Becky Baker-Illman of Nordland, Wash., is not your textbook retired school teacher. In fact, Illman’s second act has been about anything but slowing down. As her 65th birthday approaches, this national motorcycle racing champion continues to take life at full speed!
“When I turned 50, my husband bought me a BMW motorcycle. It could go up to 150 mph or more,” she said. “I wanted to learn how to take that bike to its full potential, while reaching my own.”
So, at more than half-century-old, Illman signed herself up for a premiere motorcycle track racing school. “I was out on Road America, one of the big tracks in Wisconsin, and got to ride two-up on the back of Reg Pridmore’s motorcycle. We went so fast and I thought, I want to race like that!” she said.
Illman, who grew up riding dirt bikes in rural Ohio, has always believed she could keep up with the boys. “I had an older brother and a couple of boy cousins my age. We were constantly doing things together. Anything they could do, I could do. I never even thought about not trying because I was a girl. It was in the dirt, with those boys, I first got comfortable racing without using a brake,” she said. “When I turned 16-years-old, my dad bought me a motorcycle – a small 250 Bridgestone – that I rode all throughout high school and college. After college, I always had some sort of street bike.”
Fast forward to 2006 and an old Honda 350cc Illman and her husband, Richard, bought to start working on to race. “I joined the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) and raced that Honda for five years until I got a little bigger one – a FT 500,” she said. “It was on the FT in 2011 that I won the Vintage Superbike Lightweight National Championship.”
Illman was one of four women, in different classes, that year to make history as the first female AHRMA champions. “It was quite an accomplishment. I was getting ready to turn 60 and beat out all males, most of whom were young enough to be my sons,” she said.
“I was stoked! It was the culmination of so much hard work. I competed in 12 races that year, driving cross country four or five days sometimes to get there. I worked hard on my bike, blew two engines, searched for parts and did my own repairs. Nothing was given to me. I had put my mind to it and I did it. I wanted to race and be the best I could, and becoming one of the first women to achieve that title was a bit of a dream come true. It was something no one could take from me!”
When they put the #1 plate on her bike, Illman says she became “the one to beat” the next year. Even her husband decided to start racing. The couple now spends June to October traveling from coast-to-coast between speedways and events. In the off-season, they work on their bikes together. “We own 12 bikes between us including electric and custom-built models,” she said. “If you’re going to put your life on the line on top of a bike, you want to know every nut, bolt and wire is done correctly.”
“I’m really not much of a risk-taker, just a calculated planner,” Illman said. “I practice, practice, practice – 90-degree or more turns, without slowing, to the end of the straightaway. I walk the track every time before I ride it, visualizing each corner and double apex. I look for distinct visual markers to remind me where I’m at,” Illman said. “It’s woman and machine out there. When I’m on the track, I’m completely focused on the here and now. I can’t have one other thought come into my mind. I love the feeling of being entirely present.”
Despite a few broken ribs and a sprained thumb from three different crashes here and there, Illman keeps her sights set on the future. “My goal now is to keep racing until I’m 70,” she said. “It’s no longer about winning, it’s about enjoying each experience and having fun – timed or not. Plus, once you are 70-years-old you get to race free. Getting older has its perks!”
Clear Creek Dentistry applauds the Illmans, patients since 2013, for their zest for life and unique accomplishments.