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A Racing Moms Journey

by Jennifer Morton

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1In my 20’s I worked at Kaiser Pharmacy in San Diego which was on the bottom floor near the parking garage. I was the one everyone pointed to when someone walked in needing help with a dead battery and a jump. Not the guys, me! I also changed quite a few flat tires because I’m quicker than an auto club phone call. That’s when I learned most women aren’t comfortable with cars and tools and I was different.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1My entire childhood our dad built off road race cars in the garage and raced the SCORE International Baja series. He was a wiring genius which meant we had someone else’s car in our garage at all times getting new wiring in addition to whatever car dad was racing at the time. He let me drive them all and I treasure those miles together now that he’s gone. To this day, when I’m admiring someone’s race car (even a high dollar Trophy Truck) I always check out the wiring and smile.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1We also had a weekend house in an OHV park, Ocotillo Wells. That’s where we kept dirt bikes, VW Baja bugs, our Jeep, and got dusty as a family every weekend. Starting very young (with a pillow) I drove off road cars and on my dirt bike would race around the desert beating the boys up the dunes. That could be where my love of racing (and winning) started?

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1Fast forward to 24 when I met my husband, Tim. He was racing in Baja and our local deserts for factory Kawasaki. He has 4 SCORE Pro motorcycle championships and has raced for Honda, BMW and Kawasaki. Tim asked me if I could ride bikes so naturally I said yes, of course! So he takes me on a little 80 mile trail ride in Mexico and I was TERRIBLE. All my time was spent riding around camp and in the dunes, never mountain single track trails or beat up Baja roads with giant rain ruts and rocks the size of TV’s. Boy, was I embarrassed. So that night at dinner in Ensenada, I decided it was time to step it up BIG TIME if I was going to be dating and riding with him.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1I spent the next few years learning from everyone I could. I took a David Bailey motocross clinic, 2 Jimmy Lewis off road schools, Gary LaPlante trials school, and rode as much as I possibly could. Luckily, Tim has talented and patient friends that rode in the back of the pack on trail rides giving me pointers and helping me improve. With my foundation, it didn’t take very long and I was riding some of the gnarliest and rugged terrain Tim could throw at me. We would put on back packs and head from San Diego to Baja for 500 mile weekends just for fun.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1One of those weekends, Tim tells me I’m actually pretty good and with my speed and bike control I’d make a decent Baja racer. Yeah right! Me? I liked our trail riding and eating tacos and don’t need to race anyone. Being curious I entered the Tecate Enduro. That was around 1997 and honestly can’t remember where I finished but it was a total blast and I ended up ahead of some of the guys. Then I started racing local motocross and GP's and loved that too. Earning a Carlsbad Women’s Winter series motocross championship is still a highlight and one of my favorite racing accomplishments.  I decided racing dirt bikes was a lot more fun than just riding them, plus I was winning almost everything I entered thanks to amazing coaches and Tim 100% supporting me. From about 1998 to 2007 I was hooked and raced all the time.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1One of my proudest moments was being the only woman to complete both loops at a National Hare and Hound, finishing 1st expert that day. I’ve also won the 12 Hours of Glen Helen 2 years in a row on women teams, raced the 24 Hour and 6 Hour GP, and Laughlin Hare Scrambles. The Tecate Enduro is where my addiction started but didn’t offer a woman’s class, so Tim and I sponsored 10 ladies to enter which convinced the club to let us compete. The women’s class has since taken off and I’ve been able to capture that podium a few more times.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1In June of 2007 Tim’s fellow Kawasaki racer, Anna Cody, asked me to partner with her and Stacy Doerksen for an all-woman team at the SCORE Baja 500. Heck yeah, I was at the top of my game so why not conquer Baja with these amazing women?  Anna, Stacy and I raced a Honda 450X in a Pro class with the goal of finishing in the daylight and zero race cars passing us and that’s exactly what we did! Our results showed us 14th out of 28 bikes in our class but in my mind we were 3 women in a man’s sport so we won. I was on cloud 9 and felt like I could overall any race I entered. I was smarter and faster than the guys, all of them.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1A few months later in August of 2007, my path changed dramatically. Anna, Stacy and I teamed up again for the Best in the Desert race, Vegas to Reno. The race is 500 miles through the Nevada desert in the summer. It’s the longest off road race in the US and according to me, we were about to win it overall. This is hilarious looking back because the best off road racers in the country line up for Vegas to Reno. Johnny Campbell, Ty Davis, Chris Blais, even Dakar Rally celebrity Cyril Despres was entered. But my ego was giant, I was pretty confident if those guys made the slightest mistake, us 3 girls would take them down.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1A few weeks before the race was the 2 day “Pre Fun Run” On the first day I was charging hard and got tired of waiting for my husband and his slow friends. My head was huge, I needed to ride with the best of the best and see exactly what they’re planning. So on day two, I was riding just a dust gap behind the winningest Baja racer of all time, Johnny Campbell, Dakar racer Chris Blais in front of him. We had just left a gas pit together and riding a long graded road when I came around a corner to see Johnny’s bike down and he was waving at me to stop. Chris Blais had crashed and was on the ground, he couldn’t move or feel his legs. So Johnny and I, along with others that stopped, shaded Chris and held hands and prayed for 5 hours until medical help came. When the helicopter took off with Chris, I couldn’t ride away. Tim and I sat for a while and the magnitude of what just happened to one of the best riders in the world hit me hard. It was rough talking to Chris’ wife on the radio and holding my emotions in front of everyone. With just Tim there I let it out in the desert and cried like a faucet.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1What was I thinking? I wasn’t a Pro racer, I was a wife and a mom and acting like a complete idiot riding that fast seriously believing I would win. We rode back to the chase truck where my partners were waiting and I told them I couldn’t race with them anymore. It was a long quiet drive back to San Diego letting my team down but more importantly, feeling like Chris saved my life. My mind wasn’t right, I was taking too many chances with 2 people at home that needed me more than I needed another trophy. Anna and Stacy raced Vegas to Reno without me and finished well while I drove the chase truck for my husband’s team. It was a different view than I wanted but still fun with our son, Grant, cheering with me from his car seat.

