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Thrill ride: ATV dirt drag racing a rush for competitors

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Joey Shipe, 30, of Front Royal, takes a practice run at the Warren County Fairgrounds on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Joey Shipe, 30, of Front Royal, takes a practice run at the Warren County Fairgrounds on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Joey Shipe, 30, of Front Royal, straps on his helmet beside his drag banshee ATV. The vehicle is equipped by 100 horsepower mower and 36 lb. drag chassis. Shipe has about $14,000 invested in the ATV and is racing it at the Warren County Fairgrounds this week. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Joey Shipe has been participating in the sport of ATV dirt drag racing long enough to have learned one thing with certainty -- the only thing harder than the start of the race is trying to stop afterward.

Shipe, a Front Royal native, runs in multiple classes as part of the traveling Go Broke Racing ATV dirt drag circuit, including the top-end Open class that allows unlimited modifications. Shipe's fastest bike can cover the 300-foot clay track at the Warren County Fairgrounds in four seconds.

"The hardest part out here is stopping," Shipe said. "You run 80 miles an hour and they give you anywhere from 50 to 60 yards to shut down, it's not easy to do."

Shipe was in action at the Warren County Fairgrounds on Monday for a non-points event, and will be back Friday for a bigger points show on the same track. ATV drag racing at the Warren County site has been going on a few years now, said Go Broke Racing series director Chris Bohrer. The series has also visited other fairs around the quad-state area of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but this year has made Warren County's track its primary venue with 19 racing dates scheduled there during the April through October racing schedule.

"Basically we go around to a lot of the fairgrounds and set up," Bohrer said. "We get a lot of the locals, and some people follow. The majority of these people, you can tell they're serious. Then others just have a 4-wheeler that they bring out. We have all different classes, from the kids to stocks, sport utility, full-out race machines."

Bohrer's ATV series offers 24 classes of racing for points events, less for the non-points fair races but still plenty of opportunities for would-be riders. Typical shows attract between 150 to 200 racers.

Shipe and his older brother, Jake, caught the ATV dirt drag racing bug while watching the action at Warren County about four years ago.

"It started out as something simple, then of course it turns into a big money pit -- like all racing," Shipe said. "It's hard to get your money back. You can win some races and make it back on big races, but the fair races only pay a certain amount. My dad always told me, 'To make a small fortune in racing, you've got to start out with a large one.'"

Joey Shipe has the moral support of his wife, Nicole, and young daughters Karsyn and Kamryn, plus backing from his brother -- Jake Shipe works on the bikes, and occasionally rides. He doesn't consider himself an equal racing partner, though.

"More like owner," Jake Shipe said.

"He puts up most of the money," Joey Shipe added.

The financial commitment is significant, but even getting on the bikes and racing on the clay surface at Warren County -- some tracks run on sand -- can be daunting for racers.

"When they hook good, it's pretty violent," Joey Shipe said. "It's all somebody can do to hang on to some of them bikes. They're very, very fast. ... The bike will abuse you, so you've got to be pretty tough."

Joey Shipe has had good success this season, winning all but one points race heading into Friday's 6 p.m. event in Front Royal. But the competition is getting stiffer as more riders discover the sport.

"It's grown pretty good around this area," Shipe said. "It's real big in North Carolina, down in Georgia. There's a lot of stuff overseas that they do, too, but I think it's getting pretty big in this area. There's a lot of guys getting serious, spending the big money on some bikes to win."

Joey Shipe had previous experience as an asphalt drag racer and even drove cars on dirt tracks, but thinks the rush of drag racing ATVs is tough to beat.

"It's a four-second ride, so if you blink you might miss it," he said. "It's definitely not an easy sport. But like anything else, if you're an adrenaline junkie and you like racing, when you hop on one that's pretty much it from there."

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