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Woman Spotlight Wednesday: Mary McGee

Written by Mina Jigau, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Women have played an influential role throughout the history of motor racing. Many have taken to the wheels of motorsport machines, while numerous figures have worked tirelessly on the sidelines in various roles, shaping the motor racing world to the present day. Woman Spotlight Wednesday aims to take a look at the tales of these superwomen, who have surpassed various hurdles to reach where they are today.

 

Born in 1963 to the icy lands of Alaska, Mary McGee moved away amidst the second World War and settled in Arizona with her family. She would unknowingly follow the serendipitous trail to motorsports throughout her early 20s, becoming the first woman to compete in motorcycle road racing with the American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM). 


In an industry where her reputation preceded her, McGee rode through the tides of restrictions in a pink polka dot helmet and unwavering ambition. She built a legacy no one can undo, and this article dives into how she achieved the level of success in a time where ‘woman’ and ‘motorsport’ could not be said together. 

 

Mary McGee in her first motorcycle race at Santa Barbara; Image Credits - Rider Magazine

To understand her success, we have to look at how she started. Her journey into motorsport began subconsciously, with her interest in the quickly developing post-war advancements. McGee’s Enthusiasm for racing was initiated by the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing she drove, and in later interviews would reveal that car is the reason she ever started. 


McGee would go on to enter the Sports Car Club of America, her passion and talent becoming evident with every race she set records for. McGee’s natural affinity for racing sparkled brightly, and thrust her to the top of the competition, leaving in her wake a ruthless reputation, despite being in a male-dominated industry. 

 

Learning how to race motorcycles posed its own set of challenges, but McGee was ready to try and overcome all of racing’s intricacies. During the 1960s, it was a rare phenomenon to see a woman in motorsports, yet she entered multiple local and regional races, solidifying her name in this male-dominated industry.  

 

When McGee steered her skills from racing car driver to motorcyclist, it was by pure coincidence. She was encouraged to try riding a motorcycle by her good friend, Steve McQueen. 


All it took was one thought to ignite the flame that burned within McGee for decades after. She began to learn how to ride a motorbike in 1957 as a way to improve her driving skills, but fell in love with it and decided to pursue motorcycle riding, and in 1960, became the first woman to compete with AFM. 

 

 

With her natural potential for racing, McGee took herself one step further at Baja, California in 1975. Throughout her entire racing career, she had many accomplishments that would render her a serious competitor, but this race would fortify her legacy. 


Extreme weather conditions, sticks and stones threatened her safety and tested her ability, but peril only makes the thrill burn hotter. McGee persevered, outcompeting 17 teams of male duos, becoming the first woman to compete in the Baja 500 solo. Her strength and insatiable desire to win made her an idol, the blueprint for real competitiveness in motorsport. 

 

 

Her races weren’t flukes or one-off instances; consistency is everything she proved when entering a competition. That’s how she built an entire legacy, became a testament to future female racers and continues to be a positive influence despite retiring in 2012. 

 

 

Her induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2018 came to no one’s surprise, considering how many barriers this woman had torn through to start a pivotal movement for female racers. 


Despite her retirement, McGee is still very much involved in the industry she once used to create history for, participating in motorcycling events and getting involved in organisations that prioritise female racers.  

 

 

In terms of racing, McGee set incredible records and standards, consistently aiming for more. Her desire to change the way society perceived racing and more importantly, women in racing is inspiring, and her efforts have opened up a lot more opportunities for younger generations which she did not have back in the 1960s.  


It isn’t enough to say McGee pioneered the idea of females racing, or shattering mindsets that wouldn’t accept she could do it all. It would simply be too esoteric to reduce her legacy to a few words. 


McGee started a revolution by unthreading every little limitation society caged her with and that’s exactly the kind of example young racers are trying to emulate, thanks to her. We see the epitome of tenacity and drive in Mary McGee, and her legacy will forever stain every fibre of motorsports.  

 

 

“When it comes to motorcycling, I always say, “Just get out there and ride.” Motorcycling equals freedom, plus it’s such fun. You feel so different on a motorcycle than in a car. Being a woman on a motorcycle somehow makes you feel more important, like you’re telling the world “I can do this”. More women should also enter any kind of racing event. Just enter. You may not win, but at least you entered. My goal was to always finish.”

 

-              Mary McGee in an interview in 2020

 

Mary McGee in 1975; Image Credits: MotoLady Magazine

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