Racer girl – Is Tarah Gieger the Next Big Thing in Women’s Motocross?

A lot has changed since the days of Sue Fish, Mercedes Gonzales, and Lisa Akin-Wagner, the women who ruled women’s motocross back in the day. Today, women’s motocross is no longer an oddity, but rather a popular trend. Seeing girls riding at local tracks across the nation has become a regular occurrence, and women’s race classes everywhere are enjoying record entries. In 2005, Fox, Acerbis, Answer, MSR, and Thor will all produce motocross gear lines designed especially for female riders; Fox is going so far as to even produce gender-specific motocross boots and helmets. Motocross may be a male-dominated sport, but it is far from being exclusive. Girls love dirt, too!

Last year, Tarah Gieger made a quiet debut in the Women’s Motocross League pro class, finishing out the season ranked fourth overall aboard her Honda of Houston-backed CR125R. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Tarah is the daughter of Bill Gieger and his wife, Becky Taylor, native Floridians who own and operate a busy surf shop in the resort town of Aguadilla. “I started riding when I was 10,” says Gieger, a pretty brown-haired girl with a slight build and a self-described tomboy personality. “I’ve participated in a lot of different sports besides motocross—soccer, baseball, and surfing, but for me, motocross is the most fun.”

At only 18, Tarah has already accomplished a lot in the sport of motocross, winning numerous mini bike and women’s class championships both in Puerto Rico and in Florida, the state which she spends the most time in. “Riding back home in Puerto Rico is a lot different; the tracks are really hard-packed and blue-grooved,” she says. “I have an old practice bike at home, but I keep my good practice bike and race bikes in Florida.”

This past March, Tarah had a breakthrough of sorts, winning the 99cc 12+ year-old women’s class Loretta Lynn’s qualifier at Lake Whitney MX Park. She contended for the class win in the Women’s Senior class as well, winning the first moto and running well in the second until a tangle with a downed rider knocker her out of contention. That weekend, Tarah topped both of her biggest on-track rivals; Loretta Lynn’s Women’s National Champion Sarah Whitmore and eight-time champ Jessica Patterson. “Those races in Texas did a lot for my confidence,” says Gieger. “It showed me that I am fast enough to beat those girls, and I did it three times in a row, too.”

This year, the Women’s Motocross Association is enjoying a record year, with over 500 paid memberships with girls from 36 different states and 12 different countries. Last November, the Altex Computers WML Cup race held at the Cycle Ranch MX Park in San Antonio, Texas, over Thanksgiving weekend attracted a record-setting 180 entries, making it the best-attended women’s motocross race ever. “More than ever, I am seeing new members joining,” said WMA President Miki Keller. “I think that these days, girls are encouraged at a young age to branch out and try other types of sports, like skateboarding, surfing, and even motocross.”

The Women’s Motocross Association promotes a six-round championship series that includes classes for both amateur and pro women. The series opener was held in conjunction with “The Prequel,” a race held at Glen Helen Raceway Park on the weekend before the Hangtown AMA 125/250cc Championship Series kickoff, the same event that also played host to round two of the WMA series. At that event, the women shared the spotlight with the premier National Championship classes on Sunday.

Having just driven cross-country from Florida in their Ford van, the Giegers are anxious to take a break and enjoy the Supercross Series finale in Las Vegas, Nevada, before finishing their journey west to Southern California where Tarah will have one week to prepare for the series opener at Glen Helen. Tarah limps through the pits with a brace on her right knee. The week after her surprise win at Lake Whitney, Tarah had crashed and tweaked her knee at the Grand Nation Championships in Mosier, Texas. Only a couple weeks before she left for California, Tarah tweaked it again. “I’ve been unable to ride or train since March,” she says. “Basically, I am coming to these two rounds in California, hoping to get some points and stay in the hunt. I know that I’ll get tired, and I don’t know how rusty I will be, either.”

That week, Tarah and Bill break in her Honda CR125R race bike, which has been freshly modified by tuner John Mitchell and the Independent Ride Shop suspension specialists. With most of the top female competitors switching to four-strokes this season, Tarah is the sole front-runner who still campaigns a two-stroke. “Honda apparently didn’t have a whole lot of the CRF250Rs available for the amateur support team,” says Bill. “We had the option to buy them at a discounted price, or take three CR125Rs at no cost. Well, the choice was pretty simple!” Tarah, meanwhile, has a different philosophy. “I don’t feel that I have been at a disadvantage yet,” she says. “I raced a two-stroke against Jessica and Sarah in Texas and I beat them, so I don’t see any reason to go switching to a kind of bike that I have never ever tried before.”

