It’s Bridget Bell and it’s another #perthfect summer morning, its tipped to reach 40 degrees before 10am. I’ve set off to a millennial pink and grey cafe in Byford to for Insta-worthy, potentially diabetes inducing, pancakes with this week’s Flash Femme Modified Motorcycle Drag Racer Natasha Hayden.
When did you get your motorcycle licence?
“I got my licence 10 years ago. I grew up with my Dad having bikes. It was one of my goals in life to get my licence and to one day go on rides with him. My former partner was also into bikes and he booked me a surprise bike lesson to encourage me to make my goal happen and from there I haven’t looked back.”
“I had been daily riding and a mate of mine told me to go down the Motorplex and have a go. I said, ‘Nup, too scary I’m not going to do it’. I went and watched and thought ‘this is something I can do’. The next week, I was down on track and I haven’t been away since.”
What was it like at your first Whoop Ass, what were you feeling when you returned to the staging lanes?
“Like I tell all the other girls now, it was so exhilarating and so much fun you want to do it, again and again and again and again.”
And so you are. Who are you racing with?
“The competitive racing team is Street & Dragbike with Daniel ‘Rangz’ Natalotto on his ZX-6R, Wayne Gummow on his ZX-14 and me on my R1.”
“My partner Dan and my two daughters, Ema and Bri, make up my crew and my they’re biggest supporters. The last thing my girls say to me under the tunnel is ‘I love you’ every run.”
“Streetbike Drag School is for Whoop Ass Wednesdays.”
What is the premise behind the Street Bike Drag School?
“Its to give back to the sport and try to promote it. To encourage new comers to come in, have a go and get the taste for it. Hopefully we can help them progress to go into competitive racing.”
“I usually coach the new people who come along because I can relate to the nerves and the jitters and the unknowns of it all. I will go through and explain the tree to them, what’s at the other end of the track.”
That’s a really good point you raise Natasha, there’s no track walk before you start at a Whoop Ass, so your first launch is into the dark abyss and don’t know what is at the other end of the drag strip.
Teacher Tash explains that it’s not all straight lines in racing. Image courtesy of Mike Sprlyan ACS Sports Images
Can you talk us though what you’d tell a newbie?
“I will walk them out on track, I’ll go through where their line is; where to line up on the track. We primarily stick to the inside tyre track that the cars leave. If you get onto the shiny surface, that’s where you’re going to do squigglies down the track and you’re not going to get any traction. The car tyre tracks already has rubber laid down from the cars.”
While you’re talking about track surface and traction, is there a better time to come down for your first Whoop Ass Wednesday for a motorcycle?
“Definitely after a major meet. The track will still be prepped from the competitive racing.”
So you’ve told them where they’re going to race, what else do you show the novice racer?
“I’ll demonstrate how the tree works, where the laser points are for the stages. I will show them with my foot where the laser beam is broken and the corresponding pre-stage light on the tree. I will tell them, ‘this is when you need to relax, take a breath, calm yourself, get yourself settled because once that tree goes down its gone before you can blink’. At pre-stage, bring your revs up a little bit, just like you’re going up a hill, so a little bit higher than normal. Roll into full-stage and again I’ll show them with my foot where the beam is and how minor that distance is.”
It’s only a couple of inches isn’t it?
“That’s right. Not even half a step. And then I talk about the starting lights. There are three amber lights and then the green. I tell them to leave on the third amber light. Don’t wait for the green, because by the time you’ve got the green the guy next to you is already halfway done the track.”
“Some people I’ll tell to leave on the second amber light, based on their nerves because by the time you decide that you need to go the light is already green.”
“That’s only for your very first two or three runs, and then after that you can work out when you are happy to leave.”
The feedback is quite instantaneous after your run. By the time you’ve made it back on the return road you receive your results?
“Yeah, it will break down your speed, your 60 foot, your 330 foot, the reaction time.”
“In a race, the reaction time and your first 60’, that is the race. On a Whoop Ass Wednesday we will tell people so they know, but we don’t push that, because they’re there to have fun.”
What is the reality check for people that think that ‘I can just roll up to a race meet with my gear bag and my motorcycle and just win’?
“We get some people that come through and you ask them, ‘have you done it before’ and they’ll say ‘no’. So you ask if they want you to go through the tree with them and they’ll refuse, saying that they’ve seen it, or they’ve been in cars before.”
“It’s not about pride or anything like that, we’re trying to make sure you have a good experience while you’re there, not walk away going ‘aw I’m rubbish, this is embarrassing’ we want you to walk away with a smile and go ‘hey, look what I’ve done’.”
It’s been noted that larger rail and chassis cars are affected by cross winds on the track if there’s a strong sea-breeze. Is that something that’s has affected you?
