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We Loved Winning: The Legend of Teri Sonner

Updated: Mar 19

The role behind the racers. From supporting their dreams to representing brands, Team Managers have been the unsung heroes of the BMX racing scene since the inception of the sport. From winning team sheets to finding riders around the globe, one of the best, if not the best, to do it came out of Toledo, Ohio and her name is Teri Sonner.

Starting the dominant Dan’s Competition team back in 1989, Teri Sonner was a true pioneer in the team management side of BMX. Initially getting involved at her local track, Challenge BMX, Sonner slowly turned in team sheets for Whitman’s, the best team of the time, which brought her from a spectator of her two sons, Timmy and Todd, to a major player on the National side of BMX.

In all transparency, I, Justin Wahl, write this story as a HUGE Teri Sonner fan. Growing up as a kid in the pit, the Dan’s Competition team was dominant for sure, but it was a family that shared the love of winning the same as Teri. Through the rumors and murmurs of Teri only buying one-way tickets or slipping kids “special pills” to win (Teri did hand out white smarties in staging to spite the rumor and prove there’s no special secret to win.) Teri was a competitive and tenacious team manager that YOU saw as a threat while those in the know were a part of her ever-expanding family.

“Every racer who has been on my team is like a kid to me. I still keep in touch with a lot of them because they are truly amazing people who just happened to be really fast BMX racers.”

Looking at Teri’s early years in the sport, she wasted no time making herself known amongst the team rankings. Whitman’s Bike Shop climbed to the top of the National Team rankings with her racers dominating, and her team sheets did the same. But as that success came and the prizes of the year were in her sights, she became aware of an ugly truth. The four tickets to worlds weren’t going to her racers who put in the work, they were going to Whitman’s owners since they owned the points. Not sitting right with Teri, a discussion developed with Dan Duckworth, the owner of Dan’s Competition, where a clause was worked out that Teri owned the points for a new team, Dan’s Competition. Almost the entire roster left with Teri, the new Dan’s Comp team was born, and in their first year Teri beat Teri going from zero points to winning the NBL National Team title. With Teri’s previous scores placing second in a Dan’s - Whitman’s first and second, the Teri Sonner legend was born.

“There are two kinds of people in BMX…there are A and B people. B people do things just to have fun, and that’s ok. Then there are people who do things to win because winning’s fun. Doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world if you don’t win, but we definitely did it to win. If you look at every person who rode for me, they had that type of personality in a roundabout way…We never thought we were definitely always gonna win. I was always stressed out, and I was always afraid I was gonna pick the wrong riders, but did we usually win? When I look back, yeah, we usually won, but I never thought that.”

That two-sided coin of expecting them to when and being judgmental when they don’t didn’t bother Teri, but what did was the treatment she received as a woman in the Team Manager role.

“The men were awful to me. I couldn’t just be good at what I do or be smart because I read the rules or because I thought of it first. It was just, “oh, well, she’s a b****” I’d be like, when guys argue and call me names, that’s all ok, but I remember Bob Tedesco telling me, “Teri, don’t let them make you cry.” I was in Akron, and I was crying in the infield, and he told me that, and I just couldn’t understand. They’re constantly, constantly calling me names, at least when I called them an a**hole, I said mean a**hole.” Teri said, laughing.

From that Akron race on, those men never saw Teri cry again, but they did see her sheets continually at the top of the stack. That discrimination towards Women in the sport of BMX was present in all aspects, especially towards the riders. The “for a girl” monicker was tagged on the back of any compliment; however, Teri had the perfect weapon to defeat that phrase, a young superstar in the making, Mariana Pajon.

“My foreign riders were staying at my house for a month, and this guy at the track said “oh she’s fast, for a girl she’s fast,” and Mariana Pajon got in the gate and kicked his ass. He came around and said, “I got dirt in my eye when I came around the corner,” and so Mariana asked if he wanted to race again, and he quietly said no.”

Speaking of Mariana, Teri loved her foreign girls. While Pajon is known now as the most decorated Elite Women in BMX history. All of the ladies on Dan’s were jumpers. From Mariana jumping the South Park Pro set to Michelle Cairns and Marie McGilvary putting on a show that rivaled the boys. However, the attention wasn’t there for the women’s classes to get the recognition they deserved.

Looking back on Sonner’s years in BMX, we can follow some of the racing greats back to her squad. Racers like the aforementioned Mariana Pajon, the little magician Carols Ramirez, Emiliano Mollea, and the late Mario Soto. The skill to pick the right riders for a team sheet is one thing, but the skill of finding riders who love to win is another, and Teri had that specialty locked in.

“Mario Soto was winning the Grands and crushing Andy Contes, and I’m like, “Look at this little guy, kicking Contes’ a**?” He was winning all the way till the third straight at the Grands, and he fell, and because he fell, no one really paid attention to him…I found Mario, and he was so cute. He loaded in the gate in Waterford, and I said, “do you think you can beat Andy Contes?” “Yes.” They’re all looking at Mario, who was number 569 or something. That gate drops, and he smokes Andy Contes. I was thinking, well, this may just be a fluke, but he did it the next moto and the next moto and the main. They all were saying, “Who the hell is that kid?” and i was just like, “His name’s Mario Soto, and he’s just adorable.”

From refusing to eat Taco Bell and saying to his teammates, “That’s why you lose.” or telling Bob Tedesco, “I am not taking Asteroids,” when he was accused of taking steroids, the Teri/Mario stories are endless, just like with all of her riders. In a time when not all were excepting to foreign riders coming over to the US series, Teri enjoyed supporting the riders. Giving kids the opportunity to race their bikes and supporting them to the winner's circle. At one point in the heated battles of the National Team title chase, the other team managers wanted to limit her roster. Teri knowing she wasn’t going to stop supporting her riders, made another team, Danz. After Dans and Danz took first and second the following year, the rule quickly changed, and Teri could only beat them once… not twice.

As Teri and I talked, the stories kept coming and I knew I could write another thousand words about the passion (and stress) she gave to BMX. While enjoying her time as a full-time grandma, I asked her one last question, What would you want to say to the woman thinking about joining the sport?

“This (BMX) truly is a family sport. And moms, I got news for you, moms love that. Yes, the kids are racing, and the dads are the mechanic but don’t forget about the moms that are the mechanics, and anything that needs to be done, moms can do too. I would love to see another female team manager and not have them get the "for a women" statement.”

With countless stories still untold, I hope to talk to Teri Sonner much more in the future!

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