by Zak Shimanski
She’s at ease with adrenaline, seeks intensity and craves speed. Jessica Zalusky possesses an abundance of all of these qualities. She has maximized the potential of her talents and fearless nature in becoming one of the top female snowboarders on the World Cup circuit. Now she has pushed her limits even further in becoming the premier woman motorcycle racer in the country.
Zalusky’s intrigue with riding began at the age of thirteen when she used to ride a scooter and learned the sweet independence of being on a bike. After watching all the guys having fun on their street bikes she was convinced to upgrade to a Kawasaki Ninja 250 at the age of 17 and has been hooked on motorcycles ever since.
When riding on the street Zalusky always wanted to drag race the guys, be up front and go fast. After she turned 21 Jessica’s competitive nature convinced her to give racing a try. With the help of some friends she converted one of her street bikes into a race bike, brought it to Brainerd International Raceway to take the new rider school and began her rise to eminence on the race track.
Four years later Jessica’s talents have made her one of the most noticeable riders in Superbike racing. She has consistently improved her performances within the pro ranks, but what’s even more impressive is that she is one of only a handful of women racers putting it all out on the line with the guys.
When she competed at the US Superbike Championship races at Brainerd on the weekend of June 28-30, she was the only female of the 250 racers. There was only one other girl at Pike’s Peak and one at Laguna Seca. Although she is often the lone woman represented on the track, Zalusky doesn’t feel like she faces any challenges competing with the guys. “I go to the gym, stay strong and in shape, plus I’m just naturally aggressive so I feel like I fit right in.”
Jessica enjoys spending time at the track, riding with a bunch of friends, improving her times and passing riders. She spends time club racing with the Central Road Racing Association and Championship Cup Series aboard her Yamaha R6, as well as racing with the pros.
This season Zalusky has raced four rounds in the AMA Superbike Championships on her Ducati 748. At Brainerd she took part in one of the featured events racing in the Pro Honda Oils 600 Supersport. “That’s the big televised race. That was a lot of fun. There hasn’t been any women in the featured races like the 600.”
The greatest accomplishment of her motorcycling career was finishing ninth in the Pro-Thunder at Brainerd this year. It was her best finish in a pro race and the fact that it came when she was on her home track made it even sweeter. For the year she finished ninth in the overall points. “I wasn’t even shooting for top ten at the beginning of the year, but when I saw I was capable of it I knew I had to get it done.”
While Jessica shrugs off praise for competing against the guys she does in fact feel quite fortunate to be one of the few women in racing as it has enabled her to get sponsors and financial help. “Being one of the only woman racers, I’ve received a lot of coverage that has really helped my PR. It’s not often you find a Minnesota girl playing with the guys out in California.”
It has also led to some great opportunities. Jessica was recently featured on the 93X Half-Ass Morning show and had the chance to hang out with Weasel, Nick and Josh.
AMA has helped Zalusky in moving her forward. At Laguna Seca where 100,000 fans attended the races they put her out by the factory teams to boost her visibility. She showed up in a rental van next to all the factory trucks, yet most of the time she had the largest crowd. “I had never seen that many people at a race before. It was just crazy. “At race tracks families will come up with their ten year old daughters and the girls are in awe to see a girl on a bike. Jessica will take a picture and sign one of her posters, and the girls offer coins or pictures as good luck tokens. “When I was ten I never figured that girls raced bikes or even rode them. It’s great to inspire them and let them know that they can do anything.”
Zalusky has a small team – she’s the only rider – and has two crew chiefs that travel with her and take responsibility for the bikes. Todd Fisher has taken over the position as chief for the Ducati. He’s been to all the rounds acting as her mechanic, coach and as Jessica states it – “racing savior”. Her boyfriend also travels along, occasionally riding and pushing Jessica to improve. “He rides a little faster than me, so he helps me improve my times and gives me someone to chase.”
Zalusky’s involvement with racing goes full circle. She volunteers time on the CRA Board of Directors where she organizes fund-raisers to help injured racers recover their funds and is heavily involved with the organizing and planning of events. On top of all this, she is a new rider instructor for Edge Performance Riding courses and the Central Road Racing schools.
Jessica’s success on the race track is an incredible compliment to her achievements on a snowboard. In fact, her introduction to snowboarding was very similar to her start with motorcycling. She used to ski at Hyland Park when she was 12 and when she saw all the boys snowboarding she thought it looked like fun. She borrowed a board, tried it and hurt herself really bad. Even though her Dad said she couldn’t snowboard any more, the next year when she was healthy she would skip ski practice to go out and snowboard again.
She eventually started competing on the Junior National team and went on to the pro circuit and the World Cup. She was able to rack up two fourth place finishes at World Cup events and was ranked first overall for the American Pro-Snowboard Tour in 1997. She recently finished fifth in one of the Olympic trial events, and continues to race the pro circuit four times a year.
Jessica primarily works during the off season as coach of a snowboard team with kids that compete regionally and at Junior Nationals. She stays involved year round as rider representative for the United States of America Snowboard Association – the largest snowboard association in the world with 4,000 members. She expects to be racing motorcycles for a while, hoping to stay in it until she at least reaches thirty. She goes to school full-time at St. Cloud State as a criminal justice major, finding time for summer classes despite her hectic racing schedule.
Behind the Scenes
5 Questions With Jessica Zalusky
MMM: Who’s the most inspirational person in your life?
JZ: My mom. She’s had so many challenges that she’s faced and overcome. She’s always been real supportive of my activities. Face it – not many Moms want to watch their kids race motorcycles or hurt themselves snowboarding, but she’s always been there.
MMM: Is there a racer you look up to?
JZ: Tripp Nobles. He has raced for over 20 years and at my first pro event he came up to me and I thought he was going to yell at me because he was so serious. Instead he told me “You’re doing OK out there,” and just started to tell me how to enter one of the corners. At the next race he did the same thing and would always come and check on me. At Laguna Seca he spent an hour and a half walking the whole 2-mile track, pointing out where to go and what to look for. He wasn’t thinking about himself and I admire that he took the time to help me even though he was close to me in the point standings.
MMM: What’s the best movie you’ve seen this summer?
JZ: “Attack of the Clones.” I’m a Star Wars junkie. It doesn’t compare with the originals, but it was still good.
MMM: After traveling to so many destinations, what would be your ideal place to live?
JZ: Actually, someday I would like to just settle down in southern Minnesota. I’ve lived in Colorado and California and spent a winter in Switzerland, but after spending time at all of these places I thought I wanted to live, I realized that Minnesota is really where I want to be. I used to spend time with my Grandmother on her farm and someday would like to live in the country with bikes and ATVs and maybe have a hill in my backyard with a waterslide. I love having fun outside.
MMM: What would be your ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon?
JZ: I would just hang out and buzz around on the track. When I first began racing we would spend a lot of time at a track at Dakota County Tech College. There was no racing and no trophies, just everyone having fun. I miss that.