Women Riders Gather For Femmewalla 2015 Trackday

Ladies find sisterhood and solidarity on two wheels

Femmewalla 2015

Lean In

A certain editor needs a refresher course on how to get her knee down.Photo courtesy of CaliPhotography

Sunrise in the desert is a quiet experience. The colors are muted. The air is still. First rays hitting the clouds are soft, subtle, slowly morphing into ever-brighter hues. The ochre light reaches the clouds first, then the mountains, then the tips of surrounding Joshua Trees. By the time it reaches the peaks of the pop-up shade tents, and toy haulers in the pits at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway there's already a buzz about the paddock. Ladies from all across the country have travelled to the remote track outside Desert Center, California, for Femmewalla (femmewalla.com), an annual all-female trackday, and the excitement grows as the desert sun rises. It won't be quiet for long.

I pull into the pits behind the wheel of Motorcyclist's trusty Ford van, loaded up with a freshly shod Kawasaki ZX-6R. This would be my first time riding the 636, my first time riding Chuckwalla, and my first time attending Femmewalla. I arrived alone, another track day first for me. I wasn't sure who I'd meet, how I'd unload my bike, or how well I'd adapt to all this newness. First step was finding a place to park the van. I arrived at 7 a.m., but the pits were already packed. Many folks had clearly spent the night, and were already set up, bikes on stands, tire warmers hooked up, leathers out.

Umbrella Boys and Buff Girls

'Brolly Boys and Buff Girls

Umbrella Boys offer their services and support to Femmewalla attendees, with holiday style.Photo by Julia LaPalme

I pull up to a narrow spot between an RV and a toy hauler, and notice a familiar face across the way. Turns out it's a new friend I'd made a few months back, Nikki, a fellow FZ-09 owner I met at the gas station at the base of Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California. She had her FZ all set up on stands, tire warmers hooked up, looking ready to go. I'm relieved to find someone I know who has clearly done this many times before. I pull my van into the space across from her, and she's happy to help me unload. Another pit neighbor pitches in, spotting the bike as we back it down the ramp. Everyone is super friendly and eager to help. That seems to be the nature of Femmewalla.

Guys take this kind of atmosphere for granted, as most track days are total dude fests. Sure, there are usually ladies in the pits, but nine times out of 10, they’re there to support their guy, maybe as an impromptu umbrella girl or pit chef. The last track day I attended, I was the only female on a bike, save for maybe one of the track day employees. I’ll admit, it can be intimidating sometimes. I’m usually attending with my own posse of moto bros, and we have our own camaraderie, but I’m always aware of being the odd man, er… woman, out.

This day was different.

For once, the roles were reversed: every rider on track was female, save for maybe a track instructor, or a rider from Star School giving two-up rides. All the ladies in the pits were there to ride, suited up in full leathers, some accompanied by their very own umbrella boys and support crews. It was a refreshing change of scenery.

Jen Dunstan on Femmebike

Speedy Lady

Jen Dunstan, in all her rainbow glory, tears it up on the "Femmebike."Photo courtesy of CaliPhotography

Femmewalla began, humbly, in 2010 as an impromptu track session of three women at the end of a regular track day at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Aimee Grana, co-owner of Chuckwalla, Melissa Paris, and Jen Dunstan, three very good friends, decided they needed some testosterone-free track time, and the concept of Femmewalla was born. Immediately, Aimee knew she didn’t want this to be just like any other track day. Femmewalla was going to be a non-profit event, benefiting something bigger than just the racetrack, and Aimee already knew which foundation she wanted to contribute to.

Aimee and Mickey were in the midst of building Chuckwalla in 2008 when tragedy struck their family. Already overwhelmed by permits, planning, and building costs, the Granas were on the edge of financial ruin. To say they were at their wits’ end would be an understatement. So when their 2-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident, they were completely devastated, and in no position to afford a proper memorial service. The Unforgettables Foundation helped fund their daughter’s cremation and memorial service, and when Aimee started Femmewalla, she wanted to return the generosity.

