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There is no need to tell the off-road community that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For the past three years, many of them have found a way to express their support for the fight against breast cancer by participating in the Mojave Off-Road Enthusiasts Powder Puff Race to benefit the Cedars-Sinai Women's Breast Cancer Research Center. It is no surprise that an event of this nature has grown to double its size in such a short amount of time.

For many years the desert has provided off-road enthusiasts a place to gather and celebrate family fun in a truly unconventional way. In 2008, the MORE Powder Puff Race for the Cure took that celebration and nonconformity to even greater and more positive heights.

THE HOWS AND WHYS

 


PAPERBACK RIDER: Author Heather Birdwell was co-driver with driver Jennifer Clemison for the 2008 Powder Puff race. The pair took seventh and had a great time racing against other women while raising money for breast cancer research.

Breast cancer has touched just about everybody in every single lifestyle. According to Cedars-Sinai, cancers of the breast and reproductive tract strike more than one-quarter million women in the U.S. each year. The MORE Powder Puff race is a great way for our off-road industry and community to express how this disease has affected them. Racing to help those who have been affected by breast cancer is a great way to pay tribute, and the MORE Powder Puff Race for the Cure allows off-road enthusiasts to include the whole family in a very unique event.

This year's event in Barstow, California, drew thousands of people – maybe 20,000 – and we raised $102,000 for breast cancer research, almost doubling the combined donations of the past two Powder Puff events! Last year we raised $62,000, and in 2006 we raised $60,000. In 2008, the race hosted over 200 entries, with 162 women actually racing, making the Powder Puff the largest all-female off-road race in the world.

 


Nicole Garavito won in Class 5-1600, backing up her class win at the 2006 event.

It was obviously very fun to get out there and race. As a woman, as a mom and as a company owner, I actually got to relax a little and concentrate on the race. I know the amount of stress that occurs when you lose somebody, whether it's a tragic sudden loss or whether they've had a long battle with cancer. Having the chance to let go of all that, whether you are recovering yourself or you know someone or have lost someone to this terrible disease, this is one event that gives you some time to relax and only concentrate on your race for four hours. That's the one thing that I feel is common ground for all of the women out there racing.

But do you know who really makes this race unique? The men. The men are the ones who hand over the keys to the cars, run the pits, take care of the camp or the household and do things that typically are never done as far as race teams are concerned. They get their butts out there and do a whole lot more than just prep or chase the cars. The women are supported in a lot of different ways by the men at this event.

And they're excited. The one thing that I love about being in this race is watching the men on the side of the course. They're out there in their dresses, flashing the women who drive by them. There was even a streaker this year! There are blow-up dolls, and they have all kinds of cool signs. It's like they really look forward to showing their stuff, and it's actually hysterical if you are watching them from a racecar.

This year's event was also special because there was a lot of extra fundraising going on. Many of the teams created their own special t-shirts with slogans such as "Save the Ta Tas," "Save the Boobs," "Free Breast Exams," and lots of other clever promotional t-shirts. Anything that wasn't given away was sold, and a lot of the race teams donated the sales of their items toward the cause.

 


DOUBLE TAKE: Marylou Garavito joined her daughter Nicole as a two-time winner by charging to the Class 12 win in her ORAF buggy. Like Nicole, Marylou last won the event in 2006.

Behind the scenes, I was privileged to work closely with some great people, including our title sponsor, Royal Purple, who donated $20,000 to the Cedars-Sinai Women's Breast Cancer Research Center and is prepared to double that contribution next year. The great people at Royal Purple also have taken such an interest in the event that they have come up with a lot of new ideas on how we might gain the support of some of the larger manufacturers with whom they work, bringing a potential whole new network of sponsors to this event.

 

We all have to give props to MORE owner and president Jim Clements. At the end of the day, I'm just another sponsor of this race. Jim is the one who adds this charity event to his already full racing schedule. I know that this race is a lot more work than three races, but I also know that there are a lot more people entering MORE races and a lot more women racing the entire MORE season because of this race and what Jim has done. For instance, there was a list of things on the MORE Website, MOREracing.net/, that really helped shape this race up and made the difference with how well the women were able to prepare for the race. With so many entries and so many new faces, MORE added a whole Powder Puff page to its site and created a women's forum where people could go to get their questions answered about the course, about tech or about safety issues. There was also a map of the course with the specific mileage.

What was really cool about this year's event is that not only were the Cedars-Sinai Women's Breast Cancer Research Center representatives on hand at the event, but they wanted to ride in our racecars, and they wanted to take me on a tour of their facilities so that we can be as proud of their facilities as they are of our event. That name recognition could, in the future, allow us to target some much larger corporate sponsors, such as Dawn dishwashing liquid or Kotex tampons. Those are ideal female-oriented companies that could be potential targets.

