NOW YOU SEE ME; NOW YOU DON'T

X-TREME

Linford Christie can run 100 metres in around 10 seconds. In roughly the same time, Sheri Hughes travels a quarter of a mile at speeds of up to 135 mph - with a little help from her motorcycle.

"Drag racing is incredible, especially at the beginning of the race. It's a real thrill seeing how fast you can go," says Hughes. "The most nerve racking thing about racing is the "Christmas tree" [starting lights]. You really have to think about what you're doing and psyche yourself up."

When both bikes are in the pre-race stage they edge slowly towards the line. At this stage, the battle is a mental one. "If you go too early or edge too far forward, you break the beam and get "red lighted" which means disqualification. You only have a few seconds to play with.

"If you have too many revs you take off with a vertical wheelie so you have to do everything right," Hughes reveals. "Reaction times are very important in drag racing - you can win or lose a race because of your reactions."

Hughes rides in two classifications: Super Twins and Santa Pod. In the former classification you ride flat out, while "bracket racing" levels the playing fields between riders of various bikes. In bracket racing, riders try to finish as close to a pre-set (usually 10.90 or 9.90 seconds) time as possible.

Riders who go under the time "break out" and face disqualification. The rider closest to 10.90 gets the best time and they'll subsequently compete in an elimination race against the rider with the lowest score.

This cocktail of noise, engine oil, burning rubber and speed attract spectators from across the UK to witness spectacular sights such as a "burn out", performed by Hughes on her TL1,000 Suzuki to warm up her tyres (pictured above). Her introduction to bike racing was a little less formal.

"I went to a Bulldog Bash, at Avon Park, Stratford, where bikers race up the strip for a laugh," she confesses. "I thought I'd have a go, and I got the fastest time. It's a really good crowd and you see drag racing at ground level. It doesn't have to cost that much and, more importantly, it's fun. You can take it as seriously as you want.

"Drag racing is a very friendly sport," she continues. "People with bikes can join clubs like the super twins or race in "Run what you Brung" events where you can race whatever vehicle you have and get a feel of driving on a strip."

The scarcity of female riders in drag racing make Hughes quite a novelty to a few competitors - it usually wears off when they cross the finish line behind her.

"I try and thrash anyone I race and it's after a race that you see what they're really like," she reveals. "They [the men] can be pretty bitchy and call you a bimbo, but most of them have respect for you when they see that you can ride. There are quite a few ladies at The Bulldog Bash, but apart from that I only know about eight who race. It isn't much when you consider how many riders there are nationally."

Hughes plans to graduate to pro-stock racing (a higher classification of bike) which will reduce her race times to around seven seconds. "That will be a bit scary, but I'd like to do it."

In a couple of weeks time (10.40pm Monday 4th May), she appears on our screens, presenting a regular biking slot on the motoring magazine show Pulling Power. A life of media stardom may beckon, but if you find yourself next to a motorbike at your local set of lights you never know who may be beneath the helmet.

"I'm always looking for a race," she laughs. "When I'm out riding by myself and I don't see anybody going in my direction I get a bit peeved. I'll see someone going in the opposite direction and I'll turn around and go after them. If I see a bike at the lights and the revs go up, I just want to see if I can get off the lights first."

Something tells me she doesn't get beaten too often.

Telephone the ACU for more information on Drag Racing and race venues/schedules 01788 540 519

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