The need for speed has propelled Rachel Keown to leave the cool confines of Harley-Davidson of Glendale and head for a dry lakebed in Utah in an effort to break a motorcycle speed record.
Keown, 25, only learned to work a clutch and start riding in December, but has impressed her coworkers and other riders enough to earn a spot at the BUB Racing Inc. Motorcycle Speed Trials at Bonneville Salt Flats, which run through this weekend.
Keown's effort is sponsored by Oliver Shokouh, owner of the San Fernando Road dealership and a man who has seen two of his other workers break records.
"She struck me as a person who has very little or no fear," Shokouh said. "She's not afraid to dial on that throttle and hang on to the bike."
Keown is a Missouri native who earned a bachelor's degree in cinematography at the University of North Carolina before heading to Hollywood in 2008. The Atwater Village resident said ups and downs in the movie business led her to look for more stable work, and she fell in love with motorcycles and racing.
In recent months she's had the support of the Glendale Harley-Davidson crew, including Shokouh, Ernie Snair, Mario Vindeni, Don Thut, Andy Holmes, Richard Klingler and Serge Martin.
Martin reached 137.65 mph on a 1000cc bike in Bonneville last year.
"He has the record that I am going to be taking … hopefully," Keown said.
Martin encouraged Keown this year as they took dirt bikes to El Mirage Dry Lake near Victorville. According to Keown, Martin told her, "If you can handle a 250 two-stroke on loose dirt, you can handle Bonneville."
Of the crew at the shop, she said, "They've had faith in me from the start."
Keown will ride a modified Buell Firebolt XB12R in Bonneville. She said the key to racing success is simple: "You need to have faith in your machine, 100% faith in your machine."
The event started Thursday with inspections to make sure racing machines and gear met American Motorcyclist Assn. requirements. Then, for five days, the racers shoot one at a time across the barren salt flats.
Shokouh has gone to Bonneville for years and knows it can be tough.
"The environment is pretty hostile," said Shokouh. "It's in the middle of a dry salt bed, and it gets really hot. It wears you out, but it feels good to get out there and push the limits."
Shokouh has cranked it up at Bonneville before, but said his racing days are over.
"I'm 64 years old now," he said. "It's time to let the young folks get out there and play."