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Hannah Hodges wins first relaunched Women’s Pro Motocross round, gives girls someone to follow

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — On a crowded track of 24 riders, Florida native Hannah Hodges weaved through traffic on the frontstretch of Daytona International Speedway to beat Sophia Phelps, Jamie Astudillo and Shelby Rolen to the finish line as the Women’s Professional Motocross Championship (WMX) was reborn.

“I’ve always been a fan of the women who have race motocross through the years,” Series Director Tim Cotter told NBC Sports after the race. “They’re tremendous athletes who provide wonderful entertainment; they’re simply amazing. It’s a great opportunity for us to bring women back into racing at a high level. We never abandoned the women, but we didn’t have WMX.”

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Once the checkers waved over the season opener, the gap between Hodges and Phelps stood at 14.387 seconds — Astudillo was another four seconds back — but the riders were much closer than that. All three had gone through so much to be here.

Phelps and Astudillo grew up watching Hodges, Ashley Fiolek and Jordon Jarvis race but until the WMX was relaunched this year, there was an expiration date on their dreams.

Without a professional series to grow into and the attention it garners, neither Phelps nor Astudillo was likely to accumulate enough seat time to eventually race fulltime in Pro Motocross or Monster Energy Supercross series.

“It’s awesome to have the WMX back,” Hodges told NBC Sports after the race. “There’s a ton of women getting into the sport in general and this is a great steppingstone.”

From 1998 through 2012, the WMX raced mostly alongside the Pro Motocross series. Slightly rebranded, it continued through 2018 and featured some names even casual fans know. Riders like Fiolek and Vicki Golden went on to have very successful freestyle motocross careers. Jarvis was the last champion of the series and would have lined back up this week if not for an exclusivity clause in a factory contract to race in the GNCC forest motocross series.

2024 RCSX - WMX - Racer X Online - Mitch Kendra - Hannah Hodges jumps.jpg

RacerX / Mitch Kendra

Watching the earlier iterations of the WMX is a big part of reason Hodges, Phelps and Astudillo raced so well at Daytona.

“I think the biggest thing for me is that younger girls have something to look forward to,” Phelps said. “When I was growing up, we had the WMX to look forward to someday and when that was disbanded, it was pretty sad.

“I had sort of come to terms with, ‘okay I’m going to get a real job’ ... I’ll go work somewhere in an office, but now these girls can see it’s not just the guys; the girls can come do this too. If we can keep that going and have something for them to dream about and have it be a real-life thing, that is awesome.”

Phelps knows the draw of seeing other female athletes firsthand. At a very young age, her father wanted someone to ride dirt bikes with and when they went to the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals one year, he planted the seed for her racing career.

Hodges watered it.

MORE: WMX announces eight-race schedule

“I remember my first year going to Loretta’s, I watched videos of Hannah riding super-minis,” Phelps said. “I don’t remember if it was [VurbMoto] or what, but my dad said ‘come look; this is a girl.’ ... Now that I can race with Hannah, it’s pretty cool. [The video] was pretty sick.”

There have always been women riders in the sport — a fact supported by the size of the female classes in amateur nationals.

Without a professional series in America, female riders had to look elsewhere.

“I fell in love with the sport instantly and it’s been my life since I was like three or four years old,” Astudillo said. "[But] when I was ready to start racing WMX, it went away and I didn’t want to give up racing ... so I went off to Europe, I’ve been up to Canada. I’ve been everywhere I can to find places to race and be competitive and have tough competition to keep pushing myself.”

For those without the ability to wander globally, their dreams had an expiration date.

2024 RCSX - WMX - Racer X Online - Mitch Kendra - Sophia Phelps.jpg

Racer X / Mitch Kendra

The top three women riders at Daytona joined NBC in the media center and along the way, they shared their excitement at getting to become part of the storied room where Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence and Chase Sexton sat only two nights previously following their Round 8 Supercross success — telling stories to series director Cotter as they walked.

“Sophia told me on the way [to the media center], my dream had a dead end,” Cotter said afterward. “Her dream was to be a professional motocross racer and there was a dead end.”

The road has been extended.

In 2024, the Womens Pro Motocross Series will host eight rounds. Some of these will be companions to one of the 31 national touring events of Pro Motocross or Supercross such as this week’s event in Daytona and as two support classes for the High Point National in June or the Ironman National in August. Others will be as featured events at dates that also host amateur events, allowing the series to tap into that well-spring of female talent.

“Females are the largest un-tapped market in motocross and supercross,” Phelps said. “We have people from all over the world racing and women are just such a small portion when we make up half of the population.”

The time is ripe for growth. With so many eyes recently watching Caitlin Clark pass ‘Pete Maravich to break the NCAA DI scoring record and huge attendances for the Professional Women’s Hockey League, manufacturers and athletic clothing brands that have long been focused on the men are becoming increasingly interested in motocross women.”

“This is the perfect time for the WMX to come back because women’s sports is just booming,” Astudillo said. “We have a great platform. All three of us [on the podium] are well known in the motocross community.

“I’m glad we can get the ball rolling for everyone else and I think we’re going to have a lot of people paying attention.”

2024 RCSX - WMX - Racer X Online - Kendra - Jamie Astudillo.jpg

Racer X / Mitch Kendra

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