“She Races” is a weekly feature by Blustarr.com
Just like in the States, girls all around the globe are growing up with dreams of holeshots, jumps, berms, trophies and national championships. Women and girls around the world also share our passion and fascination with motocross, and that had us wondering what an international rider's perspective on WMX might be. This week we decided to have a chat with Swedish phenomenon Sara Pettersson. We were curious not only about how she got started in racing, but also to get her take on the international vibe of women's motocross racing and how it compares to the WMX racing over here.
Catching Up With Sara Pettersson
Hometown: Kumla, Sweden
Sponsors: VJP Iveco, Dainese, AGV Helmets, Tom Crain/Ankle Savers, Tim Slayton, Mom and Dad
Interview by Sarah DiMare/Photos by Kardas, Antonovich, Lutes, Emter
Swedish born Sara Pettersson started racing motocross at the age of seven. She was part of an accomplished and nationally ranked youth soccer team throughout her youth, as well as a regular at the amateur motocross tracks in Sweden. As she got older, both sports became more competitive and more time consuming, and she found herself having to choose between the two. After some thought she chose the sport she was most passionate about, which turned out to be motocross. She found racing not only more challenging than soccer, but also more exciting and fun. She raced in her first FIM World Championship round in 2008 at the age of 17, then continued to make a name for herself in the FIM World Championships rounds, the Holland and Sweden National Championships, and most recently the WMX series in the United States.
Sarah first came to the United States in 2011 and raced two rounds of the WMX National Championships. She has been a regular participant in the WMX series and was even invited to participate with the very limited and exclusive group of top women pros at the 2013 Summer X Games in LA.
Are you the first female in your family to ride and race motocross?
My dad bought a bike to my older sister when she was about five but she didn’t ride very much and she never raced, so I am the first female in my family to race.
How does your family feel about your ambitions to have a career in a traditionally male dominated sport?
My family has always supported my racing 100-percent, because they realize racing is my passion and they would never push me to something I didn't want to do.
What has been your biggest challenge in the world of motocross being a female rider?
I would say that one of the biggest challenges as a female in this sport is that the women ride the same bikes and tracks as the best men in the world. In many other sports the female athletes have different equipment and courses. I’m not saying that I don’t want it to be like this, but it can be a challenge for the women because men are physiologically stronger the women. I grew up racing with the boys and I had to train twice as hard as the boys to have a chance to ride with them. It felt so unfair, but at the same time I liked it because it was a challenge to show everybody that girls also can ride and mentally it made. My training much easier with that goal in mind.
You have trained and raced all over the world. How is racing in Europe different than the Women’s National Series in the United States?
It’s hard to answer that question, but it is very different for sure, especially the courses. Many riders from the U.S find the tracks in Europe hard and vice-versa. I would say that the tracks we race are faster in the U.S. and the jumps are much bigger. Also the race day schedule is different, which is an adjustment. Last year I found it hard to get used to the five minute free practice followed by five minute time practice. I was so used to having a 30 minute free practice at the FIM World Championships, where you could get used to the tracks and figure out the good lines, so the limited practice time at the US tracks added a bit of a challenge.
How would you sum up the competition? Do you think the riders in the United States are faster than those in the other countries you have raced?
I think that right now the competition in the U.S and the FIM World Championships is very similar and they both keep getting faster every year.
Do you see a difference in the respect and recognition of women racers in Europe versus the US?
It’s pretty much the same. In the FIM World Championships, starting in 2014, the women will once again be racing with the MX1 and MX2 classes, which I think is definitely a step in the right direction. I hope they can do something similar in the U.S. again next year. It would be great if they have at least six or eight rounds like the WMX did in 2012.
Unfortunately at this point there are no WMX Nationals scheduled in the US for 2014 although that could change before the end of the year. With that in mind, what are your plans for next year?
I really hope that they will give us a good series in the USA next year because I love racing over there. But if not, I will race another season in the highly competitive FIM World Championship and also the Swedish championship.
