. At the tender age of three, Brittney’s father showed her “Heart Like a Wheel”, starring Shirley Muldowney. A fierce admiration grew in Brittney for her new role model Shirley. Shirley became the woman that broke down the glass ceilings in the male-dominated sport of racing. Brittney knew early on that she wanted to be “just like her”.
When her father sat her down in a go-kart shortly after, he quickly realized that Brittney’s soul was meant to go fast. He built her a two stroke quad upon which she began to race all the local boys and men, knocking them down in the tiers and leaving them in the dust. Her need for speed was elevated throughout the years, in all kinds of vehicles, even causing her to frequent the drag strip in her 1969 Camaro during high school.
Brittney began to dabble in pinstriping and bicycle building in the years to come, which would then prompt people to raise the question, “Why don’t you start building motorcycles to race?”. It was only obvious, as this would tie in her love of racing as well as her fascination with anything two-wheeled. She scoured through hundreds of magazines, in search of her moto-inspiration. Brittney found herself drooling over an ad for Excelsior of the early 1900s. It was serendipitous that the bicycle world would merge the motorcycle world in more ways than one - the bicycle manufacturer Schwinn had bought out Excelsior in 1911 - which solidified her enchantment.
Her universe seemed to conspire thereafter, revolving around antique motorcycles. One night, while visiting her uncle’s bar, she spotted a gentleman with a Harley Davidson timeline of motorcycles shirt on and curiously quizzed him about the earliest one. “That one”, she pointed to the first photo on the timeline, “tell me what you know about that bike”. The conversation was the catalyst for her involvement with the local Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA). The club consisted of a band of men, all over 40, that coveted antique motorcycles, whether that meant racing or building them. Brittney had a sense that this was where she belonged. Never once letting the fact that she was 19 and a female slow her pace.
A spontaneous message asking her to pinstripe a motorcycle would appear after she joined, from a local member of the AMCA, Matthew Olsen. Matt had been riding and building antique motorcycles his whole life with his mentor and father, Carl Olsen. It seems as though the world has a funny way of bringing things into life after deciding to focus on them, and things were certainly lining up for Brittney. Looking back at the connected dots, dates with Matt would open her eyes to the entirely new world of boardtrack racing - combining her love for antiquities and the lust for speed. “I knew from the first date that we were soulmates”, Brittney claims. Never before had she connected with a man that so happened to speak her language. Instead of a diamond ring, Matt proposed to Brittany with a 1923 J-model motor that would be the symbolic of the powerhouse relationship that would thereafter blossom.
The two spoke their vows to each other at the American Wall of Death, a 14-foot motodrome where daredevils perform their tricks on the walls all while riding, you guessed it, antique motorcycles. They purposefully laid the foundation for a union fueled by the things they love the most, and promised to live it every day.
When Giselle and I rushed to the airport to pick up Brittney and her son, Lockheed, we were thrilled to learn everything we could about this woman. She was dominating as one of the very few women in the motorcycle industry to be racing an early 20th century motorcycle. As we pulled into the arrival lane at the airport, we saw none other than the Queen of Sturgis. She had a Harley Davidson captain’s hat and her progeny embraced at her hip. My childlike admiration took over, and I could see myself as a little girl staring at her from the passenger seat window claiming “I want to be just like her!”.
Lockheed is completely enamored with his mother. He follows in her footsteps and mimics her mannerisms. When she sits him in her lap on her old motorcycle, he’ll lurch forward and roll on the grips making vroom vroom noises or lay on the horn already knowing both its particular voice and purpose. Lock has already mastered his Strider bike, peeling into corners and swerving it right back around. It was at her son’s age that Brittney reminisces about discovering her first role model. It is evident that Lock has found that in his very own mother.
When asked, “What is it like to raise a child around motorcycles?”, she stated, “A lot of people judge if a kid is on bike...They say, he shouldn’t be on there.” Brittney has found her comfort in knowing that most mothers in the early 1900s brought children home on motorcycles because, frankly, back then they could not afford cars. When pregnant, she would admire photos from women in countries around the world, such as Nepal, that could be seen with their child wrapped on their back while riding a motorcycle. While understanding the risks, she continues to live based on what she knows best, synchronously trusting both her maternal and rider instincts. Brittney expects her child to grow up and learn through bruises and scrapes, but also wants to teach him that if he falls, there is nothing one can do but rise.
And rise he shall, especially after being raised in the company of a woman that has done just that so many times herself. Brittney is rising to yet another challenge presently, as the track that built her is in the process of being closed by its city. She won her first two races on that Sturgis Half Mile Track. The Sturgis Rally started on that track. People have died on that track. People have preserved history on that track. And now she deems it her turn to fight for the preservation of the track. Thinking back to the children’s movie adaptation of the book, The Lorax, Brittney mustered up the courage to fight. In the movie, he states, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
It’s with heart and emotional investment that Brittney has founded the Spirit of Sturgis: Vintage Motorcycle Festival. This two-day event is to honor those before her and to show the city why the track is vital to the community. She has teamed up with the local Indian dealership to bring together a weekend of vintage swapmeets, races, art shows, and activities. The event closely follows the Sturgis Rally, with its inaugural commencement on August 26th and 27th.
Preserving the community while simultaneously leading the initiative to bring forth new generations are core values mirroring those of Daughters of the Road. Brittney Olsen exemplifies all that we strive to be, and has shaped herself to be her very own version of a “Shirley Muldowney” to many girls across the board. We just know that bright-eyed little girls with hearts of fuel will tune into 20th Century Racing and find their hero, creating a lasting legacy for the women of our community.