If have been around the sport and WMX during the last decade, you likely know who Miki Keller is. Keller utilized her business and marketing savvy to pull Women’s Motocross back from the brink of disaster in 2000, after Elaine Ruff unexpectedly resigned from her position as President of the league. Keller spent most of the next decade developing an elite national series, one where the top women could make a living racing.
Motocross at the professional level is a very much a business. Recognizing this, Keller accomplished the goal of building a successful national series with a large fan base and the corresponding media coverage, all of which allows riders to grow and flourish within the system. This change helped the series to seek lucrative sponsorships, along with factory and industry support. With her eye on the future women’s motocross, Keller also offered amateur riders national exposure and a path to the pro ranks by holding their amateur events on the same weekend and on the same track as the professional series. Keller’s WMA Nationals continued to thrive through the 2000s, and produced national champions and fan-favorites such as Ashley Fiolek, Jessica Patterson, Tarah Gieger, Sarah Whitmore, and Vicki Golden.
In 2009, Keller received an offer from MX Sports to absorb the series, which also changed the name of the championship from “WMA” to “WMX.” After a brief stint as a consultant for the series, Miki parted ways and was off to her next challenge: getting women’s motocross racing into the wildly popular X Games.
Can you briefly tell us what your official titles have been with the X Games?
I was originally the Sport Organizer for Women’s Super X, and I’m now on contract as part of the Sport Organizing team for Moto X Racing and Enduro X at X Games Global for all classes, with the title of Athlete Director.
When did women start racing at X Games and how did it happen?
I had worked with the X Games through the FMX Sport Organizer for the FMX X Games debut in San Francisco, and then again in 2002 for a Women’s FMX exhibition. I knew what a great platform the X Games is for any athlete. I tried in 2007, the first year they had Moto X racing, to do a women’s demonstration, but due to costs it didn’t pan out. In 2008, I had put together a proposal for ESPN to include women as a medaled competition. Around the same time, an industry friend made the introduction for me with the X Games Sports and Competition Director at the ESPN Moto X Championships. He was very receptive to having the women race Super X and he contracted me to put the class together. That summer we had the first Women’s Super X at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles.
What was the initial reaction from the women racers and the industry?
It was really good, and the women were excited about riding Supercross and being part of X Games. The one issue we faced was the date for X Games happened to be on the same weekend as the AMA Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Championship and many of the top WMA pros were contracted to race Loretta’s. Ashley Fiolek was the first to commit to X Games because she had previously made the decision not to race the Amateur National, and then Jessica Patterson, Tarah Gieger, and Sarah Whitmore ended up working it out with their sponsors. I think the moto industry had some reservations. The women had never really raced Supercross, so some weren’t sure they were going to do well, but they did great!
How have the X Games impacted women’s motocross?
X Games was a breakthrough for the women. The first year the women raced, they aired the race live on ABC on a Saturday afternoon. For most of the audience, it was the first time they had watched women’s racing, and it was the best television coverage women’s racing had received since the 80’s. There were some challenging Supercross sections and the freestyle ramp was set at 75-feet. The women rode really well and I think they exceeded everyone’s expectations. Women’s Super X has continued to be a part of the live coverage on ABC or ESPN every year. X Games has put a spotlight on women’s racing and has helped create racing stars like Tarah Gieger, Ashley Fiolek, and Vicki Golden. The connection with ESPN brought ESPY nominations for Jessica Patterson, Ashley Fiolek, and Laia San. The exposure X Games generates has helped the women attract some new sponsors and also a chance to make good purse money. ESPN pays equal purse to men and women, and the purse at X Games remains the highest paying in women’s motocross racing history.
Women’s racing has continued to be a part at X Games LA, even in the years the men’s classes weren’t. How did that come about?
In 2009, X Games moved all events to LA Live and the Staples Center. For a variety of reasons, ESPN decided to put the Men’s Super X racing on hold. They contacted me and asked if I was interested in continuing with the women’s racing at the Staples Center. It was an easy answer for me. We ended up utilizing they Speed and Style course and going from Supercross to more of an Arenacross-style track.
What did you think of the racing this year?
It was really exciting. This year I had the chance to work on the Men’s and Adaptive racing, as well as women, for EPCN Productions and Eric Peronnard, the Sport Organizer for Enduro X and Moto X Racing. All the classes were competitive. I think that Shane Schaeffer did a good job with the track, considering the small space. The top-five women were less than a second apart in qualifying, and it made for a great main. Then we had an unexpected dramatic ending. It was crazy. The women’s podium was made of athletes from three different countries, which was also a testament to the world-class level of racing at the event. I think next year, those women are going to coming back even stronger because they all want the gold.
Did Women’s Super X influence the decision to have Women in Enduro X?
Yes, I think so. The Sport Organizer for Enduro X was impressed with the women’s race at the Coliseum. It helped with his decision to introduce Women’s Enduro X at X Games the following year. The Super X medalists were invited to compete that first year and Tarah became a crossover star. Maria Forsberg had raced against the men at a few of the AMA Endurocross Championship races, which I believe also helped in the decision. I work on both Moto X Racing and Enduro X, and it has been great to see the women progress both of the sports!