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Women Behind The Bubble

By Simon-Pierre Smith

Motorcycle Roadracing is one of the few sports where there is no gender separation in the classes. Even motocross has some form of women's league. The reason for this should be obvious; on a road bike, the physical differences between the sexes don't have a large effect on lap times. While it is true that the generally lighter weight of a small woman can be an advantage, that advantage is reduced on larger bikes where upper body strength becomes more important.

font class="auto-style2">Above/left: Brenda Wertman carves through Portland's turn 9

But still, there are differences. Only a couple of handfuls of women populate the grids where hundreds of men race. At the national level, the ratio is even slimmer. In the past, this could be attributed to discrimination. Surely there were hurtles for women racers until the mid 70's and even later. Of course Michelle Duff, Canadian GP star of the mid 60s, got around this by being a man until after his racing career. Today, the obvious hurdles are removed, but the more subtle hurdles of expectation and public acceptance are still there.

Putting the question to Oregon racer Joy Quickstad brings a solution to the surface; aggression. A lot of women don't race because they don't have the desire for conflict men have. As I ponder the role of aggression in racing, I start to conclude she may be right. While I've seen a few racers so aggressive that they can't finish a race, the more common scenario, regardless of gender, is the racer too timid to force a questionable pass. A certain amount of aggression is needed to be successful and a certain amount of success is needed to stay with the sport. 

Are successful women racers more aggressive than average women? Danielle Saxman, a fixture in Northwest racing during the 90s doesn't seem overly so. In all the years I've raced against her I never had her do the "Bump and Stuff" pass. I would describe her more as determined. Any racer that crashes three times in one torrential day and remounts to ride again has substantial determination. It took almost a decade of working through fragile bikes, mediocre finishes, and hard knocks to finally earn the Oregon Championship in 125 GP. It is a determined racer that breaks her wrist, then shows up at the track with a new sponsor; the clinic that set her bones.

For another viewpoint, I asked Brenda Wertman, accomplished club racer and wife of national level rider Tom Wertman. For Brenda, her hardest task is turning off being a mom when turning on being a racer. Her case in point came during an Spokane endurance race. As she climbed over the wall to serve her stint on the track, one of her children climbed over the wall too (a serious safety violation) and was pulled back to the pits crying. Brenda had to leave, and not just leave but banish the thought. There just isn't enough room in the mind to do anything but race when on the track.

Next on our list of aggressive, determined women is Washington's Dawna Holloway. Dawna started as a passenger on a sidecar locally. The sidecar scene requires travel to a number of tracks, mostly in California where there is a large following. From the California crowd came links to European competitors and ride at the Isle of Man. From there came a "Taxi Ride", a test on a full World Superbike sidecar. In that test she was lapping within 2 seconds of the fastest time for the day, proof enough she could do the job. By the middle of the season she'd secured a ride on the "Diet Get Fit" team with Roger Lovelock driving. This made her the only woman in World Superbike. By the end of the year the team had earned the tenth overall spot and the "Rookie of the year" award.

Every fairy tale has an ogre. Superside doesn't draw the bike sponsor money like the solo bikes. The same determination that drove her to compete internationally drove her to spend her life's savings chasing racetracks around the globe. Next year the "Diet Get Fit" team will either need a major sponsor or be reduced to running the European championship.

To close, I'll leave you with the words of Danielle Saxman, "I would advise a woman who wants to race the same way I would advise a man. Surround yourself with people who truly support you for the right reasons. Pay attention to your gut. Race only because you like to. Never look back." SR!


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