Jennifer-Morton-Ladies-Offroad-Challenge1Chris Blais never recovered the use of his legs and is thriving today as a UTV racer, race team manager and master KTM mechanic. He knows my internal struggle, we’ve hugged and talked about it. I’ve thanked him for bringing me back to planet Earth and helping me see what’s most important. If you don’t know him, Chris is an amazing guy that I admired before the accident and even more now.

The 2008 SCORE Baja series came and I watched my women’s team win the San Felipe 250 in the Pro 250 class and finish strong at the Baja 500. They were in a tight points battle going into the Mac Daddy of all off road races, the Baja 1000, when Anna broke her arm racing in Nevada. She asked me to take her place and I couldn’t say no, it was the Baja 1000! Being the only mom on the team and my focus now changed, there were 2 conditions. First was to race a short 100 mile section early on before the Trophy Trucks caught us. And second, to race all the night. Racing at night was safer to me since I could see the huge light bars from the faster cars coming giving me time to get the heck out of the way. The week prior I pre ran my sections multiple times to prepare then our 4 woman team raced 21 hours and finished 4th in class with enough points to win the Pro 250 year end championship. Eleven years later we’re still the only women to hold a SCORE Baja Pro motorcycle championship and that feels pretty great. Turns out my new safer mind set of riding smart without taking chances is ideal for Baja racing.

After the Baja 1000, I’ve logged tens of thousands of dirt miles on bikes with my family and friends, mainly in Mexico. Riding with other women, sharing the challenge and cheering each other on is something I love in addition to coaching new riders. Tim and I also host a yearly women’s Baja trail ride called Hooters on Scooters and this Summer will be our 20th annual.

My biggest smiles come when Grant tells his riding buddies “My mom’s a bad ass” and “Come on, my mom made that hill”.  He and Tim are by far my biggest fans and no trophy on the shelf is more important than the years we’ve spent riding and growing together as a family.

When Grant finished high school, I was ready to challenge myself and get competitive again so I entered the NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally in 2016. That was an amazing experience racing 1300 miles over 5 days and navigating down the Baja peninsula completely solo finishing 1st in class and 5th overall bike.

Now that I’m older and wiser, my dad would be proud to see our garage is filled with off road race cars. Yes it’s true “With age comes a cage” I won’t lie. It’s exciting and feeding my addiction being back on the start line, toes tingling, and getting that adrenaline rush again. With more coaching and some smaller California and Nevada races under my belt, my confidence in the car and my driving skills keep improving.

In 2018 I tackled the Mexican 1000 again but this time in my single seat 1600 car. About 100 miles from the finish in Cabo, I hit a hidden ditch and rolled the car 4 times breaking a shock and a front wheel. Quickly I removed the broken shock, changed the flat, and ended up finishing 2nd in class. At the awards ceremony I was thrilled to receive the Spirit of Baja award for my solo effort. This January I won the San Felipe Desert Mayhem 175 borrowing a friend’s Class 10 two seat car. What a blast that was with my friend, Jenn Zipp Richmond, navigating and feeling that same rush alongside me.

With a motorcycle background and VW upbringing, my learning curve with the steering wheel has been pretty fast. I also jump at the opportunity to navigate for more experienced drivers whenever I can to learn from them. Most recently navigating at the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000 where I’m happy to say my fast parking lot tire changing skills came in very handy.

Posted by: Dulcy Rojas

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