Even at the tender age of 2, Cayla Rivas was destined to go fast just like her dad.
At the time, her dad, Chris Rivas, was launching his NHRA motorcycle career and building drag-racing motorcycles in his garage.
He remembers when Cayla’s obsession was just a curiosity.
“She always wanted to be out in the garage with me tinkering on the bikes,” said Chris, the 2008 NHRA runner-up and a four-time winner on the national circuit. “I ended up getting her her own little red tool box. She’d fumble through it ... and try to fit some kind of wrench on something and say, ‘I’m wrenching! I’m wrenching!’ ”
It kind of gives you a sense of freedom. Like it’s just you and your motorcycle and you’re out there on the open salt and you just see the flags that are rushing by you. It just gives you like a big adrenaline rush.
Likewise, wife Linda figured her daughter’s path was somewhat inevitable “because Cayla always talked about it since she was a toddler.” She’d sit on her little toy motorcycle in the garage and pretend to race, trying to mimic her dad’s every move.
As she got older, Cayla saw her dad race more and more, only pushing her to ask about the elephant in the room.
“When can I race, Dad? I really want to race.”
“You will,” he always answered.
The opportunity came when Cayla was 12.
Chris had switched from motorcycle drag racing to land speed racing and came across an American Motorcyclist Association rule that allowed minors to compete in the 250cc (cubic centimeters) classes at the Land Speed Grand Championship in Bonneville, Utah.
“It’s not a children’s class,” Chris clarified. “They just allow minors to begin to compete against adult records.”
From there, they found a bike for Cayla – a 2001 Buell Blast – and after just a three-month course, Cayla set the world speed record at 62.9 mph for the MPS-PF class (modified partial streamlining, push rod-fuel).
“How do I go faster?,” she asked her dad after removing her helmet.
I think she’s just a natural like her dad.
Linda Rivas, on daughter Cayla
Considering the records her dad was setting that same weekend, the question was understandable.
At the Bonneville Salt Flats, Chris became the first person to ride a motorcycle bagger, a bike with a saddle and/or storage compartments, more than 200 mph. He set a world record at 201.7 mph on a Harley-Davidson touring bike for his class.
That win left him with the same feeling as his daughter – to go faster.
“Speed is an addiction, so if you get used to going 100 mph, you’re looking for 110. Once you see 110, 120 is right around the corner,” Chris said.
Last week, the two hit their fastest speeds yet at the Land Speed Grand Championships.
Cayla, 16, reached 139 mph in her streamlined Buell Blast 500cc, clinching the world record in the 500 APS-PF class and more than doubling her speed from her first race four years prior.
She also removed the fairing (the tear-drop body kit that makes the bike more aerodynamic) and set a speed record in the 500 A-PF class at 116.9 mph.
She’s got this cool, calm, collective thing going on with her and she’s on point. I mean, it’s unbelievable to watch and hear the engine note to see that she’s pinning the throttle, she hits the shift points at exactly the right time. She’s not missing one or hitting the rev limiter, or short-shifting and bogging the engine out. It’s crazy to see.
Chris Rivas, on watching his daughter Cayla set a speed record at 139 mph
Chris hit 244 mph on his heavily modified Harley-Davidson Dyna.
It was their fifth trip to Bonneville as a father-daughter duo, with the Rivas clan setting records each time conditions were well enough to race. (In 2014, the flats were flooded.)
“The most fun I’m having is being able to do this with my daughter,” Chris said, along with “winning,” he added jokingly.
“We’re pretty regular at it. … There are people that try for a lifetime and never get a record. It’s not an easy thing, but we come very well prepared.”
With the help of lead tech Brian Webb and the rest of the crew at Chris Rivas V-Twin in downtown Fresno, it’s a one-two punch of well-equipped bikes and riders who know what they’re doing.
Webb also has raced and even joined Chris and Cayla at Bonneville in recent years. He knows it takes more than just concentration and skill to control a bike at high speeds.
“You have to have the confidence to jump on something that is three to four times your weight,” Webb said. “So to jump on something like that and ride it to the best of her knowledge is pretty awesome. She’s following through with what she’s asked to do, and that’s hard to find in a rider.”
Still, motorcycle racing is just one thing Cayla does – “not who she is,” Chris said.
During the week, she lives the fast-paced lifestyle of a typical teenage girl neck-deep in activities. A junior at Fresno Christian High School, Cayla is a three-sport varsity athlete, playing soccer, doing cheerleading and sprinting on the track team.
She’s involved in the school’s photojournalism club and is also an accomplished artist, having won grants and awards at local art festivals for her acrylic paintings and colored pencil drawings. She hopes to pursue art after high school.
Cayla’s former art teacher Sharon Scharf remembers her student’s willingness to create masterpieces from scratch.
“She’s one of my favorite students,” said Scharf, who had Cayla in her class from seventh grade through her sophomore year before retiring in the summer.
“I didn’t feel like I was her teacher. I felt like her mentor and enabler. I encouraged her, let her run with it, and what she’s come up with is incredible.”
Scharf knows about Cayla’s racing lifestyle, which sometimes required her to miss days at a time for races. Just this school year Cayla has already missed most of the first two weeks because she was racing in Utah.
Even with the adjustments and missed days, Cayla shows no signs of slowing down.
“She knows what she wants,” Scharf said, “and works for it.”