“Not on the R1, on the smaller bike, the 600cc I did. It did catch me off guard once, I remember one time it was a good cross wind and it scared the crap out of me. But there is a lot to experience and there are so many things I’ve not experienced yet going down the track. I’m still learning, new things are happening to me each time I go.”
Do you find that other motorcycle racing disciplines just nail drag racing?
“We get a fair number of circuit racers from Wanneroo Raceway come to practice their launches. And some of them don’t even click that coming down to the Drags is great for the circuit as it gets them out the front of the pack. I had a guy last week ‘I never thought of it until I came down’ he said to me.”
Motorcycle riding on public roads is scary enough with Perth drivers. Does off-street drag racing provide a good opportunity to hone straight line skills in a controlled environment?
“It is a very safe environment, there aren’t any animals going to jump out on track or drivers wanting to crash into you. It gives you a really good chance to learn and understand your bike where it’s limits are. Even though you’re riding in a straight line, you learn where the limit is for each gear and clutch control for when you’re launching.”
“There’s a lot more to it than just going in a straight line. You learn to listen to your bike, eventually getting to a point where you can look down at your dash while you’re racing rather than just hanging on.”
“I started on a CBR600 and I’ve upgrade to the Yamaha R1. The first night I raced the R1 I felt like I was going to fall off of the back of the bike. There was so much power available to me, so I had to hone my skills even more and learn to tuck myself right in and be aerodynamic with the bike.”
I know you’re very active in the community trying to encourage women to have a go at racing to build their confidence and increase their skills. You’re a member of a motorcycle racing group?
“I’m a member of the Facebook group GLOW, Gorgeous Ladies on Wheels. I don’t go on many group rides just because of time; nevertheless, I’ve had a number of the girls from the group come down. One lady is going to do Fast Fridays! I’m pretty stoked with that result.”
“I’m always petitioning the girls to come and give it a go. Some of them will come down to watch and support their lady friends and I say to them, ‘next time I’ll see you on your bike going down the track, right?’. There’s a lot of hesitation they’ll say they’re too scared, and that’s exactly what I said.”
“I remind them that you’re in control and you’re only going to go as fast as you tell the bike to go.”
Normally you’d progress from Whoop Ass Wednesdays into Fast Fridays, how did you transition?
“I went directly from Whoop Ass Wednesday straight to competitive weekend racing. There was no Fast Friday as it’s only returned to the calendar this season. I basically did one and a half seasons of Whoop Ass and this is my second season of competitive racing.”
There’s some new initiatives at Whoop Ass Wednesdays I hear?
“Whoop Ass Wednesday has just introduced dial-in racing for the motorcycles to have a go at it and everyone seems to be loving it. Motorplex has put together a ‘best package’ prize and we hand out a free entry ticket for the best package of the night.”
“Ray Treasure and the Motorplex team asked us if it was a good idea, so we approached all of the motorcycle racers. After we explained what bracket racing is, they were all excited about it and once they’ve had a go at it, they love it.”
“It gives people a bit of a taste for what competitive racing actually is.”
Is Whoop Ass Wednesday a really good opportunity to practice your race-craft before the weekend?
“I don’t get a lot of ride time in because I put all of my effort and passion into the school.”
“Sometimes Dan will run the school and I’ll get to have a play. I’ll ride throughout the night with the rest of the group so I can get some practice in for the weekend but most of the time I don’t get a lot of ride time on a Wednesday night.”
In spite of you being new to the sport Tash, you are still willing to share the knowledge that you have with new people that aren’t yet involved with the sport.
Its a really big commitment to sacrifice your time on track to help others; rather than concentrating on your own race routine or dial-ins. Essentially you are giving that up to help other people in the community to help them work on their racing?
“It’s rewarding to see people loving the sport and getting involved, I find that more important than my racing some days.”
Is that your endorphin release? Living vicariously through other people’s success?
“Definitely! Watching people come back from their first run up the return road with that big grin on their face, it just like ‘yep, you’ve got it’” she says with a beaming like a Cheshire Cat.
Have you ever wanted to race a car Tash?
“No. No, not ever. I have thought about taking my Santa Fe down a couple of times.” She jokes
“I’ve been in the car with Lia Zappia, she come down on a Wednesday night to give her car a go and she was like ‘Jump in!’. So I jumped in and it was a totally different experience being on a bike to a car going down the track.”
“You feel a bit safer in a car I think”
Can you talk me through the Modified Bike category?
“It’s a dial-in bracket of racing, you choose how fast you are going to run depending on how you’ve been going throughout the day, the weather and track conditions.”
“For me, I’m not as technical as some of the others that are making decisions based off of their data, or the conditions when they’re qualifying. I just run on an average of what I’ve been doing throughout the qualifying sessions that day and just pick a number.”
“Because we are running street bikes, we don’t have too much to worry about on the bikes either.”
How has the transition been, have you been successful racing thus far?
“Not so much success, I’ve had a few wins but it’s only early days and I am still learning, I don’t pretend I even know half of drag racing, I’m working on my experience and getting seat time.”
