Elaine Ruff founded the United
States Women’s Motorcycle League (the WML) in 1996 and was the
CEO and President of this entity until the beginning of 2000.
Elaine Ruff brought with her 20 years of experience in business operations and
designs. As the Director of Operations for a well-known after-market
motorcycle company, Elaine successfully converted operations from a distributor
based to one of the leading manufacturing direct after-market companies in the
In 1992, she co-founded the U.S. Women's Motocross Team, which served as the
leader in off-road promotions and marketing for all female motocross riders.
1995 launched a new growth as the "Reaching for the Stars"
theme was used as the organization began to experience a period of phenomenal
growth in the field of Women's Motocross. More people than ever were
beginning to catch on to the excitement associated with women's motorsports.
Fans, sponsors, riders, race promoters and the media were all taking a second
look at women racers and they liked what they saw. As the Executive
Director for the organization, Elaine launched the 1995 Ladies' World Cup
Championships and MTEG Women's StadiumCross Series which resulted in a U.S.
Women's StadiumCross Team Video produced by
Fastrack Productions called
On April 30, 1996, the U.S. Women's
Motocross Team evolved into the United States Women's Motorcycle
League under founder Ruff as the CEO & President of the
organization incorporated as a non-profit public benefit
corporation and went on to develop a women's motocross racing
circuit ran in conjunction with the AMA Outdoor Motocross
Championships Series to include a yearly Ladies' World Cup.
The 1999 AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum producers asked Elaine to assist
in the historical accuracy of women's motocross. The exhibit was on
display in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum until the end of 2000, then it
went on tour to shows and events around the United States to promote the
Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum and further promote women in motorcycling.
We interviewed Elaine Ruff in January of
2014. Below are the Q&A's of the interview:
Elaine Ruff Interview – January 2, 2014
WMXA: How did you get involved in the
Women’s Motocross effort and eventually become Founder and
Director of the WML?
I was Vice President of a motorcycle aftermarket company. I
was one of a handful of women in an executive position at that
time. During the 1991 World Mini’s in Las Vegas, I was
approached by two woman riders, Tami Rice and Nadine Holbert.
I spent the afternoon listening to their stories about how the
industry had shut woman riders out, the discrimination that was
occurring at the time, the fact that the AMA rule book stated that
the highest level a woman could obtain in motocross racing was an
amateur status and so on. To be honest, I felt like I had just
gone back in time – how could this be happening in the nineties?
These women were passionate about their sport and dedicated to
making a change. They needed help, so I agreed to do what I could.
I had no idea that we were about to turn the industry on its ear!
WMXA: Was this when the United States
Women’s Motocross Team was created?
Yes, this was actually a marketing effort to draw out some
participation numbers for the female market segment. I had been
told by many of the executives of Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki that
the female participation numbers were so low that it just was not
worth the investment. So when Tami Rice told me she had
received an invitation from a promoter in Italy to send our “US
Team” to participate in an all-women’s motocross event in Fienza,
Italy in 1992, I thought this was a great opportunity to see if
what the industry believed to be true was true. With the help of
Kat Spann, owner and editor of Tex MX (later to become Southern
Dirt Bike Magazine), Tami Rice (Director of the WMXA),
Nadine Holbert, and our sister company in Italy, this came to
fruition. The Team consisted of Tami Rice, Nadine Holbert, Kristy
Shealy and Dee Ann Wood.
Anyone that knows women’s motocross
history knows we were darn lucky. I had no idea that we had just
sent over to Italy “The Dream Team”. They placed four
of the top five places. The United Stated Women’s Motocross
Team was born. I began a strategic marketing campaign,
sending out information about the Women’s MX Team, race events,
sponsorship, etc. My first lesson in reality – many of the
industry media outlets wanted nothing to do with news about women
racing motocross. At the time the industry was truly a “good ole
boys club” and it was the opinion of many of the leading industry
magazines (and promoters I may add) that women had no business
racing motocross. At the time it took some “leverage” to get
the media to open up to the idea of professional women motocross
racers. It took a media powerhouse like Kat Spann to get the
news out there. Eventually the other media outlets began to follow
suit. Later, I teamed up with
Jim Trimble, owner of Trimble
and Company, to help create a marketing plan and direction for the
women’s motocross effort.
