The History of Women's Motocross
by Miller Marketing & Communications
Women’s riding expertise and fierce competitive spirit dates back decades to the 1940’s when daring women raced Velocettes, B.S.A.’s and Matchless 500’s across the then-vast wilderness. As female independence and equality began to take shape in the 1960’s, women also made their way to the sports arena and on the racetrack.
What draws ladies to a sport so physically demanding and potentially dangerous? For most it is the excitement, the thrill of riding on the edge, of performing to peak potential and of beating another racer to the checkered flag, but all agree it is for the pure fun of it.
In 1966, a handful of lady racers participated in desert racing, but it was not until 1968 that a large number of lady racers showed up at one event that indicated “the times – they were a changing”. In the late 60’s, increased interest in motorcycling led to more organized events and it was only natural for ladies to follow suit. Pioneers of the desert included Lynn Wilson and Mary McGee who were the first female duo who rode and finished the Baja 500. McGee later paired up with Cherry Stockton who became the first woman’s team that crossed the checkered flag at the grueling Mint 400 in Las Vegas.
Of course, there were many other women who contributed during the infancy of female racing. Daredevils, Teri Kezar and Debbie “Flying Angel” Lawler dazzled crowds by jumping their motorcycles over cars and through hoops of fire. Debbie Reon was the first woman who competed in the big show at the famous Ascot Park in Southern California, racing Flattrack. Teresa Martin and Debbie Reon were among the first women who ventured into speedway racing. Motocross rider and stuntwoman, Marcia Holley, set a land speed record for a single engine streamliner motorcycle class and in doing so, became the first lady who broke into Bonneville’s elite 200 mph club.
Then, with the introduction of motocross to the U.S. in the early 70’s, women demanded bikes of their own. Women received factory sponsorships and by 1974, 9,000 spectators watched 300 women racers vie for the title of “Powder Puff National Champion”. Contrary to the original event title, women were not considered lightweights in the world of motocross. One year later, in 1975, the name of the event was changed to the "Women’s Motocross Nationals" and since has taken place every year, except in 1982 and 1986.
Women riders came from all walks of life and in all ages to compete. They included secretaries, accountants, lawyers, mothers, grandmothers and executives. All classes were run, sponsors came, media coverage followed and jaws dropped open as the women displayed their talent for a physically brutal sport of motocross.
In 1972, a group of Southern California female racers were invited to Canada as part of the CanAm Series. This introduced women’s racing to Canada.
Ladies scored yet another first when expert trials competitor, Debbie Evans, qualified and represented the United States in the Scottish 6-day event.
In the mid 70’s several International companies set the pace in recognizing and supporting women in competitive racing by sponsoring women’s motocross events. In 1974, Nancy Payne, the first “Powder Puff Grand National Champion", was one of the first Americans who raced in Europe. Motocross Champions Sue Fish, Madylin Almeida and Dawn Grant teamed up and starred in Evil Knievel’s Australian show in 1979.
The impact of women’s motocross was not lost on the media. By 1979 it had attracted the cameras of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, as Jackie Stewart did the play-by-play.
Women broke through this male-dominated sport by debuting in half-time exhibition races. In 1981, the nations top 10 lady racers were invited to appear at an L.A. Coliseum Supercross before a crowd of 70,000 and were given a standing ovation.
In 1982, women made history by traveling to the Orient with the men’s factory riders and representatives from the U.S. racing teams. Five women racers represented the United States in an exhibition moto at the first annual Tokyo, Japan Supercross. Back in the states, the first Women’s Supercross Invitational took place at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego in 1983, covered by NBC Sports.
Media were everywhere during the 1983 Women’s Motocross Nationals. Motorsports International and Eye On L.A. camera crews filmed the race; Hour Magazine interviewed mother/daughter teams as well as grandmothers along with the other “typical” participants. The Chippendale Dancers were on hand for the trophy presentation. Women’s motocross truly became an event in itself.
The expectations for a bright future in women’s motocross were beginning to bear fruit. Sponsors were recognizing women in increasing numbers for their professional attitudes, promotion of their products, community service, public promotions and in media interviews. Over time, more and more women became involved in motocross racing. Their skill levels improved and women became proficient competitors. But an undercurrent of change was fast approaching.
As off-road 4-wheel terrain vehicles gained attention, the motorcycle manufacturing industry lost momentum and so did the women’s racing movement along with it. Women riders received another tragic blow with the death of Mickey Thompson, an event promoter, who saw the importance of a women’s division and actively promoted women in his races. Some promoters would not include a women’s class in their races, while others felt women did not belong in motocross.
Women motocross racers had no other alternative but to compete with the men since no women’s division was established. Women racers faced double standards from the men who felt insecure or intimidated by their female counterparts. The only option open for women was to compete with the men, and most of the time alongside teenage boys, in the amateur classes since women were not looked upon as professionals. Some female riders felt they had a distinct disadvantage and discontinued riding.
With the need to develop an organization catering to women
racers, groups such as the
These combined efforts are what led to the increasing success of today's women's professional motocross.