Evaristo on challenge of Buell switch: ‘I refuse to let a motorcycle beat me’

Jianna Evaristo stands at 5’1” and carries the weight of being extremely stubborn and hard-headed.

An insult? Hardly. Criticism? No way. These are traits the 26-year-old Evaristo not only openly discusses but embraces. In fact, she uses them to her advantage as an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor.

“It never really seemed to benefit me that much until I started drag racing,” Evaristo said. “I’ve failed so many times in drag racing, but because I’m so stubborn and hard-headed, I refuse to give up, and I refuse to doubt that I have what it takes to be out there.”

Evaristo is tapping into her stubbornness more than ever transitioning to a V-Twin Buell this season. It’s a bike that weighs about 500 lbs, and it’s the first time in her career (she debuted in 2019) that Evaristo has ridden something other than a Suzuki.

Admittedly, it’s been a struggle and an eye-opening adjustment. The Buell is more aggressive than the Suzuki, even if they make about the same power. But aside from the riding routine of shifting and holding the throttle, the two bikes are nothing alike.


“I refuse to give up,” Evaristo continued. “Anytime I’m having a day, I’ll talk to my team and say, ‘This is a motorcycle. I refuse to let a motorcycle beat me.’ I know I have what it takes to do this and honestly that’s the mentality you have to have because this sport is so emotional. You could be on your highest of highs and the next round on the lowest of lows.

“So, having that mentality of not giving up is so important. Honestly, it’s what’s going to set the people who will succeed in this sport apart from those who unfortunately won’t.”

There were days, however, Evaristo doubted she could ride the Buell. It didn’t go well over the offseason when she got on the bike for the first time. Evaristo didn’t make full passes the entire first day.

“I could barely get off the line,” she said. “I think we did a three-day test session and the first day and a half, I struggled — insanely struggled. I really started to doubt myself.”

Matt and Angie Smith are also there to make sure Evaristo doesn’t give up on herself. As teammates and mentors of Evaristo’s, the husband-and-wife duo are never shy about providing advice and support. Matt Smith comes at it from an experienced championship veteran. Angie Smith, who is just as talented, relates as another female competitor.

Angie Smith “is jacked,” Evaristo laughed. But it was inspiring for Evaristo to have Smith, who she described as walking muscle, be upfront about stepping up in the workout department. It’s forcing Evaristo to better herself both physically and mentally.

“I strongly believe that it was the best decision for myself and my team,” Evaristo said of the bike switch. “I think this bike is a better fit for me as a rider. Suzukis are very sensitive motorcycles for the rider. The movements have to be very small, very delicate. It takes a lot of finesse to ride those, and I think that’s where I always struggled because I saw myself as an aggressive rider – more abrupt movements and things like that.

“When I switched to the V-Twin, it was like, ‘OK, this bike doesn’t even know that I’m on it.’ It was nice because I could work on my skills, develop as a rider, and find a bike that fits me better.”

Fortunately, Evaristo loves testing, so the time spent getting to know her new machine hasn’t been unwelcome. It’s through testing that learning occurs, whereas race weekend is a hard time to experiment. And there has been a lot of testing done as Evaristo gets more and more comfortable on the Buell.

The outcome of one of the most recent test sessions shone at Bristol Dragway. Evaristo advanced to her first final round since 2019 (and just the second of her career), where she became the latest victim to the buzzsaw that is Gaige Herrera. But it was a weekend performance that went a long way for Evaristo, solidifying that she does have a good understanding and feel of what she’s riding.

Evaristo qualified fifth at Bristol and made clean passes down the track all afternoon. It was also the first time she made it out of the first round this season. To go to the final round was a small victory in itself, a long time coming for a rider who feels she’s much better now than in ’19.

But things have changed in the last five years. The class is more competitive, and the equipment continues to improve across the board. With that in mind, Evaristo stayed focused on one opponent at a time, not getting too excited along the way or listening to all those who kept trying to convince her she would win.

“Was I nervous? Yes,” Evaristo admitted. “But I went into the finals with all the confidence in the world in my riding ability and my bike. I know I have a bike that can win. I know I’m a much better rider now. There are things I need to work on, of course. My lights — that was no secret that weekend. Would I have won the final round if I cut a better light? I don’t know.

“It’s more of knowing that I have what it takes to get back there that’s so exciting. We’ve made so many changes to my riding and I’m on this new bike. It’s been a struggle, especially after the year I had last year, finishing fifth in points and having a strong, consistent season. The first couple of races this season, we had to take a step back and let me catch up and get comfortable again on the V-Twin.”

It has taken time and tedious testing, but Evaristo is there. Now comes taking the boost from Bristol and riding — pun intending — the wave through the next few events.

“I definitely believe in momentum,” Evaristo said. “But my biggest thing is building and maintaining it and being able to have that consistency from race to race. I think this is really exciting for the whole team because Angie is running well, Matt is running well, John Hall is running well, and I felt through the first couple of races I was dragging the team average down. My team would tell me, ‘No, you’re still learning.’

“But this makes my team’s job easier because now that I’m a better rider and more comfortable, I can give Matt a bike to tune. And that’s been a big issue. Matt can’t tune on a bike if we don’t know what the bike can do. Now that I can make more consistent runs, I think it’s going to be a good race going into Virginia. I’m very excited, and I think we’ll all be contenders.”

Story originally appeared on Racer