In the world of personal watercraft racing, also known as jet skiing, Tera Crismon won so often against women that she wanted a new challenge. So she decided to race the best males, among them world champions Victor Sheldon and Jeff Jacobs, in the highly competitive Pro Ski class.
"It's the biggest thrill I've had in racing, better even than winning my four world championships," the 5-foot, 100-pound Crismon said. "It has taken me to a new level. I couldn't be happier than when I mix it up with a bunch of guys."
Crismon, 24, will be racing twice Sunday when the International Jet Sports Boating Assn. conducts its California Nationals in the surf off San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura. She will be riding a Yamaha in the women's Pro-Am Ski class, in which she has swept all four events this season, and also in the men's Pro Ski event, where she stands fourth in a field of 20 riders.
"It's two different worlds," she said. "The men ride faster equipment. The women hit about 50 mph on limited watercraft, the men more than 60 on full-blown modified watercraft, but the biggest difference is in the acceleration. It's kind of like going from a Cadillac to a race car.
"But it's not so much a physical sport as it is mental. The biggest thing is riding skill, not brute strength."
When she's lined up for the start with 19 male riders, Tera looks like someone's kid sister who got in by mistake.
Crismon, who won her first world title as Tera Laho, a high school girl from Lake Havasu, Ariz., in 1994, is known as the Tera-rizer on the IJSBA circuit, because of her success in women's events. She has won four of the last five world championships before her hometown friends at Lake Havasu and has also won three of the last four national competitions.
"I didn't know what to expect [racing against men] at first, but now that I've done pretty well, I'd like to finish in the top three," she said. "That would really be cool. I'm racing against guys who have been my idols for years, but when I get out on the water I forget all about that. I'm all about racing."
In the first four men's Pro Ski finals, she finished third at Titusville, Fla.; fourth at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; sixth at Galveston, Texas, after running as high as second midway through the race, and sixth again last Sunday at Coronado. She trails only Kawasaki's undefeated Sheldon, former world champion Chris Fischetti and seven-time champion Jacobs, who is also the current champion.
She is undefeated in the women's Pro-Am Ski class. At Fort Lauderdale, she lapped the field.
The Ventura event is the fifth of eight on the 17th annual IJSBA Big Red Jet Tour, but the last in California. The Skat-Trak world finals, not part of the tour, will be run Oct. 11-18 at Lake Havasu Lake.
"I've had good luck racing on smooth water, but I like the surf better," she said. "The waves are more challenging--it's more like a motocross, bouncing up and down as well as making sharp turns. Actually, racing a single-seat watercraft is a lot like riding a motorcycle in a Supercross. We're banging on each other all the way."
Crismon's Yamaha Super Jets are maintained and prepared by her husband, Darin, a former endurance racer.
"He does everything," she said. "He's the mechanic, crew chief, travel coordinator, everything I need. I ride for Mission Yamaha in Laguna Niguel, but he takes care of my equipment."
Admission is free to the two-day event, with experts racing Saturday at 1:50 p.m. and professionals Sunday at 1 p.m. Competition in the 12 classes at Ventura will be shown July 11 at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Jeremy Mayfield has yet to win his first Winston Cup race, yet after 12 races he and his Ford Taurus are atop the standings with a shot at the $2-million end-of-season bonus.
"[Standings leader has] been my goal since I started driving, long before I even started driving NASCAR," said Mayfield, who turned 29 on May 27. "We're here to win races and we're here to win championships. That doesn't mean that we've already dusted a place off in the shop for the cup. It just means that we are focused on our goals and leading the points is one of those goals."
Sunday, the Winston Cup chase will be at Michigan Speedway, a two-mile oval similar to California Speedway, where Mayfield finished a strong second last month to Mark Martin.
"We're still thinking 'win,' " he said. "This team has been so close this season and we really want a win bad. Nothing will protect a points lead better than winning the race. But it's more than that. I can't think of a team out here any hungrier than we are right now."
Mayfield has 1,868 points, followed by Rusty Wallace, his Penske teammate, with 1,843; defending champion Jeff Gordon, 1,822, and Martin and Dale Jarrett with 1,815 each.
Martin is the man to beat, however. He not only won at California, Michigan's sister track, but also won impressively last August at Michigan when he led 102 laps.