Of the 15 women who competed in MotoAmerica’s Royal Enfield Build Train Race Class in 2022, two of them – Nicole Pareso and Kayla Theisler – hail from northeast Ohio.
Theisler, 26, grew up from a rural community near Youngstown and was taking part in Build Train Race for the second consecutive year. 2022 marked 35-year-old Carrollton resident Pareso’s rookie season in the class.
The two riders took very different paths en route to becoming part of the road racing edition of Royal Enfield’s initiative to get more women into motorcycle competition, but both agree that the program is helping get more women into motorcycle riding and racing.
Royal Enfield’s Build Train Race has programs for pro road racing and flat track competition. A panel of judges selects competitors from a pool of applicants. Participants are given a stock Royal Enfield motorcycle and are tasked with modifying their bike for racing, training in their respective discipline’s racing techniques with program mentors, competing aboard the motorcycles they prepared and maintaining their bikes throughout the racing season.
The last BTR race of 2022 took place at the MotoAmerica season finale Sept. 23-25 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., with Pareso finishing ninth in the BTR points standings and Theisler 14th.
The BTR Class competed at six of the 11 MotoAmerica events that took place this year. The BTR schedule also included races at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va., Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minn., Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, Pa., and New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J.
NEO Moto News caught up with Theisler and Pareso at the Pitt Race round in August to learn about how they got involved in the program and what effect it’s had on their passion for motorcycling.
NEO Moto News: How long have you been riding motorcycles?
Kayla Theisler: I’ve been riding motorcycles on the street since I was 18 years old – so about eight years now.
Nicole Pareso: I’ve been riding since about 2007, so about 15 years.
NEOMN: Describe your experience racing motorcycles before becoming part of the BTR program.
KT: I got my sidecar racing license through the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association in 2020 when I was in college. I’d been going to AHRMA races for a couple years and had always wanted to do it. But, being a poor college student, I couldn’t afford to get into racing. During my senior year, I bit the bullet. It also was the cheapest way for me to get into motorcycle racing and learn how to do it. Later, I started racing flat track and got involved with BTR last year as one of the original seven [road racing participants]. None of us had done a road racing track day, and I’d only been on a road racing course on a sidecar rig. …”
NP: I was a club racer for CCS [Championship Cup Series] in the southeast region. I was racing a [BMW] S 1000 RR along with another girl who’s part of the BTR program. The first year went great, but I had a bad crash the second year and had to take a year off of racing. BTR has been my saving grace that’s gotten me racing motorcycles again.
NEOMN: Did you have any experience with motorcycle maintenance prior to joining the BTR program?
KT: My first bike was a 1979 Honda CX500 that I bought for $900 when I was in college. It was a cheap bike, and I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I had to learn how to work on it. I have a very mechanical background, but had never done anything on a motorcycle before. It was a lot of YouTube videos, learning from other people, breaking things on my own, figuring it out along the way and knocking the bike over multiple times. I am an automotive engineer, so I do have a natural knack for most things mechanical – but it was very different from what I did growing up with farm equipment.
NP: My dad was always working on something in the garage, so I started when I was really young and would follow him around. He bought me my first toolbox. He said I was like the son he never had because I was always under the car with him.
NEOMN: How did two women from northeast Ohio get involved in the BTR program?
KT: I grew up in a small rural area near Youngstown, but haven’t lived in Ohio in a few years. I went to Youngstown State University for a couple years and got an internship with an automotive company in Milwaukee, Wis. I fell in love with the motorcycle culture in Wisconsin and ended up transferring to a school in Milwaukee. That’s also where Royal Enfield’s marketing headquarters is located. I had done some demo rides with Royal Enfield and had ended up tutoring [Royal Enfield Global Brand Manager] Breeann Poland’s son in math. … I had heard about the idea just from local talk around Milwaukee. The people I race AHRMA with wanted to see me on the track, and so did I.
NP: I grew up in Richmond, Ohio, but moved in 2007 – about the same time I bought my first motorcycle – to South Carolina to start my career as a mechanical piping designer. I was away for about 15 years until I met my now-husband, who lives in Carrollton and brought me back up here. I was a spectator at the Pitt Race event last year. I saw these girls and was like, “Wait a minute, how can I do that? Why am I not out there?” A friend of mine who was in the program told me more about it, and I researched it more after seeing it in action.
NEOMN: What has the experience with the BTR program been like compared to what you thought it’d be?
KT: The biggest thing has been time. I never realized how much goes into getting a motorcycle prepped for racing. Seeing all the pro teams here, if a rider crashes, they can relax and let their mechanics work. If we crash, we’re in our helmets and leathers trying to figure something out a lot of the time. There’s never a second of rest at the track, and I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know about our program – how much we and our mentors are putting into this.
NP: I raced in club racing, and it’s not as chaotic as this. With actually tinkering with things like having to change your gearing – which I’d never had to do before – and building my motorcycle from the ground up, I know everything on [my bike] and how it works. With my club racing bike, I had no idea. This program has taught me so much, and it’s opened my eyes to what I do now.
NEOMN: What is the most significant thing you’ve learned through the BTR program?
KT: What I’m capable of. Going in, I didn’t know what to expect. Last year, none of the seven of us had ever done a track day. We were following [pro road racer, team owner and crew chief] Melissa Paris [around the race tracks] like little lost ducklings. It’s amazing seeing how far we’ve come in a year just by looking at our lap times. I’ve also learned about the logistics of how the pits operate and have met a lot of people and made a lot of connections. I didn’t think I’d be able to learn so many things that cover such a wide range of topics in this little time.
NP: Honestly, I don’t think I’d be racing if it wasn’t for BTR because of the crash I had. I had that fear, and for our first race, I was so scared. But now I’m OK and I’m learning to move on past those things.
NEOMN: What advice would you give to a future BTR participant?
KT: You need to believe in yourself. A lot of women come up to us at the races, and that’s what this program is all about – encouraging women to see that they are capable [of racing motorcycles]. Sometimes you go into a race just feeling like you’re going to do bad, and it really weighs on you and impacts your ability to race. But we’ve had so many women come up to us after races – seeing our ponytails coming out the back of our helmets – and say, “I’m going to get my motorcycle license because of you,” or “I’m going to learn to race because of you.” And that’s what it’s all about – having little girls come up to us asking for autographs. We need more women on the grids here.
NP: I’ve had two different women – well, one of them was 7 – say to me that they’ve never seen women do this and didn’t think it was something girls did. The other girl is 21 and rides a dirt bike and had no idea there was something like this for women.