Dana Bates: The Woman Behind Peggy Llewellyn's Winning Suit
Get to the winning circle, and your suit is going to be in pictures—lots of pictures. So much so that the racer and the suit become bonded together. Think of Richard Petty’s STP blues, Dale Jarrett covered in M&Ms characters, Rainbow-covered Jeff Gordon. It’s your brand, how your image is framed in the history books. So when deciding on what goes on your skin when racing to the finish line, it’s important to find the right person.
2007 Pro Stock Motorcycle Champion Peggy Llewellyn
Dana Bates, CEO of Bates Custom Leathers, designed the leather Peggy Llewellyn wore when she won the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship (2007). Bates shares what it takes to design and construct a racesuit for maximum performance.
Llewellyn’s leathers will be on display as part of the upcoming next generation of Women in Racing exhibit unveiling December 10th. You’ll also see Angelle Sampey’s Wally and medal.
What were you thinking when you designed Peggy’s Llewellyn’s racing suite for her historic win?
I am strange. Because I do it all, I try not to design the same suit twice. I try really hard not to make two of the same design. We have several designs that we make, but when it comes to the racers that we design for that get a lot of attention or are sponsor racers, some people just know what I do. They turn me loose to see what they get. In Peggy’s case, she had no clue what she was going to get when I made her suit. I said, ‘you know what I think, I will make you look like Cat Woman.’ She had the Rush suit, but the one after that, woo! That made her look like Cat Woman, and that is what everybody called her that year.
What were your considerations in the process of designing Peggy’s suit?
I looked at some pictures of Peggy’s racing suits in the past, and she looked so boxy, flat-chest in the suits. Peggy is a good looking woman. Let’s put that out there. We wanted to make her look that way while racing.
How long did it take you to design the winning suit?
For the actual suit, I usually wait until the last minute to do it because I work better under pressure. I saw Peggy at a race and took her measurements. To custom measure her, we took approximately 30 measurements.
What happens right after measurements is I make a pattern for the design. After the pattern is done then I will make up all her lettering and have that ready. Then I do all the extras; after, it goes to the sewing. Then it will go to sewing where we all will work on the suit. Everybody touches the suit here. I don’t want to tell how many people touch the suit.
To pattern and construct, not too much time. When it comes to women, I have to spend a lot more time on the waist up. So, verbatim I would say probably three hours. That is just the design and pattern, because everything is handmade here. Though we have a CAD System, I don’t use it. That is just something we don’t do. We find that making patterns by hand is something that works the best. Because I am a very visual person, I want to make it right. When I first started doing the pattern work, I discovered I have a photographic memory. I said, “Wow, you remember that.” When I know what they look like, I pick them up in 3D in my head. Not many people can do that. That’s how that goes.
Tell us about the construction of the suit that sets it apart from all others, aside from it is made from cow, which is like a second skin and the stitching.
I would say the composition of the suit is unique to us, because we sew differently than other people. We triple stitch our leathers, when other people stitch them once, maybe twice. The stitching has everything to do with it, as well as the stitch lengths. That is how we maintain strength. Everything we do is triple stitched and form fitting. Aerodynamics depends on the rider. The suit alone is already aerodynamic, once I form fit the suit it makes it even more aerodynamic, right there. You cannot alter a suit for speed. That is against the rules. In all racing sanctioning bodies, leathers cannot be altered for speed. That is the common denominator for everything.
What is most important about leathers in terms of performance as it is the most important gear?
Fit, I feel, is most important compared to safety. We know safety is of utmost importance! If you don’t have a proper fit, you don’t have a safe suit. You don’t want the suit to fit loose. The fit on the bike is most important. Because the first thing when Peggy is on her bike, she gets into their position, when she is in the box, doing a tire spin, and all that smoke comes up, if she are saying, ‘I hate my suit; I hate my suit; I hate my suit,’ then the rest of the process will fail. So from the point she gets on the bike, in the box, and goes down the track, the run will fail, because Peggy cannot focus on what she needs to do. Peggy needs to focus on reaction time, takeoff, and time, not if her suit fits or is uncomfortable.
Explain the marriage between the leathers, bike, and the ride.
It has to be perfection. If it is not perfect then…if the leathers are not perfect, then the rest does not follow. Nothing else can be related. If the leathers fit everything else will fall in its own category - the speed, reaction time, time, her tuck. If her leathers don’t fit, then she cannot tuck. She can’t stretch and flatten her back out. So if the leathers don’t fit, nothing works. If the leathers don’t fit, Peggy will not be successful. So for you to be your best, we have to do our job to make it work for you. You don’t want bubbles in your suit and don’t need things flapping around. That slows you down; so, no flapping in the wind.
How did you feel when Peggy won knowing she wore your creation?
We were ecstatic! Absolutely ecstatic! It is nice to know when you can make something that makes a rider go faster. For Peggy to win, I thought what a huge accomplishment for women and this industry. We are women owned and operated over here. Our staff is majority women with one man who works here. All that does is shows other women it can be done. We do and can succeed on our dreams. That is what that shows, and I am so proud of her for doing what she does, sticking with it and staying to win in this industry that is a male dominated. Because 90% of my customers are men, we are excited to get women in and winning.