Megan Blackburn, Rily Ellinger

Conquering the Desert

Megan Blackburn and Rily Ellinger jokingly refer to themselves as the “Dainty Daredevils,” and they make up what might be the only all-female team in U.S. off-road racing: Team Off Road Support/Kawasaki of Simi Valley (California). The team competes in the SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series and the AMA District 37/GPR Big 6 Grand Prix Series.

Though Blackburn and Ellinger are teammates who share a passion for racing in the same events on any given weekend, their backgrounds are almost polar opposites.

Eillinger was practically raised at the races.

“My whole family rides dirt bikes,” she begins. “My dad still races dirt bikes. I got my first bike at 5 and I’ve been racing ever since.”

Like many, Ellinger concentrated on motocross early in her career, which helped hone her speed but led to a crash that left her with a back injury. That altered her path but not her love for racing: “I wanted to come back to racing, but I didn’t want to do motocross as much. I wanted to go back to my roots. I grew up racing desert, so now me racing desert is kind of coming back to what I knew and what I grew up doing.”

In contrast, Blackburn came into the sport relatively late, at age 22, saying, “I didn’t even know the difference between a two-stroke and a four-stroke until 19 or 20.

“I dated a guy — that’s how it all started,” she explains. “I watched for so long, I finally said, ‘I want to do it!’”

Blackburn quickly grew to love the off-road family as much as the on-bike aspect: “I just liked the environment, the people—the people I met [in the beginning] I’m still friends with today and it’s been six years, almost.”

Like most weekend racers, Ellinger has a full-time job and commitments outside of competition. She’s in nursing school and fills the rest of the week working in a medical office, so her focus is on the hare and hound series with occasional forays into other events close to home.

Blackburn enjoys a unique position in that she works in the motorcycle industry as VurbOffRoad.com’s editor, so race-related activities can be a good portion of her work week as well.

“Anything VurbOffRoad, other than filming, I’m doing,” she says.

Besides the hare and hound and select Big 6 Grand Prix events, she plans to ride a few rounds of the AMA West Hare Scrambles Championship Series and the GEICO AMA EnduroCross Series.

So what was behind the Off Road Support/Kawasaki of Simi Valley team’s decision to back an all-women team?

Blackburn explains: “[Team owner] Steve [Argubright] had always supported [my boyfriend] Jacob [Argubright], and now that [Jacob] has the ultimate ride [as a Bel-Ray/FMF/Moose Racing Husqvarna factory rider], Steve probably just wants to do something to stay involved with hare and hound racing, and I think we’re pretty easy on bikes when it comes to that. So, it just kind of made sense for him to pick us up. Rily is definitely a top contender for the A class, and I’m getting there for the B class.”

Blackburn finished the 2013 season second overall in Women A/B behind Maggie Pearson after winning the Women C class in 2012.

Both racers compete for the No. 1 plate in their respective classes hungrily. “Not growing up in the sport, [winning Women C] was a pretty big deal to me,” Blackburn shares. “It was definitely an accomplishment, and I’ll always remember that. That’s when I knew I could do it. That’s what motivated me to do it looking forward.”

So far, Ellinger has won local series titles in her native New Mexico and believes she can take the top spot in the SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series: “This year, I would say, I’m the most prepared to go out and win a championship. I finished second in the Big 6 series last year so that was pretty cool, too. Last year was my first year racing pro, so finishing second, to me, was a championship in itself. It was a big accomplishment to just get second [behind Elizabeth Bash].”

Blackburn says that succeeding as a woman in off-road racing is no different than in anything else. It comes down to attitude. “It’s just what you make it, and I think in off-road, women can do anything the men can, especially when it comes to technical riding. You can crash and cry, or you can pick your bike up and beat the dude that just passed you.”

Even though she can beat some of the guys, Blackburn hasn’t faced recrimination, saying, “I’ve never come across somebody in the desert or any off-road racer that hasn’t been willing to help or cheered me on.”

Ellinger’s take is a bit different. Perhaps because she is faster, the men she’s passing feel embarrassed. She says it did lead to one guy reacting to her with very unsportsmanlike conduct, but that was an aberration.

As for the future, both are grounded in their goals.

“I’ll be 26 this year, so I do want to have a family someday if that works out,” Blackburn says. “For now, I just want to keep racing and just have fun. That’s really the ultimate goal. I’m not looking to dominate the world. I just want to have fun and say that I was good at [racing].”

Ellinger has a shorter-term goal: “I would like to get an invite for X Games Enduro X. I want to continue to be a competitor at some of the EnduroCross races that I can make it to with my work schedule and racing schedule.”

Both see more women expanding their horizons and venturing from motocross tracks to trails in the desert or woods, though it’s unlikely that the numbers will come to equal the level of male participation overnight.

“There are a lot of good role models at this time in the industry, so hopefully [girls getting into the sport] can look to that and just grow up and keep racing and keep doing off-road,” Blackburn muses.

Ellinger points to roadblocks to racing that have kept all types of riders—men and women, young and old—from making the sport a lifestyle.

“It’s so tough,” Ellinger says bluntly. “It’s tough on your bike. It’s tough on your body. It’s mentally grueling.”

Megan Blackburn is an AMA member from Toluca Lake, Calif., and Rily Ellinger is an AMA member from Wildomar, Calif., who were featured in the July 2014 dirt/competition edition of American Motorcyclist.