The Grana Family and Tim Evans of Unforgettables

All In The Family

Tim Evans, of The Unforgettables Foundation, Micky “Papawalla” Grana, Sherry Grana, Aimee “Mammawalla” Grana, and Emily Grana.Photo by Julia LaPalme

The first year of Femmewalla (that was open to participants other than Aimee, Melissa, and Jen) saw 23 participants, and raised $3,000. 2012 drew in 45 ladies, raising $8,000; 2013, 55 girls, $10,000; and 2014, 63 women, $11,000. This year, the event brought 93 ladies to the desert racetrack, and, when the dust settles, expect to have raised over $10,000. That adds up to at least $42,000 donated to The Unforgettables Foundation over the past 5 years. Proceeds come from participants’ entry fees, CaliPhotography sales, and raffle ticket sales.

And boy did they sell some raffle tickets. One thing I noticed about Femmewalla that makes it such a different environment from any other track day, aside from being for women only, is the event’s non-profit status. That makes the atmosphere so much different for all involved. Everyone is there to raise as much money as they can for Unforgettables. Ladies are shelling out hundreds of dollars for raffle tickets. And the generosity doesn’t stop there. Over two dozen businesses donate items and/or services for the benefit of the charity.

Pink hats and fixie fun.

Fixie Fun

Fixies galore in the pits. And more pink fuzzy hats.Photo by Julia LaPalme

Even beyond the financial support, there was an overwhelming amount of generosity in the pits too. We’re not here to outdo each other. We’re here to create a welcoming atmosphere for female riders to get together and ride; to feel comfortable among our moto sisters; to share knowledge, overcome fears, try new things and learn new skills, and make new friends. It’s what I would imagine a sorority to be like, or what it should be like in my opinion: a celebration of sisterhood, embracing our shared love of this otherwise masculine activity of riding motorcycles, but without feeling like we must sacrifice our femininity. Plenty of women showed up with fully specced out track bikes (some painted pink, purple, or with filigree), but were otherwise being silly with their girlfriends in the pits, sporting cupcake beanies and unicorn hats.

When it came time to suit up and roll out on track, honestly, I wasn’t focused much about the fact that all the other riders out there were female. Once our leathers and helmets were on, and we were tearing it up on two wheels, gender became a non-issue. Riding in the intermediate group, I was passed by a few much faster riders, but passed my fair share as well. I didn’t feel like there was the same type of ego overshadowing the fun. We all wanted to do our best, have fun leaning through the corners and maybe improve our lap times. But all in all, back in the pits, it was still all about camaraderie and fun.

And there was plenty of fun being had: one girl, Alejandra, rode her fixie around the pits, laughing and joking with her friends. You’d never guess by her jovial nature that she’s a Marine MP. A few ladies brought their dogs, and one woman had her white and orange tabby cat on a leash, being chill as ever. No joke. A few guys showed up to be good natured umbrella boys: one was sporting a christmas-wrapped box around his waist with suspenders, and jingle bells hanging from below. Another guy was hover-boarding around the pits in a giant pink bunny jumpsuit, a hilarious contrast to the woman walking around in a superwoman outfit. One of the attendees was there with her husband and infant child, proving the environment was really family friendly. Despite this being a women-only track day, the pit atmosphere felt much more all-inclusive.

Jason Pridmore’s Star School offered two-up rides around the track.

Hang On

Jason Pridmore’s Star School offered two-up rides around the track.Photo courtesy of CaliPhotography

Aside from regular track day activities, there were also one-on-one instruction sessions available for purchase from Racers Edge, two-up rides offered by Jason Pridmore’s Star School, and demo bikes available to try for free from Yamaha School of Champions. Also, many attendees brought their mini bikes and set up an impromptu cone course in the parking lot, and allowed anyone on site to ride them. All the companies on site were offering their services either free of charge or with proceeds benefiting the Unforgettables.

What I realize about the atmosphere at Femmewalla is this: it’s mostly just like any other track day. Except that instead of showing up and feeling like an outlier I was just like all the other riders who showed up to ride. But just like any other track day, there are personalities of all types. People I connected with, some I didn’t. Honestly, there were simply more women there than I could possibly have time to chat with. But the point is Femmewalla creates an environment where women get to experience a track day the way guys do every other day of the year. A woman can show up to Femmewalla with her bike and not be treated like an anomaly that must be ogled at or, just as bad, an unwelcome distraction. She can just be a rider, doing a track day because she loves to ride. And that is a beautiful thing.