She’s An Icon, She’s A Legend…

F1's veteran interviewer Martin Brundle encountered a true motorsports icon during a recent grid walk - Mary McGee. So who is this woman, and why did she leave even the smooth-talking Brundle speechless?

By Emily S

In the high-octane world of motorsports, where grease-stained overalls and roaring engines were a man’s domain, Mary McGee carved out a legendary path. Her story isn’t just about checkered flags and podium finishes; it’s a testament to unwavering passion, unwavering determination, and groundbreaking achievements that continue to inspire racers today, even as she enters her golden years.

Trailblazer! Image via VC London

Born in 1936, Mary’s love affair with speed began young, fuelled by the burgeoning car culture of the post-war era. Unlike many racers who honed their skills on dirt bikes, Mary’s journey took an unexpected turn. Her husband, a talented mechanic, undoubtedly played a role in her early exposure to the world of engines. However, it was behind the wheel of a luxurious Mercedes 300SL Gullwing that Mary first turned heads. Her natural talent and confidence were undeniable, and she quickly established herself as a formidable competitor in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCCA), consistently impressing despite being one of the few women on the track.

A chance encounter with acting legend and fellow racing enthusiast Steve McQueen proved pivotal in Mary’s career. Inspired by McQueen’s encouragement, she took up motorcycle racing in the early 1960s. Her skills translated seamlessly to two wheels, but entering this male-dominated world wasn’t easy. Hesitant officials, accustomed to seeing men dominate the sport, initially made her jump through hoops. She eventually earned the right to compete by passing a demanding FIM license test, a testament to her unwavering determination. Once she did, there was no stopping her. McGee became the first woman to compete in both motorcycle road racing and motocross events in the United States, shattering barriers and paving the way for future generations of female racers.

‘Motorcycle Mary’ is a 22 minute documentary directed by Haley Watson, and produced by Lewis Hamilton for ESPN Films
In 1975, riding her Husqvarna 250, Mary became the first woman to solo the SCORE Baja 500

However, Mary’s ambitions extended beyond traditional race circuits. She craved the ultimate test of endurance and skill: desert racing. In 1967, she began competing in gruelling Baja California events, pushing herself and her machines to the absolute limit. Her crowning achievement arrived in the 1975 Baja 500, a legendary off-road race that stretches over 1,000 miles of unforgiving terrain. Atop her trusty 250cc Husqvarna motorcycle, Mary conquered the brutal course, leaving numerous well-established two-man teams in her dust. This feat cemented her place in history as a true desert racing legend.

Mary McGee’s racing career spanned over two decades, and her accomplishments are truly remarkable. She defied stereotypes, proving that women could compete and win at the highest levels of motorsports. But her impact extends far beyond race victories. Mary is an ambassador for the sport, actively encouraging others, especially young women, to embrace their passion for motorcycles and competitive racing. Through speaking engagements and her active Facebook page, she continues to uplift others and shine a light on the sport, inspiring a new generation to chase their dreams on two wheels.

Mary raced until the age of 76 years old

Inspiration

McGee became the first woman to compete in both motorcycle road racing and motocross events in the US

Even at 88 years old, Mary McGee remains an inspiration. While she recently retired from competitive racing, trading in her leathers for a well-earned rest, her passion for motorsports continues to burn brightly. This “senior woman” still attends vintage motocross events, though these days she cheers from the sidelines rather than tearing up the track on her trusty 1974 Husqvarna 250.

Mary chatting to Martin Brundle at the Canadian Grand Prix. Via Sky Sports

admiration

Mary greets Lewis Hamilton, who has produced a documentary film about her life. Via Twitter

Her influence, however, reaches far beyond the vintage motocross circuit. Her incredible story is recently immortalised in the documentary “Motorcycle Mary,” co-produced by Formula One legend Lewis Hamilton. The documentary, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2024, perhaps explains her enthusiastic “Hamilton, of course!” response during her recent F1 grid walk with Martin Brundle. Clearly, the mutual admiration runs deep, and Mary McGee’s legacy as a trailblazer in motorsports is secure.

She shattered barriers and inspired generations, and her story continues to motivate racers of all ages to chase their dreams on two or four wheels! An ICON!!!

An icon of the sport, Mary was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2023

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