40 YEAR CELEBRATION OF THE WOMEN’S NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Photos by Kathy Caro, Gale Webb & Scott Heidbrink
At Glen Helen Raceway there was a unique celebration of 40 Years of Women’s Motocross. The event commemorated the first Women’s Motocross National Championship, held in 1974, and honored past National Champions and other standout women racers.
CALVMX President Frank Vrettas, Tami Greenhill and Miki Keller worked to pull the event together. Among the former National Champs there was a historical display of women’s motocross from the 1970’s to today. It included photo collages, vintage gear, women’s memorabilia and four period era bikes. Nine of the 19 Womens National Champions were there to sign autographs and greet their supporters.
Gathering in the pits were former National Champions Sue Fish (1976-77), Carey Steiner (1978), Dede Cates (197980), Lisa Akin (1984), Mercedes Gonzalez (1985-86, 1988-89-90-91), Vicky Jackson (1987), Dee Wood (1993-94-95, 1998) Tania Satchwell (2001) and Steffi Laier (2003 and four-time WMX Women’s World Champion). In addition to the champs, women riders ranging from Mary McGee (who raced offroad starting in the 60’s to including the Baja 1000) and modern day racer and Nitro Circus star Jolene Van Vugt were on hand.
The women were honored with a presentation and meet-n-greet in the Glen Helen Museum. The presentation opened up with a video compilation reviewing of the 40 Years of Women’s Motocross National Championships and closed with guest speaker and AMA Hall of Famer Sue Fish.
One of the highlights of the day was a Parade of Champions. Leading the field was Sue Fish on a 1977 Yamaha YZ125. In a nice touch, the Champions stayed on the track and every women racer at the event was invited to join their heroes for two laps of riding together. What followed was officially what you would expects from racers—an impromptu race. Speeds increased, roost flew and the sound of two- and four-stroke machinery echoed through hills. Especially impressive was Mercedes Gonzalez, who commented later it had been years since she’d been on an actual track. Looking much like she did during her championship years, Mercedes hammered the track until she realized she might be having too much fun and decided to pull in.
Dee Woods supplied one anxious moment during the “Ride with the Champions” when she sailed just a bit too far over the finish line jump and ended up being pitched off her 1995 Kawasaki KX250. Although uninjured, front brake damage ended her ride for the day.
There was regular racing for the 70 women racers on hand — ranging from beginner to pro-level racers. One of the best races on the day was the Women’s Pro Class, featuring former Women’s World Champion Steffi Laier and Team Honda’s Sayaka Kaneshiro. In moto one, Laier powered her RaceSoCal Suzuki into the lead up the long Glen Helen straight followed closely by Sayaka Kaneshiro’s Eve Skincare Honda. The two were never more than three bike lengths apart. Midway through the moto, Kaneshiro began seriously attack Laier, but her charge was for naught when she washed out in the corner leading into the steep uphill section. Fortunately she was able to keep her bike running and quickly remounted to hold on to her second place spot. There was no catching Laier as she took the win, followed by Kaneshiro and Lauren Wood.
The overall win was on the line as the Pros lined up for the second moto. Kaneshiro timed the gate perfectly and rocketed up the starting straight into the famous Talladega first turn— with Laier trailing in third place. Kaneshiro maintained a torrid pace as the moto progressed. Not giving up without a battle, Laier moved into second and set off in pursuit of Kaneshiro. Never putting a wheel wrong in the moto, Kaneshiro powered her way to the win and threw her arms up in victory as she slowed down after the finish. Laier finished second overall, and fellow German Birgit Schelkle used her 5-4 scores to take the final podium spot.
Special thanks goes out to the CALVMX 40 Years of Women’s Motocross Celebration sponsors Winston White, Blustarr.com, Eve Skincare.com, CompetitiveMotosports.com, WomensMXHistory.com, Legends & Heroes Tour, After the Harvest, 100% and Dr. Terry Gerber.
For more information on the History of Women’s Motocross visit “WomensMXHistory” on Facebook or www.WomensMXHistory.com