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Hannah's decision: Being an MX pro means racing against the boys

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Saturday night in Las Vegas, Hannah Hodges will line up with the boys at the invitation-only Monster Energy Cup race in the Supermini class, but like any racer, she’s looking far ahead down the track. 2017, to be exact.

Hodges has a decision to make. With the precarious state of women’s motocross, if she wants to make a living and a place for herself in the sport, she’s probably going to have to do it against men. Now 17, she is preparing to make a transition that hasn’t been done before: move up to the 250 class and compete with males at the professional level without even attempting to win the Women’s Motocross Championship (WMX), the eight-round series that is the all-female national championship in the United States.

Hannah Hodges could have been a tap and jazz or ballet dancer, a soccer player, or a gymnast. She tried all of that, but riding motorcycles was the only activity she didn’t stop doing.

She was born, four weeks early, in August of 1998, but was still strong enough to walk at eight and a half months. Her father, Wayne, bought her a Yamaha PW50 because he wanted a riding buddy on the weekends. Today he admits he was scared to death when Hannah was born because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do with a girl. Now 17, that little girl is about to move up from mini cycles and test herself on a full-sized Kawasaki KX250F.

Hodges wouldn’t be the first female to commit to racing against men. In May, Vicki Golden became the first woman to qualify for a Supercross heat race. Before that, Golden raced Arenacross, won three X Games gold medals in Women’s Moto X Racing and spent several years competing on the WMX series. Many other females have earned licenses and registered to compete against males: Jessica Patterson, Steffi Bau and Sue Fish — the only female motocross racer inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame — are the most notable. The difference between Hodges and her predecessors is that they proved they were among the best — if not the best — in female motocross first. Hodges has yet to do that.

In the girls 12-16 division, she’s unbeatable. In the Supermini class, the highest level of mini cycle motocross racing, Hodges can often be found in the top 10 amongst the 41 other male riders. At the Monster Energy Cup last year, she finished tenth out of 23 riders in the two-moto Supermini format. (This year’s Monster Energy Cup will air live on Fox Sports 2 and online at Fox Sports GO, and will be repeated on Fox Sunday afternoon.)

Hannah Hodges

The moves Hodges is making today are preparation for 2017, the year she hopes to race professional Supercross and motocross. Next year, 2016, is all about transition, gaining strength, learning to compete on a 250cc four-stroke and racing the major amateur events in the intermediate level classes. She will race a few WMX rounds, but isn’t committing to the entire series.

There was a time when Hannah had hopes of becoming a WMX champion. In the heyday of women’s motocross, the series ran races on the same day as the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross tour and several riders were supported by teams and actually made money. In 2014, the WMX tour was separated from the men’s series and lumped in with the major amateur races spread over eight weekends between March and November. In 2015, five of the rounds were held in conjunction with the Pro Motocross series, but the racing took place on Friday or Sunday, not on the main race day when the spectators and TV crew were present. Hodges is happy to see that women’s racing is improving, but it still doesn’t hold enough value for her to want to devote her goals to it.

“I can get the most out of racing by competing with the guys,” she says. “It’s the best for me to be with the guys.”

Wayne and his wife Melissa have made massive sacrifices to help their daughter meet her goals. Starting in March 2012, at 10 p.m. nearly every Monday night, Hannah and Wayne have piled into their GMC Savana to drive 250 miles from their home in Deland, Fla., to Cairo, Ga., to be at the Millsaps Training Facility, a racing preparatory camp where Hannah spends three days a week working with riding and strength coaches and practicing against peers who are her speed or faster.

Her strength coach, a retired Navy SEAL who goes by the one name of Tony, has the unique challenge of helping Hannah — who is most likely done growing at five feet, four inches tall and 115 pounds — gain a considerable amount of strength without packing on weight that would affect her endurance, flexibility and agility. Suspension experts prefer riders to be at least 120 pounds, in order to properly prepare the forks and shocks.

Tony’s program is broken into three philosophies — mind, body and soul — and he pushes his clients to increase how much they can handle mentally, as well as physically.

“Hannah is unique in that she is, by far, the most dedicated and disciplined, male or female,” Tony says. “I hate to set her apart, but she is. She’s almost a freak of nature.”

Hannah Hodges

Tony told Hannah that he believes she could increase her weight to 125 pounds in one year without feeling awkward on her motorcycle. A KX250F is over 60 pounds heavier and three inches taller than the KX100 she currently rides and, to compete professionally, she’ll have to prepare for longer races. Preparation is why her father, who owns an auto detailing business, drives 500 miles round trip every week to a facility designed to produce the future champions of motorcycle racing. But Wayne is also realistic.

“She’s made more of a believer out of me than I thought she could,” Wayne says. “She’ll never win professional races against men. That’s being real. But to continue to be marketable, to be in a position to get a paycheck and create an income,” he says, is why they’re choosing to race primarily against males, and not females. Wayne hopes his daughter can someday be an ambassador in the motorcycle industry, a female representative for the manufacturers who can help them reach out to young racers.

Until then, the year 2017 is circled on her calendar. That’s when she hopes to become the first female to qualify for a Monster Energy Supercross main event and score points (top 20) in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship that begins each May. Winning those points is her real goal, not trying to be a pioneer or a trailblazer, but it’s hard to ignore the influence she may have on the future of women’s motocross racing.

“I don’t think about it, but I do want girls to see me do it so they know they can do it, too,” she says.

But first, the Monster Energy Cup awaits her. She’s already proven she’s the fastest female mini cycle rider on the planet. Now she wants to show that she can run top five against all youth riders. When the Monster Energy Cup gate drops Saturday, watch for the sandy blonde hair flowing out from under the helmet of number 172.

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