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Doctor feels the need for speed

by Barb Boose One Comment

Jeannie Pflum, D.O.'97, standing next to her cycle

Physicians typically dash from one patient or procedure to another through long exausting days. Jeannie Pflum, D.O.’97, an obstetrics and gynecology doctor in Santa Rosa, CA, is no exception.

When they’re able to pull free for a while, most doctors like to slow down. Here, Pflum is an exception.

A speed demon since she was old enough to commandeer two wheels or strap on a pair of skis, Pflum gets her heart pumping while off-duty by pushing super souped-up cars and motorcycles to their limits on table-flat dried lakebeds.

She’s the second woman to be clocked at over 300 miles per hour in a car, but the only woman to reach that speed in a car and also set a speed record on a motorcycle. In October, Pflum established a new record by donning an armor-plated leather suit, hunkering down behind the handlebar of a 1,000cc motorcycle in the desert near El Mirage and accelerating to 186.4 miles per hour.

“It was fun!” said the doctor, who’s 44, the mother of two and stepmother to two more. “It definitely makes my blood pressure go up.”

She joined a super-select club of drivers in October 2002 when she hit 302.179 mph in a torpedo of a car built by family friend Seth Hammond of Santa Barbara, a big name in the costly, adrenaline-rich sport of chasing land speed records.

Pflum will tell you it is an absolute rush to go more than 300 mph in a car, maybe even more of one to accelerate to nearly 200 mph on a motorcycle. But the main reason she treks to the torrid Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage to push wheeled vehicles to speeds typically known only by contraptions with wings?

It’s to spend quality time with her dad.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’ It’s because my father started me,” Pflum said. “It’s a really cool father-daughter thing.”

Breaking speed records is Jeannie Pflum's idea of fun - and a great way to spend time with her dad, Lee Gustafson. Pflum and friend Seth Hammond prepare Gustafson for a race.

Breaking speed records is Jeannie Pflum's idea of fun - and a great way to spend time with her dad, Lee Gustafson. Above, Pflum and friend Seth Hammond prepare Gustafson for a race.

Her dad is Lee Gustafson, a retired boat-store owner in San Luis Obispo County, CA. All his life, Gustafson has loved to build engines.

“He tells me a story about taking an engine apart on his bed, and his grandmother wanting to kill him,” his daughter said.

For decades, Gustafson has built engines for Seth Hammond, who for fun creates some of the fastest cars in the world.

Hammond and Gustafson both set records in the long, tubular Lakester-class car (think of a Cub Scout’s Pinewood Derby racer).

Jeannie Pflum grew up hanging out with Hammond and her dad as they built crazy-fast cars and accompanying them to the Bonneville Salt Flats to see what they could do. As a young woman she left

Southern California to pursue a career in medicine – she studied at the medical school that would become Des Moines University, then served her residency at the University of Vermont and joined the Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods. She’s an ob-gyn specializing in minimally invasive gynecological surgery.

But she never stopped trekking to the desert whenever possible to spend time with her dad and to share in his love of cars built solely to go fast.

“It’s a father and daughter, ‘I’m going to go hang out with my dad’ sort of thing,” she said.

In 1999, she decided to do more than watch. She asked to drive the Lakester on a speed run. Her father and Hammond, whose wife, Tanis, began driving in 1986 and broke several records, saw no reason to deny Pflum. Though it’s inherently dangerous to drive a car more than 200 mph, the Hammond-Gustafson team holds that a trained, properly suited and belted driver in a well-built car is less likely to be hurt on the lakebed than on the highway drive home.

Pflum and friend Seth Hammond prepare Gustafson for a race. Pflum is astride the cycle on which she exceeded 190 mph.

Pflum is astride the cycle on which she exceeded 190 mph.

These days Pflum is focused on reaching 200 mph on a Honda 1000cc motorcycle modified and owned by another colleague of Hammond and her father, Jamie Wagner of Torrance, CA. She figures the 186.4-mph record she set in October on a 1.3-mile course at El Mirage was a good step. One of the best parts of that run: Her dad didn’t think he’d be able to make it there, but he arrived just in time to see her go.

Speed-demon Pflum sets another record
After this article was published on Nov. 2, Jeannie Pflum set a new record on a Class 1000cc production motorcycle, owned and built by Jamie Wagner, of 190.198 miles per hour. She set the record Nov. 14 on the El Mirage dry lakebed in the Southern California desert.

The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) is the sanctioning body for the Bonneville Speed Week events in August and the El Mirage dry lakes events held once per month, May through November. To compete at the lakebed, the owner and rider must be members of a participatory club. Pflum is a member of the Gear Grinders out of Southern California.

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