People have had an obsession with speed since the invention of the first automobile. From Ormond Beach in Florida to the salt flats of Utah, each new season brings new attempts to challenge the limit. Racers such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, Barney Oldfield and Craig Breedlove became household names, while others toiled in relative obscurity.
In 2005, a New Zealand movie called The World's Fastest Indian debuted. It told the story of the lifelong obsession of Burt Munro to coax speed out of his ancient Indian motorcycle. Munro was 68 when he set a new under-1,000-cc record of 183.586 miles per hour (295.445 kilometres an hour).
Catching the movie in Sudbury, Ont., that year was amateur motorcycle drag racer Jody Leveille and girlfriend Trillium Muir. Ms. Muir vividly remembers being inspired by the film and thinking to herself as she watched the speed runs that she would like one day to try it. Less than a year later, she did.
The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah is the most famous location for speed runs in the world, but it's not easy access for those living on the east coast of North America. More convenient is Maxton, North Carolina, which has a Second World War-era airport where one runway is used by the East Coast Timing Association, specifically set up for land-speed runs. Monthly events are hosted there from April to October. It was here, in September 2006, that Mr. Leveille and Ms. Muir made the 20-hour trek from Sudbury on his turbocharged 1,300-cc Suzuki Hayabusa. Not expecting to be allowed to compete, Ms. Muir had left her riding gear at home.
Ms. Muir says she was taken with the electricity of the competitors at the event and the way they all helped and encouraged each other. She managed to borrow some gear and, after a few runs, had coaxed 193 m.p.h. out of the Hayabusa. A slipping clutch on the Suzuki was keeping her below the magical 200-m.p.h. mark. Impressed, fellow racer John Bullock offered his assistance and bike. After a few test runs, Ms. Muir was comfortable and put together a 204.778-m.p.h. run to become the first woman to go over 200 m.p.h. at Maxton.
In May, 2007, the couple was back at Maxton in an attempt to beat the women's record of 210 mp/h set by Susan Robinson the previous year at Bonneville. Over the winter, the motorcycle had been fine-tuned to output more than 500 hp. The bike was super fast and Muir officially became "the fastest woman in the world" at 218.30461 mp/h. But records are made to be broken and, this summer, Leslie Porterfield of Dallas, Tex., set a new mark of 234.197 mp/h at Bonneville. This past September, Muir once again returned to Maxton in an attempt to regain her title. On the Saturday, Dave Owen, a fellow racer who had taught Muir the proper tuck position for land-speed riders, was doing a run following his son when he crashed at 215 mp/h. He died at the scene.
For the close-knit group of racers, the accident was devastating. "Everyone in the pits including me was crying," Muir says, "and all I wanted to do was load the bike in the truck and go home." Owen's son Josh, 20, spoke to the crowd about an hour later. "It would be my father's wishes that the racing continue," he said, and three hours later, the competitors lined up once again to take a run. For Muir, this would probably be her final opportunity this season to regain her title. Remembering everything Owen had taught her about how to hold a proper racing tuck, she blasted down the measured mile at 239.11750 mp/h to regain the title of world's fastest woman. Muir's regular job is as a correctional officer in a women's minimum-security facility in Sudbury. It's not the type of facility where respect is freely given, but Muir has earned it -- from her co-workers and the inmates. Next year, Muir plans to return to the Maxton Mile, but she is aware that there is a limit to how fast she can go. "My goal next year is to go 250 mp/h. If I achieve that, I will climb off the bike and never make another land-speed record attempt," she says.