LIGHTNING STRIKES THRICE...WOMAN IS TRIPLE-CROWN WINNER AT WILLOW

The Rosamond Tribune

 December, 2000

Willow Springs International Raceway has been around since 1953. In the nearly three generations since it was built, it has seen a lot of firsts. In fact, the track itself was the first purpose-built roadracing course in the United States, pre-dating Daytona. Last month, during the November round of the Toyota Cup Motorcycle Grand Prix, history was again made when motorcycle roadracer Jodie York clinched not one, not two, but three championships in as many classes.

York's triple-crown status is groundbreaking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that, to our knowledge, she is the first woman in the United States to win multiple production motorcycle racing championships in the same season. In fact, we're not sure if a woman has ever won a production motorcycle racing championship in this country prior to York's. One thing is certain, though: York's achievements are huge in the context of both motorsports and women's sports.

Why? Well, when you think of women's sports, what do you think about? Track and field, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, and volleyball come to mind, as do bodybuilding and other general fitness sports. But never motorcycle racing. A very few women have been successful on some level in the auto racing field. Shirley Muldowney was a top-ranked drag racer who piloted top fuelers and funny cars to victory some twenty years ago. These days, Angelle Seeling is making her mark on the motorcycle drag racing scene. But women comprise only a tiny handful, a minuscule fraction of a percentage, of all racers. To see a woman involved in professional road racing, even on four wheels, is even more unusual than in drag racing. Road racing requires strength and endurance as well as skill behind the wheel. And motorcycle road racing takes the demands for strength and endurance far beyond anything that auto racing could ever require.

Motorcycle racing at Willow Springs Raceway -- in the classes where York races -- puts competitors handlebar-to-handlebar at speeds of nearly 140 mph. The rider must constantly clamber about the bike, getting into position for left and right turns, or tucking behind the tiny bubble windscreen on the front and back straightaways to get out of the wind and let the bike wind up to top speed. This requires not only a high level of riding skill; it means the rider has to be flexible, fit, strong, and have a lot of endurance. This is just not something many women have wanted to attempt, and it's definitely not a field of motorsports or athletics where women have dominated.

That is, until now. The classes York won are the 500cc Superstock, 500cc Modified Production, and GT Lights. The rulebook lays down strict standards for what can and can't be done to the bikes in these classes. In the Superstock class, the machines must be basically standard, as they came from the factory. The Modified Production allows high- tech wheels, tires, and numerous changes that allow the bike to have substantially more power than in the Superstock category. And the GT Lights, a longer-distance racing series run during the heat of midsummer, allows any machine up to the 500cc limit -- even superbikes. The GT events are 50-mile races held on the Saturday afternoon of the regular race weekend, when temperatures often soar well above 100 degrees, and track temperatures exceed 150 degrees. In fact, the GT series races are nearly as long as the American Motorcyclist Association's Pro Racing Superbike race. (The final round of the AMA Superbike series was just held at Willow Springs, a good indication of the high caliber of this track, which is also known as the Fastest Road in the West.)

Jodie York won her three championships on a single motorcycle which served her well in all three classes. This machine, a 1989 Yamaha FZR400, is a 400cc production racebike originally imported to the United States in 1988, 1989, and 1990. (Production racing machines differ from purpose built racebikes in that they must be street legal when first imported.) York's machine, legal in all three classes because it complies with Superstock rules, produces just over 60 horsepower at the rear wheel. This is substantially less than some of the Modified Production bikes she was racing against, which not only had up to 100cc's of additional size, but had chassis and wheel modifications to help handling and grip. But York displayed a tremendous ability to ride her FZR400 very close to its potential nearly 100 percent of the time. According to one competitor, she carries very high speed in the fastest parts of the racetrack (Turns 8 and 9), making her very hard to catch once she gets a lead -- even if the competitor's machine makes more power. Complicating matters for her foes is her ability to get the holeshot. York has taken the lead and been first to Turn 1 in almost every race she has entered this year. Along with that, she's shown remarkable racecraft and consistency -- two qualities that any racer needs to win even one championship, let alone three.

York is also known for being extremely smooth and completely unflappable during the heat of competition. In one race, she actually banged handlebars with racer Joe Hammond while drafting past him at over 100 mph running into Turn 1. Hammond came out ahead on that one. He was the only competitor to ever beat York in the three classes where she won championships since she started winning races in May of this year. But during the final race of the season, held last month, York clearly showed that if she had the speed and style, she also had consistency and a head for winning championships as well as races. Instead of riding aggressively and taking a chance at tossing the championships down the road, she did the same thing that 2000 AMA Superbike Champion Mat Mladin did at the very same track just a month before. She rode a conservative race, finishing where she needed to finish to get the points.

Make no mistake about it: what Jodie York has done is indeed historical. It proves beyond any doubt that women are capable of riding motorcycles as fast as men. Many of her competitors have been riding for decades, and some have raced at the national level in AMA competition. Others are employed in the motorcycle industry in a variety of ways, and have access to resources that let them tweak and tune their machines to maximum performance. York, on the other hand, has only been racing for three years, and has only been riding motorcycles for about ten years. Still, she soundly and decisively beat all of them in the quest for the championships in these classes. What makes her achievements even more remarkable is that she did not begin competing in any of the classes until April of this year. Many of her competitors had started off in January, and had three months of points built up before York ever put a wheel on the racetrack.

York is a member of the Women's Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the opportunities women have to participate and excel in any form of athletic or sporting activity. The Foundation has also recognized her achievements. She's a member of their Speaker's Bureau and recently attended their annual banquet in New York City. Many of the world's top female athletes are members. In fact, the WSF was founded by tennis great Billie Jean King, who continues to be involved along with others such as Martina Navritolova, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Gabrielle Reese.

For the 2001 racing season, York will be wearing the #11 plate overall, which she won by gaining enough points to beat out hundreds of other riders in the quest for the overall track points lead. She will campaign her Yamaha R6.

Of next season, York says, "I'm not making any predictions about championships or results. I'm really looking forward to racing the 600 regularly again...I miss that bike! There's tough competition in those classes now. I'm all about learning to improve myself this season."

While we're not about to make predictions either, it seems certain that York will definitely be in the hunt. We'll be watching.

Jodie York's 2000 season was sponsored by RPM Cycles, Ventura, with special thanks to Jack Ward Photography, G.M.D. CompuTrack Network, Los Angeles, and  Moturis Inc. RV Rentals & Sales