By Mercedes Gonzalez-Natvig
Champion motocross racer, MSF DirtBike School Coach
Riding a dirt bike goes back way to my childhood as one of the fondest memories I have as a kid.
I was born in Madrid, Spain, and my family migrated to the U.S. in the late ’60s. My father was an animator and started working with Hanna-Barbera in Southern California. I used to love watching him sketch the likes of Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Jetsons, and the Smurfs. It fascinated me how he would make them come to life!
My father used to give me rides on the gas tank of his motorcycles at Indian Dunes riding park. And since then, from the time I can remember (I was about 5 years old), all I wanted and put down on my Christmas list was a picture that I cut out from a brochure of a Honda Trail 50cc! Being the good girl that I was (lol … maybe) Santa delivered!! I was hooked. And riding my motorcycle, even though I couldn’t touch the pegs, was all I wanted to do.
From that point on, it was several years before I raced and started my journey with racing motocross. I wasn’t very good at first. Also, it wasn’t very common to see a little girl riding dirt bikes. My mom wasn’t a fan at first and was very fearful for her little girl. But by the time I got done with my racing career, she was my biggest fan and was tearful when I told her I wasn’t going to race anymore and that her weekends would be free. After a very successful hobby/career (couldn’t make enough money to make it a full-time career), I was able to become a permanent figure in the history of Women’s Motocross as the 9-time Women’s National Champion.
Racing motocross was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! You could say it was my college education, even though I didn’t finish college because my racing career would take me to many states and to different countries. It exposed me to different cultures, people, and beautiful places in the world.
This continued well after motocross as it provided me with the resumé to race in the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Series with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Rick Johnson, and Jeff Ward. After that, I wasn’t done. I happened to land on one of the best global mountain bike teams with GT Bicycles. I became a downhill (DH) mountain bike racer.
That sport was the first sport I was able to make a decent living from and dedicate myself to training and racing full-time. It was also the sport that truly carried my racing worldwide, racing the World Cup circuit in Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and going back and forth also racing the Nationals throughout the U.S.
Well beyond 10 years senior to my competitors (when I was 30 years old!), I won second place at the 1995 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships DH in Germany, and secured top fifth place standing in the Women’s DH World Cup series two years in a row.
After five years on the circuit, I had incredible experiences but also suffered many injuries, so I decided it was finally time to grow up, get married to my wonderful husband, Derek Natvig (an accomplished motocross racer himself), and start having kids and become a mother.
I was blessed with having two amazing children: my son, Cameron Natvig, and my daughter, Danielle Natvig. While neither child decided to follow the racing footsteps of their mom and dad, they both played competitive soccer. My son carried his soccer career into college, and my daughter is becoming a nurse, so she can take care of all of us!
Once my kids were old enough for school, I wanted so badly to give back to the sport that brought me so much happiness and love. I did some MX schools with Rick Johnson as an instructor, then decided to become a Motorcycle Safety Foundation DirtBike School Coach. I was lucky enough to get my certification at the Honda Rider Education Center in Colton, California, and was absolutely in awe of the facility there.
Lowell Christensen offered me a job and I’m still there today. After teaching more than 150 classes, I became the off-road coordinator for the Honda Rider Education Center. I was convinced that introducing people to riding safely and properly was the way to get people excited about off-road riding. Doing the MSF DirtBike School course is the right and safe way to start your journey. If you were to take a poll, at least in SoCal, you wouldn’t be surprised that many of today’s racers and avid riders started out with an introduction from the MSF DirtBike School!