What happens when an American farm girl on an American superbike takes on the Chinese Pan Delta Superbike Series and lands on the Zhuhai podium in front of 70,000 people? This is Shelina Moreda’s words of a race less ordinary.
China is different to the rest of the world. A mix of ancient Eastern traditions and modern consumerism, it’s a place that is hard to find your bearings in. I’ve been racing motorcycles for years, most recently as Team T.O.B.C Yamaha’s rider in the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 Championship. I love racing and all the challenges it throws at me, especially when I get to surprise a few people along the way.
Being an American girl racing a motorcycle in China is surreal. The cultures are so different, and despite there being female scooter riders all over the place, there are next to none taking it to the next level and going racing. So having a female athlete racing a superbike against the boys is somewhat different to the Chinese norm. Some love it, some despise it.
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By Shelina Moreda Photography by Joseph Fan, Splitlath EBR
I had been warned China had of a view that females shouldn’t be at the racetrack. I’m used to being the girl making waves because I’ve raced as far as Qatar, where it’s unheard of for a female to front the grid. I was not prepared for China, though. Here, females wear pants and show skin and seem to be living in a similar fashion to women in the USA—but they don’t race.
In China, I stuck out like a sore thumb—especially when walking the fresh markets, checking out the different types fish and crazy fruits and vegetables that I’ve never seen before with my goliath-sized crew chief, Tony Pogue. “Gweilo” is what they call an American or European, which literally translates to “White Devil.” We were almost always the only “gweilos” around. We definitely caught the stares, but most were friendly. We even got invited to have tea with several of the locals who remembered Tony from times he’s been there in the past. We gladly obliged, as having tea is such a fun, traditional activity in China (and much more of a process than I ever knew).
A Star To Some
A female competing on a motorcycle dropped the jaws of so many traditional men in China. As I mentioned earlier, some really didn’t care for it, but there was a healthy contingent of males that were pumped and gave me a big smile and thumbs up, while some of the girls were calling me “Superstar”!
The racing in the Chinese Pan Delta Superbike Series was not easy. I had a huge task in front of me. First was to qualify, then race the Team Splitlath EBR 1190 RS at a venue exploding with 70,000 people in the stands. It was broadcast live, I was racing against WorldSBK-level racers, and I would be the first female ever to race a motorcycle Zhuhai. Oh, and I’d never raced a Superbike before.
Splitlath EBR owner, John Dimylow, and chief mechanic, Tony Pogue, made it clear to me that our main goal was to come out of the weekend with smiles on our faces. We were there to do well, and to gain exposure for our effort, but first and foremost, to have fun. The team immediately felt like family to me.
I was a little intimidated by the 1190cc EBR, but not overwhelmed. This rocket was wrapped in a battleship livery out of World War II called Dazzle Camo, and I set my mind to make the Splitlath EBR team proud of this little American girl on this huge superbike.
One practice was all I had to get used to it—next would be qualifying. The session flew by and my head was in a whirlwind when I came off the track. In the back of my mind though, I knew the bike was good. It wasn’t as different as I’d expected it to be. The wheelies were fun and predictable, and it flicked through corners impressively well. I wanted more.
We worked hard to get the bike set up and get me going in the right direction. I was dropping seconds at a time, and word of the American girl on the American superbike was spreading quickly through the pits.
When we gridded for the race, the organizers opened the pit gates for the VIPs and fans poured in with cameras aimed directly at me. It was an amazing moment. I took more selfies with people than ever taken in my life! “Supa Sta! Super Sta!” they kept calling me. It quickly became my favorite English saying.
The reactions, and the divide between them, escalated when I made the podium in third place.
The Yin and Yang of racing
I never knew which reaction to expect. I’d smile at one passer-by in the pits and he would gleam shaking his hands and congratulating me in the most absolutely genuine vibe you could ever ask for. Those reactions built me up. They made me so stoked and proud to be there, and want to make each of those comrades proud. I’d smile even bigger, and feel like I was walking on a cloud each time.
Reality hit when I’d walk past the other type. I’d have my big smile, hoping for a thumbs up, and instead I’d get the stare of death. A man saying to me through his eyes that I am not welcome here, that I ought to know better, and that I should be absolutely ashamed of what I was there to do. These men fueled my fire through the weekend as well as the ones with the beaming smiles. These were the feathers I was meant to ruffle. I especially wanted these men to see what we were accomplishing.
