Picture of Schaefer

High-speed racing is "an adrenaline rush like no other," says Tom Schaefer, a personal injury lawyer in Suwanee, Ga. He says his clients who are motorcycle accident victims appreciate his expertise as a biker.

Four times a year, personal injury lawyer Tom Schaefer locks his office in Suwanee, Ga., loads his truck and heads north for a weekend that could not contrast more with a relaxing getaway in the Georgia mountains.

Schaefer, 47, races motorcycles — at up to three times the legal speed on metro Atlanta highways. He has established 119 land-speed records in the various divisions for cycle classifications and engine size.

Schaefer’s trips lead to a one-mile racing layout in Wilmington, Ohio, on a former World War II airstrip. One by one, riders test their skills and courage, and few have been as committed or accomplished as Schaefer, who raced four different bikes for a while.

He won four Motorcycle Points Championships in successive years with an organization called the East Coast Timing Association at another strip in Maxton, N.C., where he officially reached 206.391 mph.

Schaefer, a single man who estimates he has logged a quarter-million miles on motorcycles, is all too aware of the vehicle’s dangers on two fronts. He serves as the attorney for casual riders involved in mishaps. And three racers whom he considered friends died in accidents while pursuing their passion.

You first hopped aboard a motorcycle at the age of 8. Was there a mini Hells Angels club?

My parents have a farm up in Missouri, where I grew up. We had a couple of horses. My dad was getting a little frustrated chasing them down on 160 acres of land so we could ride them. He asked if I wanted to ride a motorcycle. He said, "At least I won’t have to go chase it down. It will be right where I left it." Oddly enough, my parents still have that motorcycle they got me, in the basement of their house.

What is the attraction of riding motorcycles at high speed?

I do it because I love it. It’s exciting, an adrenaline rush like no other.

You are not just competing against people that day, but against people in history. Your records are there until somebody else is faster.

What was your most frightening experience?

It was my final run in Maxton that got me in the 200-mph club. I was blown off my line by a crosswind just before the one-mile marker. I couldn’t get the bike turned for the dogleg to go into the long shutdown area. I wouldn’t say I was in a panic, but I was extremely concerned about what was going to happen. I drove the motorcycle to the [outside] of the cones onto a rough, bumpy patch. Once I got to that area, I was able to slow the bike down. I remember looking down, and I could see just past my left leg into the open field a foot away.

That was extremely dangerous. At that point, I said I’m done unless I can make this place safer.

After 2009, I stopped for two years. I didn’t run at all until they moved the whole operation up to Wilmington.

How has the death of three fellow riders affected you?

Two of the guys, it was their first time riding. It’s made some of us more experienced guys extremely leery to invite [rookies] to come race with us.

Have you tried other types of racing?

I actually have 123 records. The four car records were set in April [2012] in a 2010 Mercedes.

When you are car racing, even at the grassroots level, it’s more of how much money you can spend than the person with the most talent. It’s frustrating, unless you are the person with the most money. With motorcycles, it’s more about the talent.

How exclusive is membership in the 200-mph club?

It is extremely difficult [to qualify]. I was the 101st person with the East Coast Timing Association [in late 2009]. Two of my friends who got in shortly before me got tattoos of the 200-mph insignia. They were asking me where I’m going to put my tattoo. I said, "I think I’ll just buy a jacket."

How do people react when they find out about your hobby?

Not only does it surprise them, but [clients] who meet me in my office, it scares them a little bit [when they see evidence of his racing on the walls]. They want to know what happens to their case if I don’t make it through the year. I tell them there’s nothing to be worried about. I do have a contingency plan every time I load up my truck to go racing so they’ll know what to do if I don’t come back.

When we’ve lost as many people [on the racing strips] as I have, that’s the reality.

You have mixed business with pleasure by devoting part of your practice to victims of motorcycle accidents. How has that worked out?

I think a lot of people appreciate my experience and expertise in handling these cases. It’s a different dynamic than your typical auto cases. I’ve met a lot of people and am fairly well known in the motorcycle community. They know I’m a rider.

Your work is a constant reminder of the risks of motorcycle riding. Do you take to the streets?

About the only time I do anymore is with my church group. I also ride with the Christian Motorcyclists Association. There’s safety in numbers. When you’ve got six to 10 riders, you can get through traffic and be seen.

The main reason I stopped is cellphones and texting — people failing to pay attention. I see it so often in the motorcycle cases I handle.

How does the risk on the streets for you compare with on the racing strip?

Knock on wood, I’ve done pretty well [on the strip]. On the streets, I’ve been knocked down a few times, mainly from people doing crazy things. People pulling out in front of me.

I was sent airborne once. The driver stopped, came to check on me and said just what I thought they would say: "I’m sorry. I pulled right in front of you and never saw you." I rear-ended them probably at about 50 miles an hour and they were probably doing 20 to 25.

How do your family and loved ones feel about your racing?

My parents, I would have to say, are not very supportive of this land-speed racing. I’ve been kind of a daredevil my whole life. My parents used to say, "If we could get him to survive ’til he was 16, we’ll be OK." Then, "If we can get him to 18." Then, to 20. Finally, it was "If we can get him to 43."

Most all of us are single and don’t have any children. That’s a big part of it. One rider with a wife and two kids quit. We’d had a talk, and he said, "I can’t get them out of my mind." I told him, "If that’s what you’re thinking about, you do need to stop."

After we lost [one competitor], I gave a lot of thought to see if there were other things I could do for fun. I bought a Rock River rifle, and I enjoyed shooting that [at his north Georgia cabin]. I bought a Yamaha WaveRunner and I enjoyed that. Unfortunately, none of it is like the feeling I get with land-speed racing.