Still, the father and daughter team know that the big power-robbing uphills at Glen Helen Raceway may pose a problem for Tarah…

On the WMA women’s circuit, the team that stands out as the most professionally run is the Yamaha-backed AGP Racing squadron, owned by Lee Bowers, a Colorado businessman who own a graphics and printing company. An avid racing enthusiast, Bowers was bit by the women’s motocross bug when he was recruited to print some posters and flyers for the WMA. One thing led to another, and in 2001 he launched his own race team, comprised of Michigan rider Sarah Whitmore and New Zealander Tania Satchwell, who earned the number-one plate in ’02.

At Glen Helen Whitmore and Satchwell debuted not only a pair of new four-stroke Yamaha YZ250Fs (they previously campaigned two-stroke YZ125s), but brand new 2005 Thor Racing gear as well, which was made especially for women. “They finally made pink gear for me!” said Whitmore, the “girly girl” of the series, who always likes to play up her femininity.

As the new Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Champion, Whitmore’s confidence is at an all-time high as she enters the series opener. Still, she knows that her biggest competition will come from Honda rider Jessica Patterson, the Floridian who has twice before won the WMA Championship. Injuries had plagued Patterson’s ’03 campaign, and she is hungry to win the number-one plate in ’04.

Patterson has an all-new look this season. After spending her entire career as a member of Kawasaki Team Green, she parted ways in search of greener pastures (pun intended) at the end of last season. After a brief stint with KTM, she ended up on a Honda of Houston-backed CRF250R four-stroke. “I feel better than ever on the new thumper,” said Patterson. “I’ve got an all-new team set-up this year that I am much more comfortable with, and I think that the only thing that can keep me from winning this year is bad luck.”

Even though she is a little tentative in right-handed corners, Tarah looks good in the morning practice sessions. As the girls line up for the start of the first moto, Tarah chooses to start right in between two four-stroke mounted competitors. Counting hers, there are only three two-strokes in the field. Somehow, Tarah manages to get a great start on her underpowered CR125R, and begins the first lap in about fifth. At the start, Patterson pulls a huge holeshot and checks out, leaving Whitmore, Satchwell and Gieger behind, but a blown motor robs her of a sure victory and bumps each of her rivals up a notch on the scoreboard. Tarah finishes the moto third, tired, but satisfied with the way she rode. “I didn’t feel as bad as I thought I would,” she says. “I expected to be dead tired, but I was actually okay. I think that the adrenaline kicked in or something!”Even with dirt on her face and her hair damp with sweat, Tarah is still cute enough to gain the attention of several male fans. Rest and hydration, however, are first on her list of between-moto priorities. “I don’t have a boyfriend,” says Tarah. “Back home in Puerto Rico, I hang out with girlfriends, but when I am in the States, most of my best friends are guys because they all ride with me.”Earlier in the week, Tarah visited the TransWorld Motocross photo studio to shoot the photo that kicked off this feature. As we applied some light makeup to Tarah before the photo shoot, we asked her if she normally got that done-up at home. “No, I don’t have a problem with makeup and stuff, but I don’t ever really wear it,” she said. “I don’t even know how to put it on! I don’t have time for that stuff, really.”

When we compared her tomboy style to Whitmore’s extra-feminine method of operation and even the semi-masculine appearances of some of her “rougher” competitors, Tarah said, “I guess I want to be known as the girl who still looks like a girl and can be cute, but doesn’t spend so much time doing so that I can’t go fast on the track.” ‘Nuff said?

After pushing her broken Honda back to the pits, Patterson’s boyfriend/tuner/coach Eddie Ray tore into the engine, only to discover that the damage was far too severe to be corrected at the track. In a mad dash reminiscent of those seen at the big men’s pro races, Ray and his crew removed the blown-up engine and replaced it with the well-worn stock powerplant out of Jessica’s clapped-out practice bike.

While the AGP Racing girls enjoyed the break in between motos and reflected on their inner-team battle for the lead in the first moto, Patterson sat and stressed out about racing with a worn-out motor in race two. Though there was an ample break between motos, the crew barely got the bike back together and Patterson was the last girl to line up for the start of moto two.

Once again, Tarah manages to get a decent start on the long uphill start straightaway at Glen Helen, and after passing several women in the Talladega banked first turn, she starts the first lap in fourth. Patterson assumes the lead on lap one and checks out (stock motor and all) leaving Whitmore, Satchwell, and Geiger in her wake. As the moto winds down, Tarah’s lack of riding and training seems to catch up with her and she loses touch with the AGP duo, but maintains a healthy lead over her nearest pursuer. A mistake with two laps to go, however, finds her stalled out in a rutted corner and unable to start her bike. “My left leg was in a hole, so I couldn’t get my balance and the leverage I needed to restart the bike,” she said. “By the time I got the bike fired up and ready to go again, I was so tired!”