What would you tell any girl who wants to try racing?
Just go for it and don’t listen to the people who say that girls can’t ride! If anyone tells you that you can’t, just go out there and prove they are wrong. The guys who say you can’t race are probably just scared that you are going to beat them.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with use and good luck with your racing next year Sara.
Thank you! There has been so much positive support from the fans, riders and everyone involved in the industry over there so I hope I get the chance to see everyone again at the WMX Nationals next year.
Worlds Apart, But Not So Different
After speaking with top European MX racer Sara Pettersson, we wanted to take a more in depth look into the FIM Women’s World Championship's history and compare it to the WMX National series in the United States. What we found was that although the championships are literally worlds apart, the history of the two is really not all that different.
Motocross as we know it today began in the early 1900’s in the UK. And from the beginning of off-road motorcycle racing, there has always been a female presence, welcome or not. With the sport's roots in Europe, we thought surely the women’s championships overseas would have been around much longer then in the US but, surprisingly, the level of growth participation in women’s motocross in both series goes hand in hand.
The FIM World Championship was founded in 1957. In the United States, motocross wasn't really recognized as a sport until the 1960’s with our first national series being held in 1972, 15 years after its European counterpart. Although the FIM had a 15-year lead on the motocross series, women in the United States were granted national recognition and their own class years before women could compete in the FIM World Championship.
The women in the United States had their first national event in 1974, dubbed the "Powder Puff National Championship." This event brought out over 300 riders and over 9000 spectators, all eager to be a part of the rise and acceptance of women in the sport of motocross. In 1975, the Championship was renamed the Women’s National Championship. The once a year event continued through 1996 (with the exception of 1982 and 1986, when no event took place). It wasn’t until the WML took over the Women's Nationals, although still only having one event a year, that it became part of the AMA National circuit in 1996. The WML, under founder Elaine Ruff, continued to promote the women’s class until 2001 when it was taken over by Miki Keller who changed the name to the WMA and used her extensive background in business and marketing to get the women more exposure the ever before.
Across the pond, the women of the FIM World Championship first became recognized at the professional level in 1992, a full 18 years after the women in the United States had received that same designation. Between 1992 and 1994, the FIM held an annual Women's Championship overseas. In 1995 the WML took over promoting the event and continued to hold the race on American soil until 2004. In 2005, the Women's World Championship event was taken over by the FIM and its promoter Youthstream, renamed it the FIM Women’s World Cup Championship, which is no longer held in the US.
In the early 2000s, things began to change for the better both in the United States and the FIM World Championship. The women finally became an official part of the AMA Pro National series. In the United States, Miki Keller’s WMA was able to get a four race series in conjunction with the AMA Pro Nationals. In the FIM World Championship Series, Youthstream followed suit and gave the women a two race series.
Since that time, the number of races in the women’s pro motocross series both here and abroad has fluctuated on a yearly basis. In the World Championship they have had anywhere from two races a year to eight, and most recently six for 2013. In the United States, the WMA series, which became the WMX Championship series in 2009 after being purchased by the series promoter, MX Sports, has had as many as eight events and as few as three in 2013.
We have regularly seen women pro motocross athletes crossover between the WMX and FIM World Championship races. In addition to Sara Petterson, ride such as Steffi Laier, Mackenzie Tricker, and Courtney Duncan have crossed the ocean to participate in the AMA WMX Pro National Series just as top American pros Jessica Patterson, Sarah Whitmore, Ashley Fiolek, and Tarah Gieger have tested the waters in the FIM World Championship.
While there isn't the stability that we'd like to see between the series in either the United States or Europe, one thing is obvious: women are not giving up and not going away. Female racers continue to work tirelessly to show they are true athletes and are getting faster every year. Local tracks have seen the amateur women's classes grow at just about every event for the past decade, and amateur racers are the pro’s of tomorrow. The gates in the classes at the prestigious Loretta Lynn's Amateur Championships are always full, with hundreds of entries not even making the final cut. There is no place for women's motocross to go from here but up.