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Driving for a cure
BARSTOW • The 5,000 acre Stoddard Valley OHV area by the Tanger Outlets in Barstow is a popular destination year-round for off-road entusiasts. Last weekend, it was a place where drivers gathered not only to indulge their love of off-road racing, but to raise money for a cause in which many of them have a personal stake.
The seventh annual Powder Puff Race for A Cure was a day-long event last Saturday, drawing drivers from all over, anxious to get out and have some fun in the desert. Over 110 cars were entered in the morning and afternoon races and so far almost $35,000 has been raised, with more expected over the next couple of weeks. The money will go to Cedars-Sinai Women’s Research Institute for Breast Cancer Research.
There are numerous off-road races held in the state every year. What makes the Powder Puff unique is that all its competitors are women.
Toward that end, taking part in the race was the Courage Girls Motorsports team. The four members have been involved with the Powder Puff for varying amounts of time, but have been racing together as a team for the past three years.
Keeping the team together takes some dedication, as two of the members live out-of-state. That’s not such a big obstacle, however, when those involved share important goals.
Many of the duties of pulling things together for the team fall to the lone Barstow member, Martee Burke. Burke has spent most of her life in the high desert, and over the past decade has picked up the off-road racing bug. She started out photographing as her husband Mark raced, but once she got in a car, she knew that was where she wanted to be.
Combine a passion for racing with a charity that’s close to the heart, and the result is Courage Girls Motorsports.
Of course, off-road racing is not for everyone. The course through the desert is filled with rocks of all sizes, along with many other obstacles that keep the driver and co-driver on high alert and bouncing around for three hours straight.
“If you could see some of the stuff on the course, you’d say, ’You find this fun?’ The best way to describe it is letting someone beat on you,” said Burke after slowly exiting her car after Saturday’s race. “Barstow is one of the roughest places to race. There are only two sections where I can floor it. If you can do well in Barstow, you can race anywhere.”
Despite the challenge, many women make the Powder Puff their first race, mainly due to the friendly atmosphere and the support they get from the other distaff drivers. Race co-founder Jennifer Clemison likes what the Powder Puff has become, and the fact that novice drivers feel comfortable competing.
“There are a few newcomers every year. It’s a good race for first-timers,” she said while suiting up. “My daughter is 14, and she’ll be in my car for the first time today. I think I’m more nervous for her getting that awful chest pain than I am for myself.”
Clemison is referring to the seat belts that cross the chest and pull on the wearer constantly over the bumpy course. Even though she’s not in the pilot’s seat, the co-driver has to deal with the after-effects of that just as the driver does.
It’s all part of off-roading in the desert which is not for the faint-of-heart, according to Mark Burke, who was put on camera duties on Saturday.
“It’s you challenging yourself against the desert and the vehicle, and finishing is a great accomplishment,” he said. “You can go out there with brand new everything and not finish.”
Serving as Burke’s co-driver was fellow Courage Girl Michele Martineau, who has a very personal stake in the charity. With a history of cancer in the family, Martineau was tested and it was determined she had a 40 percent chance of developing breast cancer, so she had a double mastectomy “because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting.” Getting out and having fun raising money makes her feel useful in her fight against the disease.
“Maybe this happened to me so I could help others,” she said.
Martineau lives in Colorado, and is the owner of the Class 7 truck Burke drove in the Powder Puff. The truck is adorned with the names of breast cancer survivors, previvors, like Martineau, and ‘angels’, those who have been lost to the disease.
The Courage Girls also had a class 1600 car in the race, driven by Emme Hall of Washington, DC. The 1600 is a faster race car than the Class 7 and drove in the afternoon race, for the faster vehicles. While it takes a lot of time and work to get cross country to take part in the Powder Puff, Hall was competing in the race for the fourth time and had no intention of missing it.
“I’m always nervous before a race, but when you finish, it’s an amazing feeling, knowing you can do what you set your mind to,” Hall said. “I work hard to have extra cash so I can race here.”
Hall’s co-driver was Pepper Junus, who has been a part of the Powder Puff since the beginning.
“I love the atmosphere, the comraderie,” she said. “I love the fact that it’s all women; we have mother/daughter teams, young, old, friends, family. There’s the element of competition, but it’s for charity, so it’s more friendly.”
The all-women aspect of the race is an important feature to Clemison.
“Seven or eight years ago, I was one of the only females racing. Here, the husbands sit on the sidelines,” she said. “Racing can take a lot out of a relationship. When the wives race, they understand more of what the husbands go through, and vice versa. Today, the men sit back and watch.”
Though it’s for charity, there are trophies given out at the conclusion. Hall and Junus came in first in their division, completing five laps and coming up one second short of making a sixth. Burke and Martineau came in third in their division.
The racers and their friends and families held a barbecue on Saturday night, with many from out of the area staying for the weekend. Hall will be sore when she arrives back in DC, but she finds that the trade-off is worth it.
“I sacrifice sleep, money, and comfort to be here,” she said. “You do what you have to do to do what you love.”
Said Martineau, “Our slogan is no matter what, never give up, you’re never alone. That’s what Team Courage is all about.”