While Tarah struggles to bring her Honda back to life, former women’s champ Stefy Bau and Jackie Short—wife of MotoWorldRacing.com’s Andrew Short—manage to sneak past. Tarah crosses the finish line in sixth place, beat-down tired and disappointed with her ride.As Tarah sits in the shade, trying to recover from the two hardest motos she’s ridden in over two months, her father Bill stays positive and congratulates her on a solid performance, all things considered. The good news of her overall finish, however, soon raises Tarah’s spirits. Thanks to Patterson’s first-moto DNF, it is Whitmore who earns the overall with 1-2 moto scores, ahead of teammate Satchwell who went 2-3. Tarah’s 3-6 is good enough for third overall, so she wipes the mud off her face and searches through the family van for her Honda of Houston pit shirt. Even when you’re dog-tired, podiums are always fun…

One week later, the women of the WMA faced off against one another at round two of their six-race championship series. This time their event was held in conjunction with the opening round of the AMA Chevy Trucks 125/250cc National MX Championship Series at Prairie City OHV Park in Sacramento, CA. With one more week of practice under her belt, Taraith dirt on her face and her hair damp with sweat, Tarah is still cute enough to gain the attention of several male fans. Rest and hydration, however, are first on her list of between-moto priorities. “I don’t have a boyfriend,” says Tarah. “Back home in Puerto Rico, I hang out with girlfriends, but when I am in the States, most of my best friends are guys because they all ride with me.”Earlier in the week, Tarah visited the TransWorld Motocross photo studio to shoot the photo that kicked off this feature. As we applied some light makeup to Tarah before the photo shoot, we asked her if she normally got that done-up at home. “No, I don’t have a problem with makeup and stuff, but I don’t ever really wear it,” she said. “I don’t even know how to put it on! I don’t have time for that stuff, really.”

When we compared her tomboy style to Whitmore’s extra-feminine method of operation and even the semi-masculine appearances of some of her “rougher” competitors, Tarah said, “I guess I want to be known as the girl who still looks like a girl and can be cute, but doesn’t spend so much time doing so that I can’t go fast on the track.” ‘Nuff said?

After pushing her broken Honda back to the pits, Patterson’s boyfriend/tuner/coach Eddie Ray tore into the engine, only to discover that the damage was far too severe to be corrected at the track. In a mad dash reminiscent of those seen at the big men’s pro races, Ray and his crew removed the blown-up engine and replaced it with the well-worn stock powerplant out of Jessica’s clapped-out practice bike.

While the AGP Racing girls enjoyed the break in between motos and reflected on their inner-team battle for the lead in the first moto, Patterson sat and stressed out about racing with a worn-out motor in race two. Though there was an ample break between motos, the crew barely got the bike back together and Patterson was the last girl to line up for the start of moto two.

Once again, Tarah manages to get a decent start on the long uphill start straightaway at Glen Helen, and after passing several women in the Talladega banked first turn, she starts the first lap in fourth. Patterson assumes the lead on lap one and checks out (stock motor and all) leaving Whitmore, Satchwell, and Geiger in her wake. As the moto winds down, Tarah’s lack of riding and training seems to catch up with her and she loses touch with the AGP duo, but maintains a healthy lead over her nearest pursuer. A mistake with two laps to go, however, finds her stalled out in a rutted corner and unable to start her bike. “My left leg was in a hole, so I couldn’t get my balance and the leverage I needed to restart the bike,” she said. “By the time I got the bike fired up and ready to go again, I was so tired!”

While Tarah struggles to bring her Honda back to life, former women’s champ Stefy Bau and Jackie Short—wife of MotoWorldRacing.com’s Andrew Short—manage to sneak past. Tarah crosses the finish line in sixth place, beat-down tired and disappointed with her ride.As Tarah sits in the shade, trying to recover from the two hardest motos she’s ridden in over two months, her father Bill stays positive and congratulates her on a solid performance, all things considered. The good news of her overall finish, however, soon raises Tarah’s spirits. Thanks to Patterson’s first-moto DNF, it is Whitmore who earns the overall with 1-2 moto scores, ahead of teammate Satchwell who went 2-3. Tarah’s 3-6 is good enough for third overall, so she wipes the mud off her face and searches through the family van for her Honda of Houston pit shirt. Even when you’re dog-tired, podiums are always fun…

One week later, the women of the WMA faced off against one another at round two of their six-race championship series. This time their event was held in conjunction with the opening round of the AMA Chevy Trucks 125/250cc National MX Championship Series at Prairie City OHV Park in Sacramento, CA. With one more week of practice under her belt, Tarah showed up and looked much faster and more composed than she had at Glen Helen. “Actually, doing as well as I did at Glen Helen gave me a lot of confidence,” she said. “The dirt at Hangtown is a lot more like the hard-packed stuff I ride on at home in Puerto Rico, so I felt good!”

