Skip to main content
Mary McGee
COMPETITION / TRAIL BLAZER

Mary McGee

While a tall 5’11”, Mary always described herself as "fast on my feet, fast with my brain, self-conscious and lacking confidence", however, she had "no trouble with confidence on the racetrack." A pioneer in the sport of desert off-road racing and motocross, Mary broke down many barriers for female racers. She has achieved many firsts and has been a great role model for our sport.

Mary McGee was born in Juneau, Alaska, on December 12, 1936. She then moved to Iowa to live with her grandparents during World War II as Alaska was considered to be at risk of a Japanese invasion. In 1944 the family settled in Phoenix, Arizona. Eventually she met her husband, Don McGee, a mechanic. Shortly after their 1956 wedding Don introduced her to racing cars which eventually led to racing motorcycles.

Mary learned to ride on a 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub she bought from a friend. She later took up motorcycle road racing to try to improve her car racing skills. A female road racer in the United States was a new phenomenon, so the American Federation of Motorcyclists made Mary take a test before allowing her to race. She passed the test – on a 125 Honda CB92 wearing a pink polka-dot helmet -- and became the first woman to hold an FIM license in the United States.

In 1963 at a New Year’s Eve party attended by Hollywood stars who raced both cars and motorcycles, Mary’s friend, the actor and future ORMHOF inductee Steve McQueen, told her, “McGee, you’ve got to get off that pansy road-racing bike and come out to the desert.” Taking heed of McQueen’s good-natured ribbing, Mary switched to dirt riding in 1963. She started her off-road career by riding a 250cc Honda Scrambler in an AMA District 37 enduro. She raced a Datsun 510 in the very first Mexican 1000 in 1967.

Among her many firsts, Mary became the first woman to finish the Mexican 1000 in 1968, and in 1975, she rode a 250 Husqvarna solo in the Baja 500, passing 17, two-man teams, becoming the first person – man or woman – to solo the Baja 500 on a motorcycle.

Mary was given the distinguished honor of being named the FIM Legend of 2012 at the FIM Gala in Monte Carlo, Monaco. She was inducted into the Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2014 and the American Motorcyclist Hall of Fame in 2018.

In 2022, Mary was honored as Grand Marshal of the NORRA Mexican 500 and each year has a NORRA trophy awarded in her name to the most deserving female racer.

Mary has always said that the hardest thing she ever did was racing in Baja. "It was very barren, no electricity, no doctors, no phone.” When she got a call from three-time motocross world champion Rolf Tibblin, who asked if she would ride the Baja 500 solo in ’75, she replied, “I can’t do that Rolf.” Rolf responded in his Swedish accent “You will do it Mary.” So, she accepted the challenge.

“We all get one life,” says Mary. “But you are not living if you aren’t having fun.”

Learn more about ORMHOF inductee Mary McGee in this Conversations with Big Rich podcast:

Mary McGee is a legend in off-road racing; solo’d the Baja 500 on a bike as the first person to do so; a woman who never learned to quit and always said yes to everything offered. She thinks she’s the luckiest woman ever, her history is a great story. Mary was inducted in the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2023. Mary is why we say; legends live at ORMHOF.org.  

3:31 – My 9-year-old brother and myself (age 5), by ourselves went on the steamship from Juneau to Seattle

19:29 – Vashak said to Dan, "Mary, she should road race the motorcycles, make even smoother than the car."                              

24:45 – Women couldn’t have credit cards in their name, they couldn’t have anything in their own name. 

29:41 – “Are you motorcycle people?” yes, “You have to leave”

34:24 – my friend, Steve McQueen, said, “Mary, you have got to get off that pansy road racing bike and come out to the desert.”  Will I have to get dirty?

55:48 – We only made it to El Arco and it was freezing; I went around and around that fire and got myself nice and hot and went right over to those two guys sleeping on cardboard and slithered right in between them

1:10:34 – Once you start something, you should see it through to the end, however it goes.