WMXH: The U.S.
Women’s Motocross Team went on for several years correct?
Yes, for about 3 years. The talent on this team over the years
included: Dee Ann Wood, Kristy Shealy, Cindy Cole, Tami
Rice, Nadine Holbert, Jodi Hollow, Corina Chinen, and Lisa
Henderson. It is these women (those pioneers of the past)
that truly deserve most of the credit for today’s opportunities.
I gave them a platform in which to showcase their talents. Kat,
Jim and I provided the needed “business” tools. But, without
their spirit, dedication, and incredible talent, it would have
taken much longer for the opportunities to arrive. I hope that
today’s women riders understand the importance and significance of
their contributions and how difficult it was to break through the
“good ole boys” barrier in this sport. And in the spirit of their
sister motocross racers, they continued to advance the
opportunities of this sport through their grace, hard work, and
generosity. T.E.A.M stands for “Together everyone
achieves more.” This mission statement of the U.S. Women’s MX TEAM
and the WML was embraced and honored – and helped open doors for
all women MX riders.
WMXH: So when was the WML launched and why?
The U.S. Women’s Motocross Team, as I said before, was a platform
to showcase the female motocross racer. With that team, we
were able to introduce, educate, and change the industry with
regard to how they saw the female market segment. With the
U.S. Women’s Motocross Team and the response to team activities,
we were able to show that the participation rate of less than 1%
of women (these numbers were given to me by the OEM’s) was
actually over 10%! That is a huge amount of the market to
ignore and the companies started to question their own data.
The data was coming from bike registrations. Any woman knows
that often the bike is registered in the fathers or husband’s
name. This discovery opened up a vast amount of valuable
marketing data on the female market segment. How many times does
one discover an overlooked market? Heck, I felt like Christopher
Columbus discovering a new world. Once we looked over the
numbers, we realized that in order to continue supporting the
female market segment, it required that they have their own
On April 30, 1996, the U.S. Women’s
Motorcycle League “WML” was launched. I contacted Ed
Youngblood, president of the AMA, and asked him for his support of
the effort. A true visionary, Ed took on the task and his participation was invaluable. The first thing he did was to
have the rule book changed from women only being able to achieve
an amateur status to that of professional. He supported the idea
of the WML being a member ranking organization (as trying to get
the AMA involved to do this then would have taken too much time).
The WML launched as a nonprofit organization whose members were
worldwide. And as the numbers grew, the voice of change got
louder, and as the voice became louder – more doors opened.
It was a rush!
role did Debbie Matthews have with the WML?
Debbie owned a motorcycle apparel shop called Racers Choice back
then. She joined the effort as a volunteer after the WML was
created. She stayed on as a
volunteer, then race coordinator, then co-director until the
middle of 1999 when she left to pursue other things.
WMXH: You must be pretty happy with how the
women’s racing program has evolved since then.
Are you kidding? I am ecstatic! I feel like one of those
involved in the women’s suffrage movements sometimes.
Dealing with the politics in the industry was like trying to get
woman the right to vote all over again! Like I said, I thought I
was in a time warp – you would have expected such resistance in
the 40’s and 50’s – but the 90’s? The effort to get women
motocross racers recognized and an equal playing field took a lot
of very dedicated people. It was a fight that required many late
hours, personal and financial sacrifice, resilience and most of
all, unwavering dedication. I was lucky to be involved in
such an industry changing effort. I think it is important
to understand where the industry was and to recognize those that
fought for today’s opportunities.
That is why I am so excited that they
are creating a web site to support the History of Women’s
Click here for a printable
version of Elaine's Interview.