Women of Competitive Off-Road Racing, Part 2
Don’t be fooled, they still like to be girly-girls, and some are moms first and race drivers second, but they still hold their own as they compete head to head in the male-dominated sport of off-road racing. Kudos to these women, who should proudly hold their head high: they are the humble heroes for kids that aspire to some day to follow in their shoes. These are merely some of the amazing women in this world, and happen to be involved in our beloved sport of off-road racing.
Judy is a journalistic icon in desert racing, so much so that SCORE has lent her name to the prestigious SCORE “Journalist of the Year” award. You can find Judy at the finish line at most SCORE and BITD races patiently waiting to take quotes from racers and eagerly tracking numerous stories that occurred during the race.
Judy was introduced to desert racing from her first husband Val Smith who raced bikes. In 1951, friends Bud and David Ekins told exploits of recording speed records from Tijuana to La Paz and she wanted to learn more. In 1968, she ventured south of Ensenada and discovered San Felipe and fell in love with Baja, and in 1971, she was competing in the Baja 500 in a Volkswagen sedan! Judy raced for several years, while also lending to coverage of the races to Dusty Times with a famous column called “The Losers” which were epic stories from racers that did not finish first but had a hell of an adventure to tell about their race. She is currently writing a column for RDC called “From the Drivers Seat with Judy Smith.”
Judy has had the privilege to interview almost all the women on this list!
2008 Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
Dubbed the matriarch of desert motorcycle racing, Anna is the only woman to Ironman the Baja 1000 on a motorcycle and finish in the time allotment. Anna’s first Ironman was a point-to-point race from Ensenada to La Paz in 2006 on a Honda XR650. She rode for 33 hours and 35 minutes, taking her longest break around 2:30 a.m. for about an hour after she had inadvertently dumped her bike in a two track in a silt bed and the rear tire was almost run over by a Trophy Truck.
“I plugged away, never once did the thought of quitting enter my mind, she said. “Anytime I got tired I thought of my former teammate Lillie fighting her battle with cancer and realized that this is only two days of my life and I can do it.”
Cody said it was a life-changing experience and a true test of the mind, body and spirit. Her 2006 Ironman happened sixteen years after her record-setting all-female team run.
Prior to her 2006 Ironman run, Cody had not raced in the Baja 1000 since 1990. It was the first year an all-female team finished the Baja 1000. The team was comprised of her and teammate Lillie Sweetland. A team of four women had originally been set for the 1990 run, but one rider had a terrible crash prior to the race and couldn’t recover in time for the 1000, and another realized how grueling the race would be and backed out. That left her and Lillie Sweetland to complete and make history by finishing the race.
Since her Ironman in 2006, she has had numerous successes in her career including two class championships in SCORE. In 2015, Anna took the next step in her racing career and is currently navigator for the JeepSpeed of Binge Racing.
1989 AMA National Hare and Hound Woman Class Champion
1989 Barstow to Vegas 1st Woman Expert
1990 SCORE 2nd place 250 Pro Overall – First female team to ever finish the Baja 1000 on motorcycles
1990 Prospectors Enduro – 3rd Overall
1993 Nevada Rally 2500 Mile Rally 1st Woman Pro
1989 to 2004:
13 Time District 37 Woman Desert Class Champion
6 Time District 37 Big Six Grand Prix Women Class Champion
7 Time District 37 Enduro Class Champion
3 Time Best in the Desert Woman Pro class champion
2006 1st Open Expert Glen Helen 24 hour endurance race
2006 1st Woman to Solo and Finish the Baja 1000 on a Motorcycle
2008 BITD 2nd Place Overall in the 4 Stroke Unlimited Expert Class
2008 SCORE Class 20 Champion
2009 SCORE 3rd Place Class 20 Overall
2010 SCORE 3rd Place Class 20 Overall
2011 Vegas to Reno 7th Ironman
2012 Vegas To Reno 2nd 250 Expert
2013 Parker 250 1st Place 250 Expert
2013 Barstow Get-ETS -EME 1st place Industry class
2013 Laughlin Hare Scrambles 2nd place 250 Expert
2013 Ridgecrest Rumble-1st place Industry class
2013 Vegas to Reno 1st place-250 Expert -27th overall
Bekki Freeman Wik
Racing is in the Freeman’s blood and Bekki is no exception. With multiple class wins in 1-2 1600, she’s the fastest female in the class, ever. Some say she may be the fastest woman in desert racing, as she holds the title of the first female driver in a Trophy Truck, which was when she became part of the GM Vortec-powered TrailBlazer team in 2000. Let’s not forget she also raced in Class 1, was part of the 2002 all-female Team Centrix Wide Open Baja Challenge team, and she won the Baja 2000 in class 1-2 1600! Bekki took a few months off to have her daughter Ava in 2005, and she has resurfaced into the desert racing scene off and on again. Fast is all this woman knows, and it has rubbed off for future generations of Freemans.
