Women Riders

Women in Motorcycling History: Motocross

Written by  March 30, 2016

In 1974, the Powder Puff National gave women their first motocross event. It attracted 300 riders and over 9,000 spectators. Nancy Payne won the first national championship. In 1975, the name was changed to Women’s National Championship and by 1979 had attracted enough attention to be covered by ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

By the 1980s, women’s motocross had created quite a stir and in 1981, 10 female pro riders put on an exhibition run at the Super Motocross that brought a crowd of 70,000 to their feet. The event was such a huge hit that in 1983, the first ever women’s Supercross invitational was help at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. Also in 1983, Motocross Magazine featured an article entitled “Women & Racing: Why They Do It.” Many of the women interviewed expressed doubt that they could conquer the sex barriers present at the time. Women’s motocross was dealt a blow in 1988 when they lost their biggest promoter, Mickey Thompson, who died in March of that year. Thompson was known to frequently insist on women being included in motocross and supercross events at a time when many other promoters were happy to not include them. The loss of such an amazing believer took its toll on women’s motocross.

In 1995, the Women's Motocross League (WML) took over the Women’s Nationals and it became part of the AMA National Circuit. Although there was only one national event each year, the Women’s Motocross World Championship was held in the US.

In 2000, Micki Keller took over as president of the WML and played an integral part of women’s motocross when she founded the Women’s Motorcross Association (WMA) in 2004. Able to get a five race series within the AMA Pro National, Keller got women’s motocross to finally become a part of AMA’s Pro National series. Keller was aware that in order to get women the attention they needed, the best way was to combine the women’s series with the men’s series. In addition to the AMA Pro series, Keller also held an annual event, the WMA Cup between 2003 and 2009, bringing the best of women riders from around the world. It later became the Women’s Motorcross (WMX) Championship in 2009 after being purchased by the latest series promoter, MX Sports. Jessica Patterson and Ashley Fiorek dominated the sport in that decade, winning 11 of 14 races between 2000 and 2013.

Today, 50 years after it all began, women’s motocross is once again going in another direction. No longer a part of the AMA’s men’s pro circuit, WMX was cut to a three round triple crown. In 2014, at the May 24 Pro Motocross opener, women were absent for the first time in 16 years.

When MX took over the WMA in 2009, other changes were taking place as well and Davey Coombs, Vice President of MX sports, realized there would be a logistics problem when there was a switch to a single-day format with all Pro Motocross practice, qualifying and racing happening on Saturday rather than spread across two days. In 2011, the entire motocross series began to be broadcast on live TV and online on NBC Sports and Fuel TV. Coombs said he tried to offer solutions, like going back to the amateur day of the Pro MX weekends or even a one-race format on Saturdays. He was met with resistance and, in the end, "real animosity" as he maintained that the women were not going to be able to fit into a traditional program of their own in a packed day: Eight 15-minute practice/qualifying sessions, two consolation races, four prerace sighting laps, four 30-minute two-lap races and track maintenance.

Ashley Fiorek, the defending champion, recognized the gender inequality happening in her sport. No TV coverage, a race-day schedule that put women on the course for their final race at 6 p.m., when the sun was getting low, the track was at its roughest and the spectators were going home. Worse, the position Ashley once held as a fully supported and salaried representative of American Honda, was no more. Simply put, no races, no sponsors.

Fiorek asked to be let out of her contract, worth $250,000, before the new season was to begin, but Honda refused. She begrudgingly raced, winning her fourth title in five years. Before the first race of 2012, she tweeted that it would be her last year racing. She knew she was at an impasse with the promoters and her biggest sponsor. At 21, Ashley Fiorek, the most popular WMX racer of all time, was a retired motocross racer.

Next month: The new crop of women motocross racers.