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High Life: A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : A Girl Motorcycle Racer? Yes, Indeed, You Read It Right

Jennifer Turner, a recent graduate of Orange High School, is a regular contributor to High Life

Careening through the desert at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, all the time risking far more than a broken fingernail or a scraped elbow, Denise Haslett has found her place in the male-dominated sport of motorcycle racing.

Haslett, a 17-year-old senior at Orange High School, has been riding motorcycles since she was 4.

The major influence has been her father, Rick, who Denise says had been racing for years, even before she was born.

“It was different for me,” Haslett said. “Usually, sons follow in their father’s footsteps, but for me, he (my father) just kind of led me into it.”

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Though Rick Haslett primarily raced dirt bikes, he also drove race cars for a short period. “He always pushes me to do my best,” Haslett said of her father, who stopped racing a year ago.

Despite the fact that motorcycle racing is typically considered a man’s sport, Haslett finds it perfectly natural.

Said her mother, Betty: “I don’t think it’s unusual for her because it’s been in our family for years. It was just natural for her to go into it because it’s what she knows.”

When Haslett got her start, she rode ATC three-wheelers purely for recreational purposes. It wasn’t until she was 10 that she moved up to one less wheel. Today, she rides a new Honda CR125 dirt bike.

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Riding has always been a family affair; the Hasletts head for the Mojave Desert at least two weekends each month.

Though none of her circle of friends at Orange High are motorcycle riders, Haslett said, “the friends that know me really, well, just accept it, but some of the others think it’s kind of weird.”

Boys, she said, offer mixed reactions to her pursuit.

“It’s either a positive or a negative to them,” Haslett said. “They think, ‘Hey, that’s really cool,’ or else they can’t accept a girl doing it.”

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It wasn’t until April of 1989 that Haslett made the decision to ride competitively rather than strictly for recreation.

She began her racing career in the novice division of the Dinosaur Grand Prix at Glen Helen near San Bernardino.

Being one of only two girls in the race, Haslett held her own through a course of sand, packed dirt and water holes, and finished fourth in the first two heats. In the third heat, she fell and dislocated a shoulder.

“After I dislocated my shoulder, I thought, ‘Do I really want to do this any more?’ ” she recalled. “And, sure enough, I got right back on.”

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Paying little heed to the inherent dangers of her sport, Haslett said, “There aren’t too many girls into it. I don’t know why. . . .”

But apparently Betty Haslett does. Haslett said her mother “stays in the camper while I race because she’s too afraid to watch.”

Though the family gives Haslett its unwavering support, her mother said, “When she first started, I was a nervous wreck.”

And now?

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“Denise is a good rider,” Betty Haslett said. “I have confidence in her. I think it’s safer for her to be out on a dirt track than zipping around on the freeway.”

Haslett has yet to compete in her second race, since amateur competitions only come around every six to eight months. “Most of them are pro (races), and I don’t want to get caught up in that,” she said.

Outside of racing, Haslett’s life style is still physically intense. She said she enjoys tennis, softball, snow skiing and occasionally wind surfing.

In an effort to carry on the family tradition, Haslett said she will continue racing motorcycles competitively and just for the fun of it for quite some time.

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“I’ll ride probably until I’m a grandma,” she said.


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