Mary McGee is a 76-year-old Gardnerville resident and the 2012 International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) “Woman Legend.” She has raced cars and motorcycles and collected quite a few “first woman in the United States” titles. She was the first woman in the United States to race in an FIM sanctioned motorcycle race, to finish the Baja 1000, to road-race motorcycles, to race motocross, to compete with Europeans in international motocross and to ride the Baja 500 solo.
So when did you start racing?
I started racing cars first, 1957. A lot of great sports cars. And in 1960, I started road-racing motorcycles. When I started road racing motorcycles, I just added that, so I was racing sports cars and racing motorcycles at the same time because the road races for motorcycles were, many times, on the same weekends at many tracks.
What got you involved with all this?
Chance. The opportunity came, and I said, “Yeah, I’d like to do that. Why not?” Same with the motorcycles. I was racing cars at Santa Barbara actually, and Vasek Polak, who was Mr. Porsche—he had all the great racing cars—and he used to road race motorcycles in Czechoslovakia. He and my husband were down at one turn or another watching the motorcycles, and Vasek said to Don, “Ah. Mary. She should road race the motorcycles. Make even more smooth than the car.” Don thought it was a great idea. I said, “Why not?” And he worked at Honda, so I got a bike, a CB92.
Nice. And how did it go from there?
I just started in, and being the first female in the United States to road-race motorcycles, I had to actually try out at Willow Springs. There were a lot of guys racing sports cars, who were also into dirt bikes—Bobby Harris, Bobby Drake, Steve McQueen—and they used to tease me a lot about my road-racing bike to get out to desert. Well, at a party sometime, McQueen said, “McGee, you gotta get off that pansy road-racing bike and come out to the desert!” And I said, “Ew! And get dirty?” But Don thought it was a good idea, so I thought I’d try it. … And in 1969 was the first Baja 500. … I was at the halfway point, but the bike never made it to me. Anyway, I continued mostly with motorcycles. But in ’70, I did drive a car also. I finished seventh. And in 1975—this is one of my proudest moments—Rolf Tiblen, big time world champion, said, “McGee, you’re going to do the 500 solo.” I said, “I’m not. I can’t ride that solo.” He said, “Yes, you can. You’re going to do it.” And so I did, and I did finish. I’m very proud of that. That’s 520 or 540 miles. Baja was an amazing thing. Just amazing.
What about the FIM gala?
Yes! That was great, too. I got an email, which I thought was a joke at first. … I was the 2012 FIM Woman Legend.
That’s an awesome title.
Yes it is. Yay! It was awesome. I had to have evening wear, which was the hardest thing. I had to make four trips to Reno to find things. But it was great. … There were five guys and me. I loved it. I still can’t believe I got to do it.
Do you still ride?
Vintage. I have a 1974 250 Husqvarna that I do vintage motocross with it. For vintage, 1974 is the newest a motorcycle can be. They prepare the tracks like we raced on back in the day, not the modern tracks, because we don’t have any suspension hardly in these old bikes. Then we race on them. When I first started, I did the women’s class, then I did the women’s over 60 class and then I did the women’s over 70 class. And now I just do the over 70 class. I’m 76. That’s all I can do.