Remarks addressed the Women's Motocross League 1999 Awards Banquet 

April 16, 1999 by Ed Youngblood

Good evening.  I am very pleased to be here, though I don't mind telling you I feel a bit intimidated and out of my element.  I am following some remarkable experts and speakers.  I have never competed in motocross and I am certainly not a woman, so what am I going to tell you?  Well, I accepted this speaking engagement because the Women's Motocross League is an organization I believe is important to the future of motorcycling.  Not just to the future of women in motorcycling, but to the future of motorcycling, period!
I first met Debbie and Elaine at a meeting in Las Vegas, I think in 1995.  I learned more about the WML when we were planning for the First National Conference on Women and Motorcycling that took place in July, 1997.   Probably 95 percent of the women who attended that conference were street riders with no experience or aspirations toward racing motorcycles.  However, the most popular and electrifying sessions at the conference were those that featured women who race.  I have some ideas on why those sessions were so exciting to an audience of non-racers, but I'll return to that issue later on.
Because I feel so personally unqualified to tell you anything about yourselves as women who race motorcycles, a lot of what I have to say this evening will not be gender-specific.  It can apply both to males and females who decide to race, and it comes not from having raced, but from my observations about racers and racing during my 28 years with the AMA.  
I want to share some thoughts this evening about the responsibility of competing.  In this country we consider competition a very good thing.  We attach patriotism and national pride to the achievements of our young athletes, and we constantly talk about competition in the marketplace.  We firmly believing that our capitalistic economy is the best system on earth because it is based on vigorous competition..  But I want to suggest also that competition can be very destructive.  It can cause wounds to ourselves and to others both physical and emotional.  It can spoil friendships, break up families, and wreck careers.  I've seen it happen among those who compete as AMA professionals.
Whether the decision to compete brings positive or negative results depends largely upon the attitude with which each of us approaches competition.  So you need to ask yourself, why am I doing this?  It is not a frivolous question.  It is a critically important question, and if you fail to ask and honestly answer it for yourselves, the chances are that you're doing it for all the wrong reasons.  
So why are you here and why are you doing this?  Are you here simply because you have and want to further develop a beautiful and satisfying relationship with your motorcycle?  Because you love the physics of you and the machine functioning as a single entity?  Because you love the ballet of it all?   
This may be the most legitimate reason of all for doing what you do, because every champion will tell you that the only ones who make it to the top are those who love the game.  In fact, the love of the game is the only thing that will sustain you through injury, defeat, and self-doubt.  If you don't really love riding that motorcycle all by yourself when there is no one to compete against and no one to beat then you should probably get out now and look for something you really love.  There's no shame in that decision.  Don't keep doing it because someone else wants you too, and least of all your parents.  Now don't get me wrong.  I believe parents should support the aspirations of their children, but parents also must know when to let go.  Parents, forcing their children to do what they wish they could do themselves, invariably brings bad results for all concerned.  
So ask yourself why you're doing this, and the answer must be because you love what you are doing, and you are doing it for you.
Once you have that understanding in place, you need to decide how far you want to go.  Maybe you just love it and want to stay fit, have some fun, and collect some trophies and titles along the way.  That is an honorable pursuit and you should never be ashamed of it.  Even at the amateur level, you are important to others in ways you may never know.
Or perhaps you have the fire in your belly to be the best in the nation or the best in the world.  If that is the case, chances are you decided that long before you ever threw a leg over a motorcycle.  When she was only five years old Billie Jean King told her mother she intended to be the best in the world at something.  It would be another six years before she discovered Tennis.
If this is what you have decided, I need not tell you that you will pay a high price, and whether you make it will depend upon your strength of character; not your ability to ride a motorcycle.  And whether or not you will succeed beyond your years as a champion will depend upon the education, knowledge, and interpersonal skills you have developed.  As proof of this, take a look at your male counterparts in the motorcycle sport.   Look at the number of champions who became nobody once their career began to turn downward; some of whom discovered they could not hold a job.  I can't tell you the number of times during my years at the AMA I saw the professional licensing files of young stars who were very nearly illiterate.  It's a damned shame.  I hope you will never let your love of riding or your will to win get in the way of your education or the education of your children.  
