(RNS) Today, 12-year-old Jacqueline Munns runs, jumps and barrels down hills in an off-road dirt race.
But only this summer was she invited to the National Junior All-American Off-Road Racing Championships for a chance to compete in the dirt track events.
“It’s a chance for me to compete with other people and show that there’s more to me than just my bike,” said Munns, of the Lone Star Off-Road Series in Texas.
She was part of about 2,500 kids who got the opportunity to race in the Northwest Regional Finals and Nationals from Nov. 3 to 5 in Issaquah, Wash.
Many say that fewer girls than boys participate in the wild and rugged race to prove their talents. But Nicholas Knowles, superintendent of Lone Star Off-Road series, said the APF Junior O&R competition is male-dominated sport where girls excel.
Even so, a historic blue collar, all-boys club in the Northwest region, which includes Oregon, Washington and Idaho, manages a remarkable 9- to- 17-year-old female percent share of all race entries, according to APF data.
While the stats are not available for the APF Junior Women’s Series, the number has been increasing steadily since 2008. And the Houston Off-Road Racing Association has seen a noticeable increase in entries for ladies from the APF competition.
“We have different classes. There’s what’s called the beginner ride where girls just show up, we judge and rate them. Then you go to the intermediate category where they go a little bit harder,” said Logan Tse, head of the youth division.
The top 7 percent of junior girls competes.
So why the differences?
For one, many off-road racers, like Muas and Munns, are boys.
“We have a history of having a high number of men and men are the majority,” said Tse. “Out of 250 boys, there are probably about 100 other boys. It’s a different culture.”
Girls can be harmed by dangerous off-road dirt obstacles, whereas it doesn’t often happen to guys, Tse said.
Despite a trend toward more females in the APF Junior O&R competition, some still don’t see female athletes as equal with their male counterparts. In some ways, they see girls in a lesser role.
“We’re like soap opera actresses. We keep the boys in line. I’m a fast kid, but I’m not as fast as my brothers. I will always do the nastier, grosser rides. We can be the heel in the alliance,” said Munns.
But there are other ways of looking at it.
“My brother and I have the same muscles on a guy’s body. I’m where he would be if he were 4 years old,” said Tse.
He also thinks a woman’s occupation doesn’t equate to masculinity.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Tse. “Girls’ job, mine is driving an off-road bike. We both do that. I don’t have kids. I don’t mind if my kids are in schools or having something else to do. That’s a little bit of pressure.”
Tse says that while he likes racing with the boys, he’s also content with competing against girls.
“I race with my brothers and it’s like an all-male’s company,” said Tse. “(Jacqueline) is a challenge for us.”
Munns, who’s been off-road racing for four years, credits a performance-enhancing bike with much of her success.
“I really want to be a professional and I’ve got to have that one sponsor to get me there,” said Munns.
Like a drive-time drive-time rock-concert, her 2-year-old daughter, Janey, joins her mom and dad to watch her race.
“This is the Super Bowl of me,” said Munns.