As an ongoing feature, Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists will be celebrating the women who have made an impact on the motorcycle industry, from pioneers to newbies, industry players to racers, to you.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: MARY MCGEE
Championship Rider and Auto Racer
I was a car racer before I ever draped my 6’1” frame on a motorcycle. I never thought about riding, but when I was 22 years old a friend sold me his used 1956 200cc Triumph Cub when he left for Hawaii. I figured, “Why not? It’s cheap.” Unfortunately, that bike didn’t always start, so the next year I bought a Honda C110, which I used for shopping, going to work, visiting friends . . . it was my sole means of transportation. I never experienced any backlash being a female on a motorcycle, or maybe I just never noticed.
I was born in Juneau, Alaska in 1936, but during World War II my Mother got me and my older brother out of imminent danger by sending us to Seattle and then by train to our final destination of my grandparents’ farm in Iowa. I was 5, my brother 9, and we made that trip on our own! My Mother was an RN and wasn’t allowed to leave Alaska during wartime, but she later joined us in Iowa and then I was raised in Phoenix. So, you could say I was always on a road adventure.
I do vintage racing with my 1974 250 Husqvarna. 1974 is the most recent year they deem a bike vintage. It’s an amazingly well-built bike, although getting parts can take 2-3 three months. I now compete in the Over 70 class.
I started racing in cars. There was a time trial where I lived in Phoenix, mostly because Stan Sugerman bought a stable of racing cars and needed a place to show it off. I got to drive a Porsche Spyder. I was hooked on Race Cars. In 1975, the first SCCA/CAL club sports car race in Phoenix, car owner, George Reis asked if I wanted to drive his Mercedes Benz 300SL and I said, “Oh yes!” It was a Ladies & Sedan race , which I won, despite spinning out. I got to drive some fabulous cars over the years. There is nothing like racing a V-12 Ferrari on the long course at Riverside Raceway. I was fortunate to be in the Inaugural 1967 Mexican 1000. I was in a 510 Datsun-we only made it to the half way point. The next year, I drove a pickup truck (built for short people, which I’m not!) and finished 4th. We had to race against the big trucks, as there was no mini pickup truck class yet. One of the oddest moments I had in these races was in 1969 when a McPhearson strut broke through the hood and oil stuck on the windshield, so I had to look out the side window a lot to keep racing.
At a party, fellow car racer, Steve McQueen said, “McGee, you’ve got to get off that pansy road racing bike and come out to the desert.” I told him that I didn’t want to get dirty, but I did say it might be fun. My husband worked for Honda so a 250 Honda Scrambler was my ride. Dirt bikes were to stay in my future, including Desert, Motocross and the Long Distance races. My career highlight racing bikes in Baja was in 1975, when I rode a 250 Husqvarna solo in the Baja 500, passing 17 two-man teams. The hardest thing I ever did was Baja. It was very barren, no electricity, no doctors, no phone. I carried Percodan in case of injury because you’d have to ride injured to get to someplace where someone has a car to get to Ensenada or La Paz to a clinic or back to the States. Luckily, I never had to use the Percodan, but I did come off the bike several times.
INFLUENCING FEMALE RIDERS
I’ve been told that I’ve inspired other women to ride, especially by female riders who came up to me in Carson City at the AMA International Women & Motorcycling Conference in the summer of 2012. If I’ve done anything to help, that’s great. Women hold up half the sky! Women have long faced more obstacles than men, it was always NO such as “No, you can’t vote,” or “No, you can’t race.” Or No to any random thing. Women heard a lot of “No! Women can’t do that.” I did my time demonstrating for Equal Rights, Pro-Choice and Title 9. When it comes to motorcycling, I always say, “Just get out there and ride.” Motorcycling equals freedom, plus it’s such fun. You feel so different on a motorcycle than in a car. Being a woman on a motorcycle somehow makes you feel more important, like you’re telling the world “I can do this”. More women should also enter any kind of racing event. Just enter. You may not win, but at least you entered. My goal was to always finish.
2012 FIM AWARD
I received an email that I thought was spam, a joke. The email said that the FIM was offering me an all-expenses-paid trip to Monte Carlo, Monaco to receive an award. The next morning, I received a call from the FIM saying that I needed to tell them if I was coming or not. When I realized they were serious, I blurted out, Yes !” FIM took care of everything—my only challenge was finding proper dress up clothes for the formal evenings. I just got the official 14.5-pound award, engraved with “FIM Women Legend—Mary McGee.” I am deeply honored, not only as a woman rider, but as a motorcycle rider.
FUTURE OF WOMEN IN MOTORCYCLING
I hope it’s huge! Companies are starting to recognize that there are plenty of us women out there, but change is gradual. Honda didn’t even have a display at the AMA Conference in Carson City, even though there were 600+ women motorcyclists there. They are finally making bikes that fit women. I was lucky that I was tall and could fit a standard bike fifty years ago. If I had been a foot shorter, my whole life might have been different! I am glad that the WCM (Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists) has been formed I think it will encourage more women to ride. And May has been Women Riders Month. Heck, I just got my street license last fall at age 75. Never stop riding!
by Christopher Gil, VP of Editorial at MAD Maps, Inc., www.madmaps.com