They catapulted over the dirt mounds at Angel Stadium of Anaheim as if they’d been shot from a cannon. Motorcycle after candy-colored motorcycle snorted across the dirt, jumping dozens of feet in the air before reuniting their wheels with the ground, as each one circled the serpentine Monster Energy Supercross track during a practice session earlier this month.
Among them was the rider of a Suzuki RMZ 250F, race plate No. 423. Nothing out of the ordinary there, except for the auburn hair flying from the back of the helmet and the woman to which it belongs: Vicki Golden, the first female to compete in the sport’s 42-year history.
Golden, 22, is a three-time gold medal winner in the X Games Women’s Moto X. She was also the first woman to compete in freestyle Moto X against an otherwise all-male field, and the first woman to place in the top 10 in the male-dominant Amsoil Arenacross.
She is, simply put, making history in the physically demanding, highly adrenalized motorsport known as Supercross – though Golden would rather not be recognized for her gender.
“I don’t really care about that part of things. I don’t like the fame and the limelight. I just like riding my dirt bike,” Golden said during an interview in the stadium’s Diamond Club, where she was dressed like any other racer in the room. At 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, she’s about the same build as a male Supercross racer. And she doesn’t wear a lick of makeup.
Her yellow manufacturer’s jersey was emblazoned with her name on the back, its front dotted with the logos of 17 other sponsors, ranging from saddle, clutch and exhaust brands to less obvious supporters, including Mandingo Pickles and the Briar Rose Winery in Temecula – and Metal Mulisha, the enormously popular Southern California freestyle motocross team on which she is the first and only female member.
For Supercross, Golden will race as part of the Hansen Racing Team owned by businessman Todd Hansen.
“Everybody’s pretty excited,” said Tim Slayton, team manager for HRT’s Supercross effort with Golden. “She’s earned it to get here, and she’s done what it takes to be here.”
In addition to her racing wins, Golden was nominated for ESPN’s 2014 ESPY Award for Best Female Action Sports Athlete.
While she may not want to be recognized for being the first female in Supercross, “she’s going to try and tackle what nobody’s really tried to do – to compete with the men,” Slayton said. “She earned it to get here.”
Golden grew up in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, where she began her love affair with two wheels the way most kids do – on a bicycle.
“I wasn’t even allowed to go around the block, so I’d go as fast as I could around our cul-de-sac, just doing wheelies and nose wheelies and jumping down on the curb,” she said. “That’s pretty much all I did all day.”
She first started dirt biking at age 7 because her 14-year-old brother was doing it. For Christmas that year, her parents gifted her a Honda XR50 that she rode wherever possible – on the local clay track at Barona Speedway and in dirt fields.
Living at least 90 minutes from the motocross tracks in Perris and Glen Helen, however, “My parents thought it would be a better investment to hire a trainer to take me out in the hills of San Diego,” Golden said. “I about peed myself almost every time. You have a 7-, eight-year-old trying to do hill climbs on a little bike, going through rocks, rain ruts. It was a gnarly experience, but that’s what made me such a good rider. We didn’t have well-groomed, brand-new prepped tracks. We had the hills.”
Golden was racing by age 8, along with her older brother and her father. It was during one of her dad’s races that he collided with an ATV and was paralyzed from the chest down. Golden was 12, but her father’s accident didn’t stop her from pursuing the sport she loved.
“I was so young, I didn’t really think about it that much. My dad spent so much time in the hospital, and it was during racing season,” Golden said. “My mom saw that I didn’t want to stop just because of what happened, and she supported that.”
During the season, Golden spent less time at her own home and more with another family 30 minutes north in Escondido that participated in amateur racing at the national level. As a young teen, she trained with them and traveled around the country to race, oftentimes sending home the money from her racing wins to help pay her parents’ bills. She turned pro at age 17.
Like most racers in the sport, Golden has suffered her share of injuries. In 2011, she tore the ACL in her left knee and the MCL in her right – injuries she has worked around rather than fixed with surgery.
Last year, a month before the X Games in Austin, Texas, where she was angling for a fourth consecutive win in the X Games Women’s Moto X, she hit her head so hard on a wall ride that she broke her helmet. Three weeks later, as she was attempting a jump at the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival, she overshot her landing. She skidded across the grass into a gate, injuring her leg, ankle and shoulder.
Golden was supposed to make her Monster Energy Supercross debut at Anaheim 3, Jan. 31, but injuries are delaying her entrance into the 2015 series until the Valentine’s Day race at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. To prepare, she works out at the gym at least two days each week and rides about four days at the tracks in Lake Elsinore, where she now lives.
It takes a lot of hard work to compete at a men’s level in a high-flying motorsport that is as exciting to watch as it is physically grueling. Each qualifying race is 10 laps around a track consisting of multiple jumps, berms and washboards.
It is also exceptionally high pressure, even if several other women have paved the way to make it happen, including four-time Women’s Motocross Champion Ashley Fiolek, who retired in 2012 at age 21 due to changes in the way the women’s series was being run.
Like Fiolek, Golden also cut her teeth in the Women’s Motocross series but gave it up in 2011 to focus on competing at a higher level against the men.
“I think I have so much more potential to be so much better and I (didn’t) want to take a step backwards. It’s not a professional class,” Golden told ESPN last year.
Her goal for this year’s Supercross: “Qualifying for a night show. Everyone around me wants to make a main event, so that’s pretty much all of my racing goals.”
A professional freestyler with Metal Mulisha, she plans to follow up her Supercross experience by transitioning back to freestyle to “hit a ramp and throw a whip. I could do that all day,” Golden said, adding that she wants to learn more tricks, including back flips – another rarity among women.
“That’s why we do it – for the days you feel like a champion on a dirt bike even if you’re not racing and just having fun.”