Some events matter more to certain riders and four-time Women’s Motocross (WMX) rider Ashley Fiolek is finding a home and building her own unique community in events like the Red Bull Day in the Dirt Down South, in Dade City, Florida.
Basically, Fiolek is “just a girl who loves to ride.”
Fiolek already had accomplished so many feats in her 25-year-career as she entered the 2023 edition of the Day in the Dirt Down South, from gold medaling in the 15th X Games, to earning multiple factory rides, to her crowning glory as a four-time WMX champion. And all of this was accomplished at a disadvantage. Fiolek was born deaf, which led her to rely on different senses and physical cues than her competitors.
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“Honestly, Red Bull Day in the Dirt Down South is one of my favorite events,” Fiolek told NBC Sports. “It’s all about having fun and sharing a fun experience with families and friends. I can’t miss this opportunity.”
As a result of being deaf, Fiolek is forced to run a different race than the rest of the field. She can’t hear when other riders are gaining on her, so she has to race full throttle the whole time. On the other hand, she can’t hear someone racing behind her, revving their engine and trying to get into her head.
“I just learned by feeling the vibrations on when to shift and when not to shift,” Ashley said. “I hold my lines very carefully, so I won’t cut anyone off. I do look for other riders when I turn to make sure I’m in a good spot.”
Events like the Day in the Dirt take riders like Fiolek back to their beginnings. The focus is on competition, but it is also steeped in community and fan engagement.
“Fans are awesome,” Fiolek said. “This is why I’m doing it. Seeing them cheering me on and that they want to be part of my racing experience. Itʼs also fun to hang out after the races and do autographs and photos.”
Fiolek has the weight and privilege of representing the deaf community in these events. On one occasion, she was cut off by a young girl flying by on a 50cc while cruising in a golf cart after the race.
“I was at a race,” Fiolek related. “It was the end of the day and I was driving my golf cart around and this little girl on a 50 flew by me and I almost hit her. Later, my dad brought her over to me and said, ‘This little girl wants to meet you, she is Deaf!’ We became friends and she was a racer too so we eventually raced together.”
The Red Bull Day in the Dirt is made up of several events and results in individual races are less important than the overall feeling of success.
This past weekend at the Day in the Dirt Down South helped her get familiar with her new Yamaha 125. After a tough start on Saturday, Fiolek found her groove when the course got rougher on Sunday.
“The track was brutal on Sunday,” Fiolek said. “But I think I did better than [I did on] Saturday on a smoother track. I love rough tracks.”
She’ll take this experience and prepare for a few rounds of GNCC Racing (Grand National Cross Country) and attempt to race in in the Loretta Lynn Nationals, one of the traditional feeders into the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series.
With the disbandment of WMX, standalone events like this are some of the few chances that Fiolek has to race and when asked if WMX could come back, Fiolek was realistic about the chances and obstacles.
“That is hard to say,” Fiolek said. “I hope so. That would be amazing. It had some issues when I was racing and hit a lot of rough patches so it would need to be thought out better the next time, if it came back.”