I’ve raced all over the world: France, Japan, the USA—I’ve ridden in Italy and Spain, and even raced as far afield as Qatar. You’d think I would have seen the brunt of people thinking females can’t do something. While racing in these parts of the world has opened my eyes to how lucky (and even somewhat spoiled) we are as females in the U.S., I had no idea that China would be the place where I saw gender equality the harshest.
I’m not a feminist, nor am I one to shout about equality. I am chasing my passion in a male-dominated field and I am more than happy to work harder at it to make my place in that world. I don’t expect a handicap or to be treated differently. I’ve been raised by parents who treated me the same as my brother—being a girl was no excuse, and it was expected that I could do anything I wanted in life. Racing in these other countries, and even racing in the U.S. at times, has shined a harsh light on the reality the rest of the world does not always share that sentiment.
I had to laugh when in interviews I was asked astonished questions like “Isn’t it harder to maneuver the motorcycle because you are a girl?” “Do you have trouble fitting on the bike because you are a girl?” “Do you almost tip over because it’s hard for you to pick the bike up out of the corners because you are a girl?” and my personal favorite, “Isn’t it more difficult to pull in the clutch because you are a girl?”. Again, more fuel for the fire.
I humored them by saying that maybe it was maybe harder because my muscles aren’t as big as you guys, or that I had to have the brake lever closer because my hands were smaller. I followed most questions up with a good laugh or a joking bicep flex, and assured them it’s obviously possible to do those things as a female.
Some of the publications I did interviews for said they had a high female rider following, so I wanted to make sure to get the message to those riders that being a woman isn’t an excuse. You can do it if you want to do it, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
More to come
I’ve had many “First Female” titles so far in my growing racing career. I was the first female to race a motorcycle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; the first female to compete on an electric bike internationally; and part of the first female team to complete any Suzuka endurance race. I was one of five females chosen from five different countries to compete in Qatar, and am now the first female to race a motorcycle at the Zhuhai Circuit in China. These are just a few of my favorites, and are always something fun to put in my own history book. It’s amazing and an honor to me that I’m in a position where I can impact the future of females in sport. I feel a little like Amelia Earhart sometimes.
While paving a path or breaking glass ceilings was not what I initially set out to do when I started racing, hearing that I’m making a difference like this, just by following my dreams, is definitely inspiring to me and keeps me pushing when things get difficult. It’s a big deal in life to get to see that you’ve made a difference. Being a game changer is something I aspire to.
As the old saying goes, “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail.” CN
I’ve had some great experiences with some top-line teams, but Splitlath EBR has been one of the best. We are hoping to work together again in 2017.
The team understands me, and they think outside the box. They’re engaging and get a kick out of ruffling feathers, but more importantly, they are interested in how they can make me better, the sport better, and give back to the wider world.
I’ve never had this level of support. They made it clear from the beginning we were out there to have fun and to come away from the weekend with a smile on our faces. Their idea is that we work best when we are happy. And boy, were they right! We got on the podium, we posted respectable times in the superbike class, and we made consistent improvements all the way to the very last lap of the last race—our last lap was our personal fastest.
The team cares about my performance and they work hard to give me the equipment I need to go put “our little battleship” on the box. Tony Pogue, my chief mechanic, constantly works to improve the bike and make it work better specifically for me (even in the blazing heat of Zhuhai).
Splitlath brought in a guy named Truman, who does music videos for Jennifer Lopez, to do videos for us, because they want edgy, they want outside-the-box thinking. They will be a game changer in motorsports.
We are working on bringing more high-level sponsors on board for 2017 because our ambition is to take this project to the next level. Splitlath is used to traveling to Isle of Man, Macau, and other parts of the world, so we are looking at highlight races in every part of the world. I’m looking forward to being even more of a trailblazer this coming season.
One of our ambitions for 2017 is to be more active in sponsors’ Corporate Social Responsibility Programs. Splitlath is looking to being a part of our big sponsor Gefco’s CSR program, called Transaid, which helps train people in rural, depressed parts of Africa, on how to ride a motorcycle to access life-saving healthcare.
I’m so proud to be a part of a team who thinks about their impact on every single level. Nobody does that. Let alone a motorcycle team. These guys are the future. They are what will make motorcycling known, and great, and relatable to everyone in the world.