Looking back at Lynn Griffis' years as Miss Camel Pro Series.
Thirty-something years ago Lynn Griffis was perhaps the most recognizable woman in racing — yet she didn’t race. She was Miss Camel Pro Series, the AMA’s ambassador for Grand National Championship dirt track and road racing, officially known as the Camel Pro Series. That’s Camel as in Camel Cigarettes, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s blue-collar brand and the chief sponsor for the GNC from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. And RJR did more than blow smoke up racers’ exhaust pipes — the tobacco giant paid handsomely to the pro riders for their Herculean efforts on the race track. And in the thick of it all Miss Griffis packed in more years as Miss Camel Pro Series than anybody, starting in 1975 before stepping down in 1982.
During those years Griffis gave a sense of stability, even glamour, to RJR’s connection with the racers. She greeted race winners after the checkered flag, and considering that she was in Victory Circle at every event, she was probably the most photographed person in American flat track racing back then. Pick up any motorcycle magazine that followed the CPS and you’re bound to see a photo of a smiling Griffis standing next to the likes of Jay Springsteen, Kenny Roberts, Randy Goss or any other race winner of the time. She also assisted in pre-race promotions and she logged countless frequent-flyer miles. There really never was a hump day during her given work week.
Griffis actually started out in auto racing at the age of 19, serving as Miss Camel GT in the early 1970s. “I did both the Camel GT and Camel Pro [Series] for a while,” Griffis recalls, “and then was given a choice, and [I] asked to stay with the motorcycle circuit. I truly loved those guys — all of them, including the mechanics and other team members. It was the greatest group of people, their families and the entire atmosphere was full of colorful, fun characters.” The feeling was mutual, and I recall one racer at the time referring to Griffis as “like a sister.”
When Griffis’ sister act ended, she turned to drama, acting in and producing theater stage plays. It was then that an affiliation with the late Patrick Swayze and his wife led to a minor shift in Griffis’ life. Recalls Griffis: “They [Swayzes] always called me Grif, and put me in the [play] program as Grif Griffis, a total surprise to me.” Her response to that? “I legally changed my name that same year,” so now we know the former Miss CPS by her adopted stage name, Grif Griffis.
Today “Grif” is partners with jazz musician Quincy Jones in a successful jewelry business. She also produced a documentary film about the 2002 terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia, where she lived for 15 years while establishing her jewelry business. Most recently she was an honorary guest at the Barber Vintage Festival, where most people in attendance affectionately clung to her original adopted stage name — Miss Camel Pro Series. — Dain Gingerelli