'Girlie girls' team up to become off-road racers.



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'Girlie girls' team up to become off-road racers.
Like all serious off-road buggy racers, they needed a sponsor, but they faced some challenges.

Big potential sponsors wanted more information. What would they race? What kind of track record did they have? How would they represent the sponsor?

One by one, they got their rejections. But the racers kept in touch with their contact at SoBe, which sells vitamin-enriched water, who promised he was working his connections. They crossed their fingers and hoped for the best.

The call came on a Monday. "Where do I send the check?"

They won't say how much they got, but sponsorship in the racing world can range from $50,000 to $1 million.

And they had a race that Saturday.

That gave them four days to prepare.

Oh, and they officially became the All-American Girl Racing Team, an all-female team in the male-dominated sport of off-road racing.

They had a four-wheel dune buggy, but a lot of things stacked against them. They had no tires. They had no toolbox. They had to borrow fire suits and gloves.

"We literally did not sleep for four days. We were zombies," says Heather Bonanni of Laguna Niguel, a driver and founder of the group.

Would they have a shot on Saturday? Would anybody take them seriously with their pink gas tanks?


They wear lipstick and mascara and enjoy a good manicure. They admit with pride that they're "girlie girls." One is a former Miss Downey.

They also go 92 mph in an off-road vehicle, doing laps on a rough course fraught with dips and rocky bumps. The four-wheel buggy has beefy desert tires, big shocks and extra suspension. The women take turns as drivers.

And, yes, they can change their own 80-pound tires, thank you very much.

There are other women racers, such as Danica Patrick, but she works with a team of men. These women, who range from 28 to 34, run their own show.

The All-American Girl Racing Team, based in Orange County, formed a year ago.

Bonanni said she got bored watching her husband, John, race.

"I've got to get a bunch of us out there," she thought. She called Robyn Gordon, who paused. But Beccy Gordon, Robyn's sister, started yelling: "We're in! You tell her we're in!"

A friend and fellow racer, Brian Burgess, donated his off-road vehicle for a year with the condition that they return it in pristine condition.

"He was just totally hip on a bunch of girls racing. We put a brand-new engine in, brand-new seats and had all the shocks redone. We rebuilt the whole car," Bonanni said.


Racing is in their blood. Beccy, who lives in Dana Point, and Robyn, who lives in Orange, grew up in their dad's shop in Orange. Their father, Bob, was an off-road racer who made sure his daughters knew how to take apart an engine. He never treated them any differently from how he treated Robby Gordon, who grew up to be a NASCAR racer.

Their family vacations weren't typical. No skiing trips for them. Instead, they hit the racetracks. Beccy says as a kid she used to wear a bathing suit and make dirt angels.

Their mom did a practice run when she was seven months pregnant with Beccy and had Robyn sitting on her lap.

They're an athletic family. Beccy, 28, surfs, snowboards, and plays tennis and golf. Robyn, 34, water-skis.

Heather, 34, whose dad is a mechanic, also grew up around cars. Heather was a tomboy who loved dirt bikes and played softball and volleyball. But one year she decided to try out for Miss Downey. She won.

"But then I was done with that, and I was like, 'Can I have my dirt bike back, please?' "

Heather, now a soccer mom raising four kids, acknowledges that racing can be dangerous, and her youngest child, who also happens to be her biggest fan, is especially concerned.

"She worries the most about me," Heather says. "She says a little prayer for me. She makes me kiss her hand to leave my lip marks on her while I race."

She once was injured when she fell into a deep ravine. "I was going 35 miles per hour, and one of my harnesses was undone, and I knocked myself out on one of the bars," she says. "I crashed and had a concussion and was out of it for a couple of days."

And that isn't the only time.

"I've spun out on the pavement a couple of times, and, knock on wood, I've never rolled. I'm not too worried about it," she said. "If I was too worried, I wouldn't do it. We're doing it because we truly enjoy getting into that car and racing."

