LandSpeed Louise in Columbus, Ohio where she was named “2009 Woman of the Year” by the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.
What’s in a name? Well, if it’s LandSpeed Louise, a little bravado, a lot of personal experience, a jovial laugh and the knowing grin of someone who’s been there, or knows someone who has. Louise Ann Noeth got her nickname from the late Gray Baskerville of Hod Rod magazine, who pinned the name when Louise was Editor of the Hot Rod Performance and Custom Directory at Petersen Publishing.
Here’s Louise’s take: “Although I’d ride my motorcycle to work in high heels, I found I could gain better traction ripping around the editorial and art departments in my bare feet. Late for a meeting, I apexed a blind corner only to crash into Baskerville coming the other way. Neither of us was watching where we were going but I had speed and position on my side and sent him flying off-balance against the wall. He had a visual on a couple of staffers walking out of the Hot Rod office and figured he could milk the mishap to his benefit. I tried to help him up, but he resisted, so I continued on to my meeting. As I left he raised his hand complete with trembling finger and said in an authoritative, accusatorial tone: “There she goes, LandSpeed Louise.”
As a historian, LandSpeed Louise has either worked with, researched, knows or has known as a personal friend, almost everyone I’ve asked her about. Dave Campos, Don Vesco, Marcia Holley, Marty Dickerson, Kitty O’Neil, the who’s who of our go-fast LSR generation. I first met her at the Dean Batchelor Awards Ceremony held at the Peterson Museum in Southern California. My book, “Flat Out” was nominated and became one of three finalists for the coveted Dean Batchelor Award presented by the Motor Press Guild for excellence in automotive journalism.
I thought it was pretty cool because my book was about motorcycles…
LandSpeed Louise was there to get an award for photography, I believe, and was quick to introduce herself. My wife Tricia and I were like a couple of fish out of water, hob-knobbing with all these “real writers” who seemed to fit the required suit and tie attire scene more naturally than a guy who only the day before was washing the grease out from beneath his fingernails. Louise made us feel right at home, undaunted by the “look at me” crowd or the titles they displayed in flashing neon, in case you didn’t know who they are. She was down to earth, loved fast cars, fast motorcycles, and the people who raced them. She specialized in the art of preserving their story. I took an immediate liking to her that evening.
Long before she was “LandSpeed Louise,” back in 1978, Ms. Noeth’s day job was tending to the needs of the Green Mamba Jet Dragster that normally screamed down the quarter-mile at speeds in excess of 250 mph.
One of the stories I asked Louise to share was about Marcia Holley, who piloted Don Vesco’s two-wheeled streamliner into the record books: “Marcia told me that Don knew putting her in his bike ‘liner for record runs would torque off the ‘old boys’ who ran the Bonneville 200MPH Club. It was bad enough that they had let a motorcycle in the club, but allowing a woman blew a few gaskets.”
“She was surprised at how hard it was to ride the ‘liner, she kept falling over but Don kept encouraging her. In the end Marcia nailed not only a record but put a glorious end to the ‘testicular citadel.’ I asked Don about it and he just laughed. To him it was all about giving Marcia a chance to taste serious speed, a gal he felt had incredible talent. Yes, he later married her, but the speed came first.”
Marcia went on to become the first female in the 200MPH Club with a 229 mph record, and did so with a motorcycle. The times, they were a changing…
Louise was the team publicist for Team Vesco from 1999 to 2003. Don Vesco is one of the true ambassadors of our sport, so I asked if she could share a little on what made the gray-haired fast guy tick:
“If Don couldn’t hold both records simultaneously, (two wheel and four) he was determined to at least be the first to have held both at different times, which he achieved once he set the 458 mph Turbinator record in October 2001. His dream was to set both the car and bike world record on the same day.”
In addition to Don’s land speed racing success, he was also a highly skilled roadracer. Don once told Louise: “I like the challenge of trying to beat someone right next to you. Outsmart ‘em, out brave ‘em, or out brake ‘em. I enjoy rubbing elbows with people at high speed, to gain an edge over ‘em, or snooker ‘em somehow.”
Louise said each Turbinator run was just a little over a minute. He would cover a mile in 7.25 seconds so lifting and getting back on the throttle meant he drove mainly by instinct. The plan was to return with an improved machine and up the record over 500. Don lost his battle with cancer before fulfilling his dream, but Team Vesco continues on, and hopes to reach the 500 mph milestone in Don’s honor.
In the early 1990’s LandSpeed Louise was the Auto Editor at the Oxnard Press Courier writing car, truck and motorcycle reviews.
You can’t speak of LandSpeed Louise without including a little background on her book, “Bonneville Salt Flats: The Fastest Place on Earth.” Sold out after seven printings over 11 years, Louise gives us a brief overview: “It’s the story of the world’s fastest natural speedway, chronicling the place, who came there and what they did when they arrived. It is where average people test the limits of their imagination, fabrication skills and driving courage while relying on a bucket of luck and a prayer. It succeeded because it’s the truth about the American ‘can do’ spirit.”
The best is yet to come. She is updating her book which will be republished to mark the celebration of 100 years of racing on the salt in 2014.
“I have joined forces with the University of Utah Press to publish a book that will now include another decade plus of racing action. Much of the original book will stay the same, but I am picking up the action in 1998 and adding to the historical record concluding with the close of the 2012 racing season.”
In other words, current racers will get a chance to share their place in history with those already in print. The who’s who of past and present who’ve wrestled their machines across the salt will forever be remembered in this grand read.
Enjoy the ride.