In the first moto, Gieger gated second behind Patterson, followed her for a couple corners then made a pass for the lead. Tarah held Jessica off for two laps but finally succumbed to the pressure and settled for second at the finish. Third went to Philo Petricig. The AGP girls had a moto they would have rather forgotten: Whitmore crashed twice and was unable to restart her Yamaha YZ250F the second time; eventually finishing 20th. Satchwell, meanwhile, rode well and was actually making a bid for second, but crashed into the back of Gieger and went down on the next-to-last lap. She remounted quickly and finished fourth.Moto two saw Petricig grab the holeshot and lead for several laps, but she eventually faded to fourth behind runaway winner Patterson, Gieger and Whitmore. Still, thanks mostly to Whitmore’s poor first-moto performance; Petricig earned her first podium finish in the WMA pro class with her 3-4 scores.With two solid second-place finishes, Tarah was much more pleased with the way she rode at Hangtown. “I felt a lot better out there today,” she said. “I still need to get back into shape, but once I do I know that I will be able to battle for the win. In the first moto when Jessica got back by me, it was because I was already starting to tire out. Just wait until round three…”

Two hours after the last autograph was signed in the pro pits, the TransWorld Motocross crew enjoyed a cold beer at a local Italian restaurant. It had been a long, hot day, and we were all as tired as if we had raced, too. That’s when my cell phone rang. It was Tarah, sounding more excited and animated than I’d heard her throughout the past two weeks. “Hey, I just found out that I have the series points lead leaving Hangtown,” she said. (WMA scoring and points tabulating, it seems, isn’t always calculated with lightning speed and precision…) “How about that? I came to California hoping to just stay in the points chase because I had been hurt, but now I am leaving with a four-point lead!”

With over two full months to train and prepare for round three at Washougal MX Park at the end of July, Tarah should be 100% fit and up to speed for her next match up against Patterson, who is obviously the strongest woman in the series, having won three of the four motos.

“I’ve beat her before,” said Tarah. “So there’s no reason that I can’t beat her again.”

That’s the spirit. They may be girls, but they are just as competitive as you and I.

Tarah showed up and looked much faster and more composed than she had at Glen Helen. “Actually, doing as well as I did at Glen Helen gave me a lot of confidence,” she said. “The dirt at Hangtown is a lot more like the hard-packed stuff I ride on at home in Puerto Rico, so I felt good!”

In the first moto, Gieger gated second behind Patterson, followed her for a couple corners then made a pass for the lead. Tarah held Jessica off for two laps but finally succumbed to the pressure and settled for second at the finish. Third went to Philo Petricig. The AGP girls had a moto they would have rather forgotten: Whitmore crashed twice and was unable to restart her Yamaha YZ250F the second time; eventually finishing 20th. Satchwell, meanwhile, rode well and was actually making a bid for second, but crashed into the back of Gieger and went down on the next-to-last lap. She remounted quickly and finished fourth.Moto two saw Petricig grab the holeshot and lead for several laps, but she eventually faded to fourth behind runaway winner Patterson, Gieger and Whitmore. Still, thanks mostly to Whitmore’s poor first-moto performance; Petricig earned her first podium finish in the WMA pro class with her 3-4 scores.With two solid second-place finishes, Taraah was much more pleased with the way she rode at Hangtown. “I felt a lot better out there today,” she said. “I still need to get back into shape, but once I do I know that I will be able to battle for the win. In the first moto when Jessica got back by me, it was because I was already starting to tire out. Just wait until round three…”

Two hours after the last autograph was signed in the pro pits, the TransWorld Motocross crew enjoyed a cold beer at a local Italian restaurant. It had been a long, hot day, and we were all as tired as if we had raced, too. That’s when my cell phone rang. It was Tarah, sounding more excited and animated than I’d heard her throughout the past two weeks. “Hey, I just found out that I have the series points lead leaving Hangtown,” she said. (WMA scoring and points tabulating, it seems, isn’t always calculated with lightning speed and precision…) “How about that? I came to California hoping to just stay in the points chase because I had been hurt, but now I am leaving with a four-point lead!”

With over two full months to train and prepare for round three at Washougal MX Park at the end of July, Tarah should be 100% fit and up to speed for her next match up against Patterson, who is obviously the strongest woman in the series, having won three of the four motos.

“I’ve beat her before,” said Tarah. “So there’s no reason that I can’t beat her again.”

That’s the spirit. They may be girls, but they are just as competitive as you and I.