'Girlie girls' team up to become off-road
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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
Big potential sponsors wanted more information.
What would they race? What kind of track record did
they have? How would they represent the
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
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
"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
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
The All-American Girl Racing Team, based in
Orange County, formed a year ago.
Bonanni said she got bored watching her husband,
"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
"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
They're an athletic family. Beccy, 28, surfs,
snowboards, and plays tennis and golf. Robyn, 34,
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
"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
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
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
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
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!"
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
"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
It turned out better than awesome.
Vroom, start your
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
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
Q: Any awards, prizes, trophies, ribbons?
A: Our very first race, we took first at
SNOREs Buffalo Bills 400. We also captured
the first place trophy at SCOREs 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
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