Catching Up With… Miki Keller

Miki Keller, founder of the Women’s Motocross Association (WMA), has been leading the forefront of women’s motocross since 2004. Keller is also the one responsible for introducing Women’s Moto X into the 2008 Summer X Games, where Tarah Gieger went on to take home the gold medal. Although Keller has handed over the rights of the WMA to MX Sports, her involvement with series and helping to push the sport of women’s motocross will remain as strong as ever. We were able to chat with Miki about the recent take over of the WMA by MX Sports and what exactly her new role in women’s motocross will consist of.

What exactly was your roll with the WMA?

I am the founder of the Women’s Motocross Association. I have been responsible for every aspect of the business from securing sponsorship dollars, to negotiating with AMA Pro Racing and the National promoters, to securing the TV highlights for the WMA, creating new events like the WMA Cup, working with the media and managing all the PR functions, designing and maintaining the website, writing rulebooks, race operations, creating marketing materials, hoisting up the tent at the races (well usually I find a volunteer to do that); you name it and I think I have done it.

Why sell the WMA to MX Sports?

It has always been my desire to see women’s pro racing fully integrated into the AMA Pro Nationals. Now that MX Sports is the series rights holder they are in a position to make that happen. They have the resources and the infrastructure to take women’s motocross to the next level and make it even more accessible to the fans. Davey Coombs has been someone I could go to when I needed assistance with the women’s program at the Nationals and I feel really confident that they will treat the women as a legitimate part of the program. I will still be involved for the next season at the Nationals.

Now that MX Sports has acquired the rights to the WMA, what will your role now be?

My title is Women’s Director for the Nationals and I am working on transitioning the series to MX Sports. I will work on behalf of the racers on the schedule, rules making and still oversee the approval process for women’s pro licenses. I’ll be involved in the promotional activities, press opportunities and media training for the riders as well. At the events I will be the point person and coordinate access to the women racers for the media and TV production, among other things.

You founded the WMA in 2004, since ’04 you’ve obviously had many highlights throughout your career. What are a few of your favorite highlights and memories?

I think the first big deal for me was when I put together a TV highlights package with AMA Pro Racing on ESPN and to hear David Bailey commentating about how good the women were racing was incredible. Every time we raced on Sunday at the Nationals felt like a victory. The year Hitachi was a title sponsor of the WMA Nationals was a big achievement of the year the WMA Cup had 270 women entries.

It was always an honor to have different international racers at the WMA like when Katherine Prumm came in and won the opening round at Glen Helen. I have been inspired by so many of the racers that have come back from an injury, like Tarah Gieger or Elizabeth Bash, or ride through an injury like when JP rode with a broken collarbone in 2007 to keep her championship points. It was always a highlight to see a new racer make the podium like Katie McGuire or when Sherri Cruse got her first national win. I always enjoyed watching Tania Satchwell Washougal, which is my home track.

There’s been times when the racers pulled together, like when it felt like we were moving backwards at the Nationals and Tarah, Sarah Whitmore and others wrote letters and voiced there concerns, or when we were preparing for the X Games some of the racers worked together to try to put on a good showing for women and their first supercross event, that was pretty memorable.

More recently, some of the highlights have included being in USA Today and the New York Times, or the ABC Coverage of X Games (and Tarah’s whip). I thought it was huge when the ESPY’s included a nomination of JP for achievements in the WMA, and then the Women’s Sports Foundation (Billy Jean King’s foundation) nominated Ashley for Athlete of the Year for winning the WMA Championship, and then of course Ashely’s cover on TransWorld Motocross was a huge milestone! I have been fortunate to be a part of something new and growing and full of potential.

We saw the women take part in the first-ever Women’s Moto X event at the X Games this past summer. Were you involved in putting that together and is that something we’ll continue to see at X Games?

Yes, I was very involved with the WMA at the X Games and coming from the action sports business, this was another goal of mine. I had the opportunity to fly to San Diego to meet with the ESPN X Games Director of Competition, Tim Reed, and pitch them on a Moto X program for the women. They were so responsive and the deal came together pretty quickly. Then, when they decided to put the women’s race live on ABC, I was really blown away. I knew the fans would appreciate it and that the more mainstream viewer would be seeing women’s racing for the first time. Ratings were super strong and I am already working with ESPN on the 2009 X Games.

What are your thoughts on the current state of women’s motocross?

Promising. This year women’s motocross really turned a corner. There are opportunities for women’s professional racing that just weren’t there before – an 8-stop series alongside the men at the Nationals, the X Games that offers equal purse money to the women and men, and the FIM Women’s World Cup. There’s also increased opportunities for women’s amateur racers. The bigger amateur events now have a few women’s/girls’ classes to race, and there’s a change in the Women’s class at Loretta Lynn’s, which will be good for amateur racers.

What do you think the future holds for women’s motocross?

I think we are going to see more women’s racing on television and in the media, more corporate sponsors (like Hardcard Motorsports Management has already done with Ashley and T-Mobile), and factory support like we have never seen before.

Ashley Fiolek is the first one to dethrone five-time WMA champion, Jessica Patterson. What are your thoughts on Fiolek?

First I have to give it up for Jessica for all the work she has put in to win five championships. Any racer would love to have that credit to their name. JP and Ashley put on some absolutely great racing this summer and it was so fun to watch. As for Ashley she has both the results and charisma to help take the sport to new heights. I really appreciate that she is concerned with how all the women racers are treated in the sport and works to change it and has a lot of respect for her competitors. She also loves interacting with fans and I really think she sees it as a privilege.

Who do you think the next big thing in women’s motocross will be?

It is hard to say who. There are a lot of new great women racers coming up the ranks. For the immediate season Sara Price comes to mind, so does Sherri Cruse, as well as Jacqueline Strong who hurt herself early on last season. Vicki Golden isn’t turning pro this year but she could come on strong in 2010.