In the early 1970s amateur motocross racing was thriving in AMA’s District 37, which included most of Southern California. There were motocross tracks at Saddleback, Bay Mare, Rawhide, Muntz, Adelanto, Elsinore, De Anza, Escape Country, Perris, Poway, Carlsbad, Indian Dunes, Goleta, and I probably missed some. It was a time before liability insurance prices went sky high and tracks started closing.
Motocross racers weren’t just guys, women raced too. There was an AMA D37 sanctioned female-only club called the End Does Motorcycle Club, a clever play on the words doe, a female deer, and endo, slang for crashing end-over-end.
Amateur championships in District 37 were different than in California road racing clubs. Take the 125cc Motocross Sub-division for example. The sub-division included Expert, Amateur (also called Junior) and Novice classes. Points were earned on a sliding scale depending on the rider’s class and the number of entries on race day. Often there were enough women to make a class and the women would earn points on the same sliding scale as the men, even though the promoter would usually have the women race in their own event or combined with the mini-bikes.
The number 1 plate was awarded to the sub-division point leader, not the class point leader. The 125cc champion for the year was the one with the most sub-division points. He would carry the “1c” number plate (c for 125cc sub-division) into next year. All the numbers were assigned by the rider’s position, so your number indicated your rank within the division (yes, they changed numbers every year). Having a low number was a point of pride. There could be hundreds of racers in the sub-division so single-digit holders were the real aces, and 2-digit number holders were pretty hot stuff.
But there was no women’s division. The points earned by the women in their girls-only races were included in the 125cc sub-division. So a female with a lot of points earned by winning races in the so-called Powder Puff class could get a lower number than a male 125cc racer. There was some grumbling one year when a woman earned a 2-digit number. The women, for their part, wanted a division of their own where they could compete for trophies and championships and low numbers against their own kind.
The AMA District 37 wasn’t inclined to start a women’s division. They didn’t think there was much interest and didn’t want to do all the paperwork for just five or six individuals. A few of the End Does knew otherwise, and during 1973 they surveyed everybody they could locate. Dee Granger, the End Does referee, took a proposal for a Women’s Division to the D37 Competition Committee. They listened politely then told her to take it to the D37 Board of Directors. When the Board met in late 1973, Dee, Kasey Rogers, Karen Traw (and perhaps some others) proposed their own separate division. A board member said “Why don’t you do a survey and find out if there is any serious interest….”
Before he could complete his sentence, Dee pulled the survey out of her tote and plopped it on the table. “We already did,” she replied. It was pretty conclusive; there was strong interest among the women for their own division. However, perhaps the clinching argument was the fact that women were earning low 125cc numbers because of the points they earned in the Powder Puff class, without actually setting a knobby on the track the same time as the men. Quite a few men also quietly supported the idea because they wouldn’t have to worry about “getting beat by a girl.”
The points-paying women’s division started in 1974. It was officially called the Powder Puff Division not for sexist reasons but to honor of the pioneering women air racers of the 1930s, who ran their airplanes in competition as the “Powder Puff Derby.”
Left: The End Does Motorcycle Club logo. Right: The End Does celebrate winning the #1 amateur club award from AMA District 37 in 1974.
The first D37-points paying women’s division race was at Rawhide Cycle Park in March 1974. This was the start of the gas crisis, and fuel was hard to get. Dee, the division steward, sent out mimeographed postcards organizing a van-pooling effort for L.A. area racers, so each van would carry three or four bikes and three or four racers. Women from other areas such as Santa Barbara did a similar van-pooling scheme.
It worked. In spite of the gas crisis there were enough women entrants to merit not only their own class but a separate, non-combined race. The event was covered by Motocross Action magazine with the splash headline “POWDER PUFF SPECIAL: Girl Racers” across the top of the cover and a lengthy article inside. According to the article the finishing order in moto 1 was Nancy Payne, teenager Sue Fish, and Cherry Stockton. Moto 2 was almost the same: Sue Fish, Nancy Payne, and Cherry Stockton. Observers described Nancy Payne as fast and smooth while the young Sue Fish had a wild riding style – “a series of linked recoveries” – as she circulated the track. She was lots of fun to watch.
(Sue Fish had a long and successful career, earning the women’s amateur championship several times, eventually turning pro and racing against the men. Sue was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2012.)
TV and film actress Kasey Rogers, a racer and a member of the End Does, saw the enthusiasm of the women and organized the Women’s Powder Puff National, a weekend of racing for girls and women only that would produce a National Champion. The 1974 event was at Indian Dunes in Valencia, California. It was very popular, with over 300 competitors from all over and 9,000 spectators, according to Trans-World Motocross. Nancy Payne was the first women’s National Champion. Motocross champion Gary Jones and Sonny Nutter were the trophy boys and Nancy won a 125cc Can-Am motorcycle. There’s a good article about it at http://motodude.com/2012/03/04/womens-motocross-and-the-powder-puff-years/. The event was re-named the Women’s Motocross National in 1975 and continued for several years.
This year marks 40 years since the first Women’s Motocross division, and there’s going to be a reunion. It’s September 6th & 7th (the weekend after Labor Day) at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernadino, California. There’s more information at http://www.calvmx.net/40_Years_of_Womens_MX.htm
Disclaimer: The Dee Granger mentioned in this article is now Dee Ritter, my wife. We did not know each other in the 1970s but first met in 2002. Information for this article came from her huge collection of period literature and from a number of websites.