Eight questions with Traci Pickens

12-Time GNCC WXC ATV Champion Weighs In On Her Career, Accomplishments


Traci Pickens didn’t start riding ATVs to become a national champion. Twelve Grand National Cross Country Series titles later, the Shamokin, Pa., resident is learning to balance the roles of fierce competitor, role model, riding instructor and racer mom.

She won her 12th GNCC ATV WXC Class title in 2019, taking first place in class in seven of the series’ 13 rounds, earning her accolades as the 2019 AMA ATV Athlete of the Year.

American Motorcyclist talked with Pickens about how she got into racing ATVs and how she’s managed to maintain her championship form for more than a decade.

American Motorcyclist: Tell us how you got into riding ATVs.

Traci Pickens: I started riding ATVs with my dad when I was a little girl. Every weekend, we would go on trail rides with family and friends. That was our family time together. Little did I know that all those experiences would lead to a racing career.

AM: Tell us about your first race weekend.

TP: I started racing when I was 16 years old at a track called the Line Mountain, which was founded by my dad and his three brothers. My first GNCC race was in 1998 at the infamous High Point [Raceway]. I raced a stock ATV, and I was completely exhausted after the race. I loved that feeling. I was hooked and have been competing in the GNCCs ever since.

AM: What goals did you set for yourself?

TP: When I started racing, my goal was to win championships. But as the years went by and I ventured through different aspects of my life, my goals changed. I wanted to inspire women [to not] live life on a timeline and encourage them to chase their dreams.

AM: How did winning your first championship change your outlook on your racing career?

TP: Winning my very first championship in 2000 was definitely memorable. It really made me feel accomplished, but it also lit a fire in me that I wanted more. Twelve championships later, I still have that fire in me. It is amazing the amount of opportunities racing has afforded me. It has also brought so many amazing people and friends into my life.

AM: Which of your 12 championships is the most special to you?

TP: Every championship does still have its own special meaning to me, but I would say this [most recent] one stands out the most. Having my 6-year-old son, J.P., start racing in the 50cc junior class this past season was a bit of a game-changer for me. It was exciting, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would affect me mentally. I struggled with switching from mom mode to race mode. Luckily, I have an amazing husband, who was there every step of the way.

AM: What was your reaction when you were named 2019 AMA ATV Athlete of the Year?

TP: To be honest with you, I was shocked. I am still shocked. I was extremely honored just to be nominated in this historically male-dominated category with such elite athletes. But to win it is just amazing to me. It’s overwhelming. I’m so proud how far women have come in racing, and I hope this encourages all women to keep chasing their dreams.

AM: What would you say to parents who are hesitant to let their kids take part in off-road ATV or motorcycle racing?

TP: I feel racing is a great opportunity to get kids outside and introduce them to new friends. Racing teaches discipline and sportsmanship and helps families establish goals.

AM: Are you involved in any projects to bring more women into off-road motorcycle/ATV racing?

TP: I have one-on-one riding lessons at my home for women of all ages. Not only racers, but also women who just want to learn basic riding skills so they can trail ride with their spouse or boyfriend. My husband, Jeff Pickens, and I are also instructors for the GNCC University at Snowshoe, W.Va., which is open to youth and adult riders.