LET'S GO RACING, GIRLS

 

After months of preparation, race day was finally here! Knowing I would be co-driving the entire race would just be another notch in my belt. Finishing the race, though, would be another story.


SISTER TRUCKER: Amanda Dunagan powered her Ford Ranger to a first-place finish in Class 7S.

I prepared early by completely dehydrating the old body the day of the race and abstaining from any fun stuff the night before – no need for a hangover on race day. Although I felt parched and thirsty, I was convinced that I would need to take extra precautionary measures by wearing granny panties over my Depends. It's been 36 years since I have worn a diaper. It's a good thing my Mom was there to help.

There were actually two different heats. The slower cars and the UTVs left at 8:30 a.m. and the faster cars, trucks, Trophy Trucks and Class 1s left at 12:30 in the afternoon, making for a full day of racing. The course was 22 miles in length, and it was timed, with the fastest cars making seven to eight laps.


WITH FLYING COLORS: Julie Meehan and her pink buggy bested the rest of the ladies in the Class1/2-1600 class. The name on the side of her ride was as colorful as the paint scheme!

The beginning of the race was absolutely the best. I felt important. As we waited in line for our heat to begin, a few fans took photos and wished us luck, and I fantasized that I was a professional until the race started. We got off to a fast start, passing as many cars as we could the first quarter of the course. At first I was relieved since Tony Nguyen, the owner of our car, had reconstructed much of the interior of the cab so I wasn't banged around like a pinball inside the car. At six feet tall and all legs, I don't fit in any car well.


PERFECT, POPPY, PERFECT: Class 10 campaigner Poppy Perfect took top honors in her class with a time of 3 hours, 49 minutes, and 7 seconds.

Right about the time I began to relax, my driver, Jennifer Clemison, started to curse. This was unfamiliar to me as our trusty steed, Pinky #132, has never failed with me in the car. We were losing power every time we opened her up, and each time we climbed a hill I wondered if we were going to make it to the top. We made a few pit stops, and the car made a couple as well, which was terribly frustrating to Jen. I felt helpless as I sat quietly next to her knowing I couldn't help with anything. Besides that and a gnarly flat that our Damzl chasers fixed in a hurry, the race seemed to go by quickly.

I felt I did a good job of warning other drivers that the frustrated Jen was making up time and that they needed to get out of her way. This was another side of her that I had never seen, and frankly it scared me a little, although one should expect this competitive nature by any racer leading her series in points. I was still taken by Jen's immediate execution of passing cars and making up time.


More Powder Puff Race for the Cure

At one point we were in a heated sprint with a sister Playtech car driven by Renee Brunning that was co-driven by Heidi Steele. It was a steep part of the course, and there were three cars on it. We managed to pass Renee and Heidi but not without a fight. We swerved to the right to squeeze by but needed to stay on course as the desert to the right side resembled a moon cliff with sharp jagged rocks that screamed eminent danger. To our left, Renee had her foot pegged and was not giving us any space. At this time I begged Jen to ease up when at the same time Brunning leaned to the right and banged our left front quarter panel. My eyes were shut at this point. I heard the cars scrape, and I heard a few more choice words from Jen, but I was so glad we didn't go off that moonlike cliff.

We had a lot of fun running the rest of the race, and I learned through the experience the importance of finishing. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when we crossed the finish line in seventh place. At the same time, my helmet's off to Shirley Jergensen for her flawless Powder Puff record of three overall wins in three years. I hope one of these years we can beat her.

As a co-driver and sponsor of the DSMS motorsports team and family, I would like to thank my pal Jennifer Clemison for a kick-ass ride and to her husband Tony Nguyen for pushing us on the radio to not quit and keep up the pace. Of course, I would also like to thank all of our team members for their pit and chase support. I especially would like to thank all the wonderful women who participated in this year's race for making history. Together we are making a difference in the hope that we can help find a cure for breast cancer.

I've had many extraordinary experiences in my life, but none of them more rewarding than my involvement in this one-of-a-kind event. It is something that I will always treasure.

The owner of Damzl clothing, Heather Birdwell is a sponsor of the MORE Powder Puff Race for the Cure who volunteers much time and energy to promote the annual event. For more information on the MORE Powder Puff Race for the Cure, check out MOREracing.net/. For more information on the Cedars-Sinai Women's Breast Cancer Research Center, check out Cedars-Sinai.edu/.

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