Sarah Whitmore - Professional Motocross Racer and Pickup Truck Owner

Sarah Whitmore Pushes the Envelope of Pickup Owners
By: Michael Levine Last Edited: 12-19-01 22:00

At 17 it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for a teenage driver to own a pickup truck as their first vehicle. But for one recently minted Michigan DMV license carrier, Sarah Whitmore, her pickup truck is used for a whole lot more than just basic transportation to and from class or the lunchtime burger joint. You see, Sarah isn't your ordinary, average American teenage driver. She is an up-and-coming, nationally ranked professional racer in the Women's Motocross League who depends on her pickup to get her and her bike to the starting line.

Racing 105cc bikes since she was 8 years old, Sarah naturally excels at motocross. Before turning professional in 2001 Sarah had taken 2nd place at the Lorreta Lynn Amateur Nationals and was ranked 2nd in the nation, many times racing against women years older than herself. Sarah also won the recent Women's Bike Olympics held in Florida this past November.

Sarah currently owns a white 1995 regular cab Chevrolet S-10 two wheel drive pickup with a 2.2L four cylinder engine generating 118 horsepower. It's a legacy from her lean 'early' years of racing and she will soon be shopping for a replacement because this truck has run out of road when it comes to meeting Sarah's needs.

What Sarah is looking for in her next pickup is indicative of the market's direction and demonstrates just how far the market has come in 7 short years because Sarah is representative of two of the primary groups that truck manufacturers are trying harder to appeal to: women and motorcycle owners.

Nissan's Frontier is the new 'Official Truck of Supercross'. It's off-road performance seems to match Sarah's.

Women currently make up around 10% of all full-size pickup owners and approximately 20% of mid-size and compact truck buyers. While that might not sound like a lot, that percentage has more than doubled over the last two decades. Ford Motor Company also reports that women influence 80% of all household purchases and have 95% veto power regarding automotive purchases.

The increasing number of women participating in the ownership of pickups has brought several notable refinements and functional changes. For example, Ford's 2001 SuperCrew marked the introduction of power adjustable accelerator and brake pedals to accommodate shorter drivers. And once seen only among construction crew set, new crew cab offerings have grown both in numbers, options and luxury as truck manufacturers seek to make these pickups more accommodating to women and their families.

The result is a change from the pickup's traditional role as a work truck to much more of a personal use vehicle.

In her next truck Sarah says she would like an extended or crew cab to take advantage of the extra space for family, friends or stowing her racing gear securely. She would also like to get rid of the manual transmission in favor of an automatic.

Nissan Frontier spokesperson Dave Schoonover says, "60% of all women who purchase a Frontier choose the Crew Cab configuration while only 30% opt for the traditional King Cab style". And those women who wind up Frontier owners are making their purchase because they also want truck attributes in their vehicles.

Schoonover also says that women have contributed to better safety features in trucks - most notably de-powered airbags that cause fewer injuries to smaller drivers and passengers when deployed.

Chevrolet's Fox Cycle concept truck was developed hand in hand with professional motocross racers.

And in somewhat of an ironic twist at Nissan, the Frontier, which is marketed almost exclusively to males in their late twenties and early thirties as "100% testosterone, 0% estrogen", was recently given a substantial facelift led by female designer Diane Allen. It's proof that women are having an even greater effect on pickups than just an increase in purchases.

Nissan is also reaching out strongly to another group of pickup truck owners, motorcyclists. The Nissan Frontier will be the official truck of the 2002 American Motorcyclist Association's Supercross Series.

Schoonover provided some astonishing figures correlating motorcycle and pickup truck ownership. During the Supercross season 750,000 fans are expected to attend. 76% of these fans already own a truck while 78% own a motorcycle. Sarah verified these stats first hand mentioning that pickup trucks are chosen almost exclusively by the other racers as their primary means of transportation.

Other manufacturers are also deeply involved or interested in the motocross set.

At the 2000 SEMA show Chevrolet introduced the Fox Silverado racing truck concept. Designed by GM's lead truck designer, and motocross enthusiast, Clay Dean, with hands-on input from the Kawasaki AMA Racing team, the Fox Silverado was a runaway hit that probably should have made it into production in some limited number. Among the features offered for motocross enthusiasts were cutaway slots in the tailgate to accommodate the rear wheels of two racing bikes, removable ramps and side mounted cargo boxes stowed in the bed.

Sarah Whitmore had many kind words for the Fox truck calling it "Awesome!" and "The perfect truck to have at the races."

We expect at least one or two innovations revealed on the Fox truck to first appear next year on the 2003 Chevy Colorado - the replacement for the S-10. Most likely the ramps and a cool cutaway step used to gain easier access to the bed.

So as Sarah starts her first year of professional racing we fully expect her next truck will meet all of her requirements.

Good Luck Sarah!