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CALVMX Salutes the Legendary Ladies of Motocross

| 19 September 2014 5:40 pm

40 Years of Women’s Motocross
Glen Helen Raceway

Story by Steve Caro
Photos by Kathryn Caro
SAN BERNARDINO, CA, SEPT. 6, 2014

The story of motocross coming to this country in the late 1960s is well documented. Within a few years of its arrival, it had become the most popular form of competition, both at the professional and amateur levels. What isn’t so well known is that, along with thousands of young men taking to the tracks across the nation, women of all ages were also having a go at the new sport.

The attendees of the special “40 Years of Women’s Motocross” event at Glen Helen Raceway.

The attendees of the special “40 Years of Women’s Motocross” event at Glen Helen Raceway.

The women’s side of the sport has always been forced to the background for numerous reasons, including financial, gender discrimination, etc. In the beginning, pioneer racers such as Kerry Kleid had to threaten legal action just for the chance to have a pro license! Fortunately, by 1974, the first U.S Women’s Motocross Champion had been crowned, with Nancy Payne taking the title.

Chrystal Ponsock (1V) topped the Women’s (Over 35) Intermediate class.

Chrystal Ponsock (1V) topped the Women’s (Over 35) Intermediate class.

In the ensuing decades, names such as Sue Fish, Mercedes Gonzalez-Natvig, Lisa Akin, Jessica Patterson and Ashley Fiolek have hoisted the champion’s crown. In spite of the increasing number of entrants and growing popularity, the women’s portion of the sport continues to operate in the shadow of the more commercially successful men’s version.

Lisa Akin (1) in action at Glen Helen Raceway.

Lisa Akin (1) in action at Glen Helen Raceway.

In a move to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the first U.S Women’s Champion, Tami Greenhill – herself a professionally ranked racer, with a résumé that includes competition in Europe and being instrumental in the development of riding gear designed for women – together with CALVMX, organized a grand salute to the ladies of motocross. Months of mind-numbing work by both Greenhill and Miki Keller – including contacting former champions, gathering sponsors, etc. – resulted in a highly successful event that featured eight former champions in attendance, including six-time Women’s World MX Champion Steffi Laier from Germany.

Six-time Women’s World MX Champion Steffi Laier (110).

Six-time Women’s World MX Champion Steffi Laier (110).

Special women-only classes were included on the schedule, for skill levels ranging from Beginner on up to Pro-level ability. Also on the schedule, during intermission, was a special two-lap parade of champions, followed by a “Ride with the Champions.” As a result, more than 50 lady racers of all skill levels posted entries on the day.

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On the track, the Women’s Pro class was the race to watch. In both motos, multiple-time World Champion Steffi Laier and a host of other fast racers turned some of the fastest laps of any class on the day.

The first moto saw the Suzuki-mounted Laier rocketing up the starting straight and barely backing off going through the famous Talladega curve. Close behind her was Honda rider Sayaka Kaneshiro, who has rapidly become one of the fastest racers on the West Coast. Laier clung to a slim lead as Kaneshiro drew closer. In third place was Honda jockey Lauren Woods.

Just when it looked like Kaneshiro was going to make her move into the lead, she low-sided entering a corner. Although she was back up quickly and fortunate to keep her four-stroke running, that incident was all Laier needed to streak to the moto win. Kaneshiro salvaged second, with Woods finishing in third.

Christy Duffy (424) was runner-up in the Women’s Expert class.

Christy Duffy (424) was runner-up in the Women’s Expert class.

In moto two, it was Kaneshiro’s turn to win the drag race up the starting hill. Laier trailed in third but quickly moved into second place as the pack roared up the steep uphill section. Kaneshiro literally flew off the top of the hill and landed well down the hill as they headed for the back portion of the course.

Sayaka Kaneshiro (11) used a 2-1 tally to top the Women’s Pro contest.

Sayaka Kaneshiro (11) used a 2-1 tally to top the Women’s Pro contest.

Kaneshiro kept up a torrid pace throughout the moto, with Laier mere seconds behind her and closing rapidly. Time ran out for the veteran German racer with the blonde Mohawk hairstyle, as Kaneshiro crossed the finish line with her arms raised in celebration of taking the overall win. Laier claimed second overall. Birgit Schelkle, who also hails from Germany but is now an Illinois resident, used 5-4 scores for third overall.

Birgit Schelkle (128) came in third overall in the Women’s Pro class.

Birgit Schelkle (128) came in third overall in the Women’s Pro class.

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The most special moment during the salute to the women of motocross was the two-lap parade of champions and legends, followed by the multiple-lap opportunity to ride with the legends. Four-time National Champion Sue Fish was given the honor of leading the pack on a 1977 Yamaha YZ 125 that was virtually identical to the one she had once raced. By Fish’ own admission, it had been decades since she had last been on a motocross course. She had commented after a morning practice that nine-time champ Mercedes Gonzalez-Natvig had made her do some practice laps and that her goal was “to not fall off.” Judging by the style she displayed, Ms. Fish has lost very little of her championship-caliber skill.

