Twenty-four years ago, Tayla Relph’s parents took their then toddler daughter to a Crusty Demons meet.
“It’s where they do backflips in the air on motorbikes,” says Relph.
Her parents couldn’t have imagined it would be the start of a record-breaking career in motorsport.
“I threw a tantrum and refused to leave until until they told me Santa could get me a motorbike for Christmas,” she says.
Luckily, Santa did just that because now Relph is about to make history as the only Australian heading to the first all-female circuit racing world championships later this year.
‘This is what I want to do’
Relph’s first motorbike was a Yamaha PW50, or PeeWee 50.
“I could ride a motorbike before I could ride a pushbike,” Relph says.
Then at 10 years old, she switched from the dirt to the bitumen, and found that everything “clicked straight away”.
“I remember leaving the track after school and I said to Dad, ‘this is it, this is what I want to do,'” Relph says.
Despite having very little knowledge of the sport, her parents “backed [her] the whole entire way”, Relph says.
But racing the road less travelled hasn’t always been easy.
Relph’s interest in motorsport made her the target of “a lot of bullying” while attending an all girls’ private school in Brisbane.
“That was definitely one of those moments where we could’ve just thrown in the towel,” Relph says.
She says the bullying got so bad that her parents pulled her out of school and the family began travelling Australia in a van, following the motorcycle racing calendar.
Living the dream
At 14, Relph raced in her first Australian championship.
A year later she won the same competition, becoming the first female to win against males in an Australian motorcycle racing championship.
Now 27, Relph lives on Victoria’s south-west coast, where she and her partner Ted Collins (also a racer) own and run a motorbike riding coaching company.
“In Australia we have a lot of challenges compared to those in Europe, so I never thought that the dream [of racing in a world championship] would ultimately come true,” Relph says.
“[But] it’s what everyone always strives for.”
Last month, she was selected as one of only 22 women across the globe to race in the inaugural FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) Women’s Circuit Racing World Championship.
It means moving to Europe for at least five months and fundraising $200,000 to secure her place on the grid.
“We’ve got a mortgage over here, we’ve got a dog … we’re having to now scramble for the next five months to try make it work,” Relph says.
“We don’t get paid to do this, it’s the complete opposite.”
But she says it will all be worth it.
Making history … again
All-female world championships have been held in other motorbike racing disciplines, but this year’s event is a first for circuit racing.
“Knowing that I’m selected to be a part of history, I have no words,” Relph says.
Motorcycling Australia spokesman Mark Fattore says that while women race alongside men in championship races, having a dedicated event for women in the road racing sphere is “a great step forward”.
“To see the opportunity open up for Tayla, and hopefully other women and girls in the future, is a great breakthrough,” Mr Fattore says.
“When you see your countrymen and women reaching the giddy heights of the world championship or the elite level, that alone is a motivational force.”
Mr Fattore says the sacrifices Relph made to get to the world championships should also inspire young girls and women.
“We’re a long way away from the heartbeat of racing, which is still predominantly Europe,” he says.
“We have the talent in Australia that’s for sure, we always have, but the barriers are we are so far away and it is expensive.”
Mr Fattore calls Relph an “excellent rider” and believes she’s “got the talent and motivation to do some really big things in Europe”.
No stranger to making history, Relph says the chance to inspire young girls to start racing is “even more significant” than competing in a world championship.
“It’s ending that stigma, which is really exciting,” Relph says.
“I get to be the voice of that, the face of that – and hopefully the start of a really important change in motorsport.”