1998 SCORE 1-2 1600 Champion
1998 SCORE Toyota Milestone Winner
1999 SCORE Toyota Milestone Winner
2000 SCORE Toyota Milestone Winner
2000 SCORE 1-2 1600 Champion
Spanning multiple generations of Freeman family racing, Jessica races in Class 12 after beginning her career in the Sportsman class in BITD. Like many of the other racers highlighted in this article, Jessica has her own car and doesn’t have to share driving time with her hubby, thankfully because she loves being the one behind the wheel in control.
“Racing is so much fun! We’ve met a lot of great people that only this sport can produce, and have made lifelong friends,” Jessica explained. One of her favorite parts of any given race weekend is listening to the bench racing between teams and friends.
Now focusing on her son’s racing career, who just recently happened to get a Trophy Cart for his birthday, Jessica understands the importance of racing in a child’s life as it keeps them focused. Meanwhile, she has taken up a different form of racing and just finished her first half-marathon!
2014 SNORE Cedar City Grand Prix Class 12 winner
A career-focused HR professional turned off-road racing champion, Heidi Steele is an anomaly in the human resources field. She has only been racing since 2004, and before then she had never even attended an off-road racing event. Her husband, Cameron Steele, took her out in the pre-runner and she was hooked. Not wanting to sit in the passenger seat for prerunning any longer, she decided she wanted to race. Her first year as driver of record was in 2005 in the Sportsman division for SCORE. She was fast and competitive, to the point she won the overall Sportsman Championship.
Heidi likes to win no matter what vehicle you put her in, as noted by her list of accolades and class wins. In 2008 she won championships in SCORE and BITD, and was the first female to be named DirtSports Driver of the Year.
Heidi took a brief break from her racing career between 2011 and 2012 to give birth to their daughter Cameron Kay Steele. When she came back, she did so with a renewed motivation and won the SCORE Baja 500 in her class. “It’s hard to be a mom – my job was so much easier than being a mom,” she said at the starting line before that race.
What most people don’t realize, and this was echoed by all the drivers in this article, is that now as a driver you have to think about the consequences of actions on the racecourse and how that will affect your family and/or your child. It not only makes you change your driving style, but it also means that once you are out of the vehicle you still have parental responsibilities whether you’re at a race or not.
Expanding on her racing career, in 2013 Heidi teamed up with Jessica McMillin in the Trophy Truck class for SCORE, making their debut at the San Felipe 250. The only female team to race Trophy Truck to date, the dynamic duo finished 22nd at their first race, and 15th at the Baja 500, and 11th at the Baja 1000.
2005 SCORE Sportsman Champion
2008 SCORE Challenge of Champions Class 6 Champion
2008 BITD Class 7100 Champion
2008 SCORE Class 7sx Champion
2008 DirtSports Driver of the Year
2009 SCORE Class 6 Champion
2011 SCORE Class 6 Champion
2 x SCORE Baja 1000 6 Class Winner
2013 SCORE Toyota Milestone Winner