“I’ve been doing 9 seconds, I had been doing 10 seconds for ages. I’ve been pushing and pushing and trying to crack the nines and every now and then I do it.”
“I average about 10 seconds, or 10.2. Any more and I think to myself ‘that was rubbish, chuck that in the bin’. But when I first started out on the 600cc I was running 14 seconds. I try not to beat myself up.”
“Make it flow, not slow” Natasha Hayden. Image Courtesy of Mike Sprlyan ACS Sports Images
“Now as I’m coming up to the tree I’ve got this saying in my head; ‘make it flow, not slow’ and I constantly repeat that before I go up to the tree. Now when you see me focusing on the start-line, that’s all that is going through my head.”
“It’s working, this is making me more confident and I’m enjoying racing even more.”
What does it mean when you say you ‘dipped into the nines’?
“Basically just doing a pass in nine point something seconds. I think my PB right now is 9.86 seconds which is pretty fast over 400 meters. My best was around 250kph, meaning I’ve got the fastest MPH in modified bike, so I’m pretty chuffed with that one to be honest. I even beat Luke [Seaton] on his R1 in MPH. He still does quicker laps though.”
Have you established any notoriety being in the Nine-Club?
“Yes! I got quite a bit of interest on @tash_fth8888, my instagram account. I’ve been receiving a bit of respect from the India and American drag racing circles, which is pretty cool.”
It’s an exclusive club.
“Yes it is, being the only girl [competing in Mod Bike at the Motorplex] I am a bit more proud of myself, like ‘yeah, I’m up there with the boys now’.”
After Mod-Bike, what is the next bracket up if you want to go faster?
“It would be Competition Bike, that’s the bracket my partner has just gone into this year so now I’m learning what Comp Bike is all about through him. There’s no dial-in with Comp Bike, it’s all about going fast. You have to stay under your index.”
Do you have the dream of going faster?
“Of course” she says resolutely.
“Everyone does in Drag Racing, you’re always trying to chase that 100th of a second faster. I’m still happy in Mod Bike at the moment.”
Tell me about how you maintain your fitness to race?
“I keep myself fit at Hyper Active Fitness. I go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, there’s a lot of power behind the R1 and I need a bit of strength to keep me on the bike.”
“Each day is different. I’ll do leg-day, arm-day, circuit, I do boxing; I love boxing to work out all my frustrations.”
Remind me not to back-chat you!
“I’ve got a pretty good left hook apparently” Tash laughs congenially.
“It’s just a really good environment and a great community down there, they’re so supportive. I have gym friends come to the Motorplex and support me as well.”
Tell me about your bike?
“My bike that I race with is my daily as well, so this week I’ve been riding it to work and back so its kept street legal.”
What are the temporary modifications you do to your bike at the track?
“We literally just pull the front straps down. Straps are used on the front forks to compress the front shock to prevent the bike wheelie-ing when you go down the track. The bike does still want to stand up when you launch hard, but it does eliminate the bike from going right up.”
You’re running your garden variety R1 with some straps, anything else?
“We’ve put in some lowering links in the back obviously to help with the racing, but also because I’m a short-arse, I still tippy toe on the bike even with it being lowered as much as it can be without bottoming out on speed bumps and kerbs.”
“We reviewed the videos that we’d been taking at the track to nail the set-up when we played with the back suspension. Focussing on compression rate so it compresses down and comes back slowly instead of trying to buck you up and taking off on launch.”
You’ve bound to have got the front end up a few times now, how do you go with setting the front wheel back down on the ground?
“Knowing to back off that little bit to allow the bike to come back down and then roll back onto it, it comes naturally and I don’t even think about it. You feel it coming up so you just do what you have to do and keep going. It’s quite natural and normal to have it up.”
“You’re in control and you’re only going to go as fast as you tell the bike to go” Natasha Hayden, racer 8888. Image courtesy of Mike Sprlyan ACS Sports Images
Are there people outside of the sport that you are inspired by?
“Jess Boujos from Panik Racing 100%, she’s into anything and everything. She gives everything a go. I remember she said looked at my tyres and said to me ‘you can tell you’re a drag racer not a track racer’. She’s definitely a female to look up to.”
What’s been the reaction from everyone at the track to you racing?
“Everyone just loves it and just wants to help out. I’ve had to start telling them ‘I’ve got it, thank you’” she says firmly. “It’s a beautiful community, it is a huge big family. And I have my own personal coach as well.”
You’re always going to have respect from the drag racing community, but have you had haters for no reason outside of the sport?
“Not haters, but there are people who like to stir you up, they’ll say ‘drag racing is just driving in a straight line’ so I’ll explain just a tiny part of drag racing and then they understand there’s more to it than just running in a straight line. It’s because they like to stir me up, but I still get respect outside of the track as well.”