24th Annual Riding into History™
Motorcycle Concours d'Elegance
Chasing the Rising Sun
Featurimg Japanese Motorcycles
Saturday, April 20, 2024, Gates open at 10am
St. Augustine, Florida
Riding Into History™ 2024 Grand Marshal
Grand Marshal Mary McGee
We are thrilled to announce that trail blazer, glass ceiling smasher, AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer and Off-Road Motorcycle Hall of Famer Mary McGee has been named the Grand Marshal of the 24th Annual Riding into History™ celebrating "Chasing the Rising Sun - Japanese Motorcycles" to be held in St. Augustine, Florida on April 19-20, 2024.
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Mary McGee is one of the most pioneering motorcyclists in history. She not only broke barriers for women riders, but for all riders. Her accomplishments are many and have impacted the sport in numerous ways.
Born in 1936 in Juneau, Alaska, she later lived in Iowa and then Arizona. She met her husband, Don, who was an expert mechanic and introduced her to car and motorcycle racing. In 1957, she began racing cars with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Through a series of fortunate introductions, she was offered a variety of cars to race, and consistently won her races. Instantly recognizable in her pink polka-dot helmet, she raced sports cars by Mercedes, Ferrari, Porsche, AC, Corvette, Elva, Jaguar, and Lotus, winning races at tracks in Arizona, California, and Texas.
She 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.”
Mary purchased her first motorcycle, a 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub, in 1957. She knew nothing about motorcycles but was willing to learn. The only problem was, it didn’t always start. So it got traded for a Honda C110, which McGee used to commute to her job as parts manager at Flint British Motors.
Ironically, it was car racing that began McGee's foray into motorcycle road racing in 1960. She was racing a Porsche Spyder in Santa Barbara, California and the car's owner, Czech race-car icon Vasek Polak, suggested to McGee's husband that racing a motorcycle would enhance her car-racing skills, "Make even more smooth in the car." When they sprang the idea on her back in the pits she responded with her trademark, "Okay, why not give it a try?" In 1960, McGee called Wes Cooley Sr. about road racing a bike. Cooley called around and found that she would have to audition in order to get her FIM license. Her tryout was at Willow Springs two weeks later. After riding on the track the whole day with about 9 other riders, Wes Sr. let her know she was accepted to race the next race. She became first woman to road race and hold an FIM license in the United States – on a 125 Honda CB92, wearing her pink polka-dot helmet.
This was just one of many firsts she has accomplished. A January 1962 Motor Trend article started with “Housewives revolt!” and ended with “So ladies, if your life is dull and you are bored with freeway traffic, don’t give up. Buy a motorcycle and join Mary McGee.”
A New Year’s Eve party in 1963 attended by Hollywood stars who raced both cars and motorcycles, introduced her to a new form of racing. McGee recalls actor Steve McQueen telling her, “McGee, you’ve got to get off that pansy road-racing bike and come out to the desert.” “And get dirty?” she responded. Her husband told her it was a great idea, and she was off.
In late 1966, Cooley Sr. reached out to McGee to get her "desert sleds" running. Although popular in Europe, motocross hadn't yet hit the US and in February 1967, she became the first woman to race motocross in the States when she switched to dirt riding and rode her 1962 250cc Honda Scrambler in an AMA District 37 enduro. She was there for the first motocross races at Carlsbad and Saddleback, and also raced at numerous west-coast tracks.
Also in 1967, McGee finished the first Mexican 1000 in a Datsun 510. She continued competing in the Mexican 1000 in 68 and 69. She later became the first person (and woman) to ride the Baja 500 solo on her Husqvarna 250 which was one of her most memorable accomplishments as she finished ahead of several two-man teams. She says racing in Baja was the hardest thing she did in her life.
In 1970, the McGees moved to Idaho and opened a small Husqvarna dealership. Two years later, she became the Husky District Manager for seven western states, all the while racing motocross in Idaho, Washington, and Nevada, and escalating her involvement in the Baja. Also in the 1970s, McGee worked for Motorcyclist magazine and joined a 24-hour endurance road race in Las Vegas, in which the magazine’s team changed riders every hour on a 650cc Suzuki.
Mary has served as an ambassador for motorcycling, whether as a pioneering female competitor or through her speaking engagements that encourage women to try motorcycling and racing. “I would like to see more women — and more younger women — get involved. It’s not whether you finish first, second or last. It’s the struggle to finish. It is the journey of your life, I never experienced any backlash being a female on a motorcycle, or maybe I just never noticed.” McGee is quoted as saying.
In 2011, she got her Motorcycle Street license at age 75. In 2018, Mary was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame.
Sadly, Mary suffered an injury this year which prevents her from joining us, so instead of attending as Grand Marshal for 2023, we are honoring Mary as our Honorary Grand Marshal.