Riverton rider races to capture pro title in motocrossApril 16, 2013
There is a roar at the starting line of a motocross race. Engines grumble, bikes reverberate, taking on animalistic qualities, ready to spring from the line.
Nicole “Nix” Gaudern of Riverton doesn’t hear it. She can hardly describe the start of a race, other than the breaths she takes to steady her heartbeat and the adrenaline coursing through her veins and the pep talk she gives herself.
She needs to shoot out ahead of the pack, but if she’s over eager she might use too much throttle and wheelie out.
She centers herself on the bike.
She’ll start in second gear but when the gates drop she’ll start clicking into higher gears the faster she goes. She’ll ride most of the course in “attack position;” knees squeezed in and on the balls of her feet.
She mentally ticks through the course — what obstacles come when and how she’ll shift to best attack. There is the whoop section, the rolling dirt hills where she’ll attack full speed, hoping to blitz ’em, bouncing once on the top of each. There are the corners where she’ll throw her weight onto the gas and extend a leg out to help her positioning as she swings in. She thinks of the track conditions. Is it dry and slippery, or tacky with moisture? Have the previous races deepened the ruts?
She drops the clutch, hits the throttle and leans forward, willing her body to propel her bike out in front to avoid wrecks in the bottle neck where if one bike goes down all those around it go down too.
Six years ago Gaudern was working at a bank in Idaho in mortgage accounts. Now the Riverton resident is two races away from earning her professional license in motocross, a sport where racers lap a course of obstacles on motorcycles.
To earn a pro license, according to the 2012 rules, a woman must place in the top five in three area qualifying races, place in the top three in two regional races and place in the top five at the World Mini’s, or place in the top 10 at the Red Bull Amateur National Motocross Championship.
There are few women in racing and even fewer in Wyoming. Several women in Rock Springs dominate the track, but of those, few travel and compete nationally. Gaudern believes when she gets her pro license she’ll be the only pro woman rider in the state.
Earning a professional status means chances at cash prizes and more sponsorships. It means a chance to make racing a career. The top pro racers make millions — especially the men who dominate the sport. More realistic and common are racers who bring home tens of thousands each year. Gaudern would be happy to make enough to pay basic bills and quit her four part time jobs — she sells health and life insurance, does credit repair online, files for her sister’s real estate appraising company and paints houses when in Riverton.
It was a co-worker at the bank Guadern worked at who introduced her to Motocross. She said she thought Gaudern might like it. Gaudern grew up rodeoing and riding snowmobiles.
Motocross could be fun, Gaudern thought. She bought a bike on impulse in late fall 2007. She had never ridden before.
In the spring of 2008 she took the bike out.
“I didn’t even know how to get into second gear,” she said.
It didn’t stop her from entering a race only a few months later after some goading from a friend. She didn’t even finish the first lap.
Instead of giving up, the debacle ignited a determination in Gaudern. She took Thursdays off from work so she could ride three days a week including the weekend.
Gaudern has always been the type that sees a challenge and can’t give up on it until she’s reached her goal.
First it was finishing a race. Then it was finishing faster. Then it was beating another rider, then another.
“I’m the type that’s like ‘I’m going to beat that girl, then that girl,’” she said.
At the end of her first season Gaudern saw a chance to qualify to race in the championship. But during a race her motor seized and she wasn’t able to finish, or compete in upcoming events. Unable to pay to have her motor rebuilt she took off most of 2009, borrowing a bike once in a while for a short ride, but not racing.
Undeterred she came back determined in 2010 and started to find her rhythm on the track. In 2011 she qualified for the National Championship for the National Motosport Association and collected a few sponsors.
If Gaudern places in the top five in the Southwestern Regional race in California at the end of May, she will advance to the Nationals. If she also places in the top four in the Northwest Regionals in Washington in June she will meet the qualifying requirements for her pro license.
It’s a sport that’s tough on the body even in the best of circumstances. Gaudern has broken both her wrists, and had 13 screws in one. She’s broken her arm, dislocated her thumb, fractured her tibia, broken her ankles, separated her shoulders and torn her PCL in one of her knees. But she sees her injury list as unimpressive and just part of the sport.
Because of the wear on the body, racers have limited careers. Men often retire in their 30s. Women retire later, perhaps because they often discover the sport later in life, Gaudern said. She knows of at least one racer that didn’t reach the pro level until she was 37. Gaudern won’t give her age, happy knowing she looks much younger than she is, she said.
Still, she knows her time is limited in the racing world. There are more women getting into the sport at younger ages and some of those coming up the ranks are really fast, she said.
She’s nervous the window is closing. So she’s doing the thing that comes naturally, assuming attack position and throwing her weight on the gas.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follower her on twitter @Kelsey_Dayton
If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.