Humans are fascinated by speed. For more than a century, the race to be the fastest on land, sea and air has been a catalyst for technological advancement. But a great machine can only do so much — being the absolute fastest requires a heavy dose of adrenaline and a pinch of insanity. It requires a person who will truly push it to the limit. "The fastest man alive" always gets the credit, but the label sells the world's truly rapid women short. Here are six who define what it means to be fast.
The fastest flying woman
Name: Ellen Brennan
Speed: 118 mph
Brennan is one of the world’s top wingsuit fliers. She has set record after record, winning every female BASE competition for two consecutive years (the winning streak was put on hold as she missed this year). She also hit 143 mph jumping out of a plane.
“I was honestly shocked at how well I did in the competitions, and after my first, I devoted all my time to jumping,” she said. “Every good-weather day I was jumping, analyzing video and GPS data and repeating.”
The fastest female electric vehicle driver
Name: Eva Håkansson
Speed: 270 mph
Håkansson’s KillaJoule record-breaker is an electric motorcycle sidecar and the fastest electric bike in the world. The Ph.D. student hit her top speed in 2014 and averaged 241 mph on the flying mile in the process.
“This has consumed all my spare time and money the past years,” said Håkansson, who is featured in Johnnie Walker’s Joy Will Take You Further campaign. “As soon as I exceed the record speed I am entering uncharted territory ... so it is quite nerve-wracking.”
The fastest female sailboarder
Name: Zara Davis
Speed: 53 mph
Davis, who works as an osteopath, traveled to a specially built canal in the Namibian desert to set her record. At the time, only two other women had ever gone over 40 kts (46 mph) and she shattered the previous best.
“We were sailing in 45+ knots of wind and the canal was choppy and narrow,” she said. “The run itself felt quiet, still almost. But those are the fast ones — when you are not fighting your gear.”
The seven-time motorbike record-breaker
Name: Valerie Thompson
Speed: 218 mph
One of the world’s fastest female motorbike riders, Thompson is a rare female member of the Bonneville 200 mph Club. She set a record on a CTEK BMW S 1000 RR last year and plans to go even faster later this month.
“When I did start I didn't act like the girl,” she told HNGN. “Now I feel like I'm a girl, I can have my rhinestones and Swarovski crystals on my helmet and on my race bike. But my bike doesn't know what gender it is."
The fastest woman on four wheels
Name: Jessi Combs
Speed: 393 mph
In a car pieced together from the remains of an F-104 Lockheed Starfighter, TV presenter Combs hit a top speed 441 mph on a dry lakebed in Oregon, official clocking in at 393 mph. Her two-way record-setting run smashed the previous speed by 84 mph.
Kitty O’Neal is still the outright female land-speed record-holder, however, having hit 512 mph in 1976, but her SMI Motivator vehicle only had three wheels.
The fastest woman on two wheels
Name: Becci Ellis
Speed: 264 mph
Ellis’ husband spent three years developing the turbo boost system for her 1300cc Hayabusa-engined bike. It paid off when she rode it to a record in 2014 and, despite a massive crash this year, she plans to go even faster.
“It wasn't just about breaking the record, it was everything we had worked so hard for all coming together,” she said. “We will now rebuild my bike better than before and make it as stable as possible for 250+ mph speeds.”