The team has developed a loyal following of young women and girls who help with repairs and cheer them on.

And their Internet site has drawn interest from girls who want to go into racing, as well as from men whose girlfriends and wives are interested in the sport.


They had four days to prepare for the 200-mile race in Primm, Nev. There were 100 entrants – all men, except for them.

They had to get the car painted. They were hoping for pink. Robyn went to the shop late at night and called the team in tears. "It's yellow!" she moaned.

They got pink lizards – the logo for SoBe – embroidered onto their silver racing suits. The sponsor, who missed his wedding anniversary, flew out so they could take him on a prerun. They made sure to wear braids to keep their hair out of their faces. And this time there was no makeup.

When they showed up to the race, they had an entourage of about 50 people – family members and friends and a television crew from New York making a documentary on them. They got noticed.

Somebody snidely remarked that they were Robby Gordon's sisters and wondered whether they'd make the cut.

"It was a little bit embarrassing, because we hadn't proved ourselves yet," Robyn says.

Heather was the driver at the starting line, watching the green flag.

"I was extremely nervous," she says. "I just remember sitting at the starting line. I was so afraid that I was going to stall the car. I revved the engine so high. Your adrenaline kicks in. Five minutes into it, I got my groove. It turned out it was awesome."

It turned out better than awesome.

They won.

Vroom, start your engine

Who said men are the only ones who can go off-road racing or enjoy motor sports?

Meet Heather Mishell Bonanni of Laguna Niguel who not only rides, but she races competitively - and she is pretty darn good, too. Here is a closer look at this daredevil.

Q: Do you have a full-time job?

A: I used to work full time managing the Mortgage Loan Servicing Call Center at Downey Savings and Loan in Newport Beach. My husband has since afforded me the opportunity to be what I always wanted – a stay-at-home mom.

Q: How did you become interested in racing?

A: Watching my husband race. I have always enjoyed motor sports, and off-road racing was right up my alley.

Q: What is the fascination with it?

A: That you can drive over the most rugged, dangerous terrain in Mexico for hours on hours, push your body and mind farther than they have ever been pushed, get dirtier than your 3-yearold playing in a pile of wet sand and mud, cross the finish line completely exhausted and still want to do it all over again. Not only want to do it all over again, but cannot wait to do it all over again!

Q: Have you ever been hurt?

A: Yes, at the Baja 500 last year. The race was going through the infamous pine forest and this was my section. This section had not been raced through in years. I was feeling like I was in the groove, got a little too comfortable and hit head-on into a deep rut. I broke the left front trailing arm off the body and limped it in to the next pit where the BFG guys welded us back together and we sent the next girl on her way. I ended up having a concussion that made me pretty loopy for about four days and a compressed disc.

Q: So, you compete, how often, where and when, and against whom?

A: I will compete with the All-American Girl Racing team for the 2007-2017 race years starting with the Baja 1000 in November. Our race schedule after that is being worked out, but if all goes well, we will complete the entire SCORE International season, which includes the San Felipe 250 in March and the Baja 500 in June, both in 2008.

Q: Any awards, prizes, trophies, ribbons?

A: Our very first race, we took first at SNORE’s Buffalo Bills 400. We also captured the first place trophy at SCORE’s Battle at Primm in September. Both of those races were at Stateline (Primm, Nev.). We completed the Baja 1000 in November and are currently, that I am aware of, the only all-female team (both drivers and navigators in the car at all times are female) to ever complete the Baja 1000 when it runs from Ensenada to La Paz.

Q: Will this or could this ever become a full-time career for you?

A: Probably not ... we do this for the sheer excitement and the money we get from sponsorships is barely enough to pay for the car to race. We put a lot of our own money into it so we can continue to do this.

Q: What type of off-road vehicle do you ride?

A: We used to race a buggy type car. Some compare it to a ‘beefed-up’ sandrail. A brand new car like ours last year would today run about $100,000, at the least.

Patrick Dempsey teams up with All-American Girl Racing at the Baja 1000




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