Sue Fish (1) at speed on the Glen Helen course.

Sue Fish (1) at speed on the Glen Helen course.

Unintentionally, Ms. Fish provided a change in the scheduled parade lap when she inadvertently blew through the tape ribbon that had been raised to divert the champions around the steep uphill climb. Glancing back, it was obvious the riders were willing to follow her, so she fanned the clutch, and the entire pack proceeded to climb the uphill. With a pack full of past and current racers on the course, it was inevitable that speeds were not going to stay “sedate.” As the parade lap segued into the Ride with the Champions, speeds begin to increase. Very soon, jumps were being cleared, berms were being railed, and the roost had begun to fly!

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The Women’s Open contest gets under way.

The Women’s Open contest gets under way.

The winner of the Women’s Open class was Yamaha rider Kristina Destefano (192).

The winner of the Women’s Open class was Yamaha rider Kristina Destefano (192).

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One of the most impressive rides put on was by nine-time Champion Mercedes Gonzalez-Natvig. Not looking much different than she did during her championship reign, Gonzalez-Natvig, although not officially entered in competition, put in some impressive laps on a borrowed Honda CR250. Another champion who confessed to not having been on a motorcycle (other than a trail bike) for a year, and that it had been too many years since she was last on a track, she displayed the same form that carried her to so many championships. She later remarked she loved the “two-stroke hit” of the Honda and realized she was going a little too fast and jumping too much and decided to pull in. The grin on her face was all the evidence needed to see she was back in her element!

There are 15 MX Championships among this group: (back row, left to right) Lisa Akin, Mercedes Gonzalez-Natvig, Kristy Shealy, Dee Woods, Steffi Laier, (front row, left to right) Tania Satchwell, Jolene Van Vugt and Sue Fish.

There are 15 MX Championships among this group: (back row, left to right) Lisa Akin, Mercedes Gonzalez-Natvig, Kristy Shealy, Dee Woods, Steffi Laier, (front row, left to right) Tania Satchwell, Jolene Van Vugt and Sue Fish.

By any degree of measurement, the Salute to the Women of Motocross was an overwhelming success. An excellent turnout of entrants, the opportunity to ride with the legends, and great racing at all levels was a just reward for Tami Greenhill and Miki Keller’s efforts.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s at the local or National level,” Greenhill later commented, “Women’s Motocross will always be around… no matter how much a roller-coaster existence they have to endure.”

For further information on Vintage Motocross racing, see calvmx.net and ahrma.org.

Glen Helen Raceway
San Bernardino, California
Results: September 6, 2014

WOMEN MINI: 1. Lori Payne (Hon).

WOMEN FIRST-TIME BEG: 1. Pam Bennett (Hon); 2. Nicole Triplett (Kaw); 3. Kayla Ridgely (Hon); 4. Melanie Bier (Kaw); 5. Diane Takenaka (Hon).

WOMEN NOV: 1. Carole Feeney (Kaw); 2. Sandi Weidler (Hon); 3. Penny Shedner (Yam).

WOMEN INT: 1. Ginger Hill (Yam); 2. Lori Payne (Hon).

WOMEN EX: 1. Rachel Van Diepen (Hon); 2. Christi Duffy (Yam); 3. Jean Turner (Suz); 4. Kitty Hoole (Yam).

WOMEN PRO: 1. Sayaka Kaneshiro (Hon); 2. Steffi Laier (Suz); 3. Birgit Schelkle (Suz);4. Tiana Falls (KTM); 5. Shelby Ward (Kaw).

WOMEN OPEN NOV: 1. Kristina Destefano (Yam); 2. Kerri Kress (Yam); 3. Anna Lisa Davis (Yam); 4. Heather Majchenek (Yam); 5. Tina Marie (Kaw).

WOMEN OPEN INT: 1. Kaley Martin (Yam); 2. Nicole Smith (Yam); 3. Val Roberts (Hon); 4. Kaylie McKeirman (Yam); 5. Becky Howell (Yam).

WOMEN (35+) NOV: 1. Kerri Kress (Yam).

WOMEN (35+) INT: 1. Chrystal Ponsock (Yam); 2. Katherine Wood (TM).

WOMEN (35+) EX: 1. Jamie Pamintuan (Suz); 2. Jean Turner (Suz).

WOMEN (45+) INT: 1. Brooklyn McClendon (KTM).

WOMEN (45+) EX: 1. Bonnie Warch (Kaw); 2. Tami Greenhill (Hon); 3. Andrea Beach (Kaw); 4. Kitty Hoole (Yam).

WOMEN VINTAGE NOV: 1. Tamara Raye Wilson (Yam); 2. Randi Schaller (Yam).

WOMEN VINTAGE INT: 1. Katherine Wood (CZ); 2. Ellen Voemans (BSA).

WOMEN VINTAGE EX: 1. Birgit Schelkle (Hon).

[For more from this event, please stay tuned for “Snapshots from a Salute to 40 Years of Women’s Motocross” by Tom Corley… Editor]

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Category: Motocross, Regional, Vintage, Vintage Motocross

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