For whatever reason you have chosen to become a motocross rider; whether you're here to be a world beater or just have fun, I want to suggest to you this evening that you have taken on a big responsibility that you may never fully realize or understand.  I say this because of what I experienced at the Women and Motorcycling Conference in 1997.  As I told you earlier, the most popular sessions were the panel discussions featuring women who race motorcycles.  Once they had made their statements and talked about their careers and the discussion portion of the program began, one after another women came to the microphone and said basically the same thing: I don't race and I never intend to race, but you women are important role models to me.  What you have chosen to do is important to all of us who ride motorcycles. 
So don't underestimate your importance or the seriousness of the responsibility you have taken on.  Like it or not, you are role models, whether or not you become a champion.  Others from young girls to older women are watching you and taking encouragement and power from your decision to compete.  You have a responsibility to them.  And you have a responsibility to the sport.  How you carry yourself, what you say, and how you behave both on and off the track will have an impact on motorcycling and whether other women want to follow in your footsteps.   Sports rise and fall on their role models.   Think about what a pitiful spectacle professional boxing has become, and how those who follow it keep looking for the next Muhammad Ali.   Boxing doesn't lack great athletes; it lacks people of good character.
Good character will figure prominently in the kind of role model you become.   It is important that you keep your racing in perspective and try to confine your competition to the race track.  Don't let the rivalry of competition spill over into your personal life.  Don't let the desire to win destroy your friendships.  Maintain courtesy, civility, and your respect for one another.   Don't ever forget to say thanks to those who made it possible, and even to those who didn't, because there are far more people behind you and what you are doing than you can possibly realize.  You'll never meet many of them or even learn their names.  And even if it is your desire to be a world champion, I hope you won't decide to win at all costs.  Winning at all costs is precisely and literally what it says it is.  It will cost you everything.
Competing can seem like a lonely endeavor.  When you are out there on the track it is up to you and you alone.  But many, many others have made that moment possible.  Remember that you are a small but important part of a big community; a community of competitors, a community of motorcyclists, and a community of women
And if you really want to do something important for both motorcycling and your gender, I urge you to look beyond your career as a racer.  Racing may be important to you now, but it is only the groundwork for what you need to achieve.  Motorcycling badly needs more women in executive positions.  It needs more women designing and marketing products.  It needs more women running dealerships.  And, especially, it badly needs more skilled and competent female journalists.   The attitudes and prejudices will not change until more of you have filled the decision-making and opinion-leading positions in our industry.
The fact that you have participated in this boot camp this week sets you apart and demonstrates that you have the will to make a difference.  You may think this evening that you have come here to improve your skills and prove yourself in motorcycle competition.  I promise you, that isn't where it ends.  You have the ability to build upon your experiences and skills as a racer to make contributions to motorcycling far beyond what you may imagine at this moment.  I hope you will understand and embrace that responsibility.   The motorcycle industry in America will never reach its full potential until a higher percentage of the leadership positions are held by women.  And motorcycling will never be accepted in America the way it should be until many more women are conspicuously involved, whether that's racing, road riding, or earning a living in the business.   I am absolutely convinced of that.
In closing, let me point out that I am wearing my 1999 Boot Camp dog tag, and I want to tell you why.  Please look around you.  Look at who you are sitting with, and think about the people you have met this week.  You are making history.  There has been nothing like this boot camp in American motorcycling.  I believe it is an event that will have a strong impact on the future, and some of you will have a big influence.  You will bring about change.  Keep that dog tag.  Take it home and put it wherever you keep your valuable keepsakes.  I promise you, 30 years from now you will look back and you will say, I was there and I was among the people who made things change.  I firmly believe that will happen.  
Thank you for your attention this evening.  I want to wish you the best of luck in your motorcycling career, or in whatever you may choose to do.