RUSTBURG - Dirt, oil, gas, motors, speed, maneuvering, and airborne jumps - mix it all together and you have perfect afternoon for Rustburg 14-year-old Kendall Shelton.
While other classmates are playing baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer, or lacrosse, Shelton is digging the dirt. "Just the feeling of being on the track. It clears your head pretty much," Kendall said.
He played baseball for a while but now exclusively races. He got the idea from his friend Colin who was talking about racing and less than two years ago Kendall bought his first 4-wheeler ATV by himself for $500. Then he just started racing. He has competed and won at tracks in Virginia like Shenandoah, Birch Creek in Danville, and Bodacious in Cartersville. "It's gone really fast. We didn't expect him to do as well as he has as quick as he has. Started out just wanting to let him have some fun, keep him in something, keep him out of trouble, and he's just done real well," his father Kent said.
After his family pumped an additional $13,000-15,000 into the 4-wheeler, Kendall has continued to win races in a district that spans from North Carolina to Maryland and he's doing it against kids who have been in the sport for years. "Yeah I never really expected to beat a lot of them but over time I just got better and started beating them," Kendall said.
ATV races have classifications for 4-year-olds and up. Kendall races in the 13-15 year-old group and usually there are six to eight competitors in his class. Races normally consist of five laps and last around eight minutes each. The 4-wheeler is ready when they arrive at the track. "For the most part we just check oil and gas and make sure we're good to go," Kent said.
Shelton Racing is a family operation now with Kendall, his dad, and his grandparents, but one day Kendall would like to race professionally. Josh Upperman and Joel Hetrick are his favorite pro racers. To be like them he has to search for his own sponsorships. Kent said Kendall does all that by himself by exploring for racing information online. He puts a resume together and emails it to different companies that are mostly involved with racing. Kendall has already emailed out requests for next season.
Kent said is can be nerve-wrecking seeing other kids wreck and get injured. They've seen broken legs and broken arms. They're well aware that, like most sports, racing can be dangerous. Kent has seen a 4-wheeler on top of his son but Kendall hasn't sustained any serious injuries so far.
Another issue the Sheltons and other racing families are dealing with is the use of hybrid ATVs.
Kendall uses a standard ATV motor on his 4-wheeler but he competes against some kids who use a hybrid - a dirt bike motor on the 4-wheeler frame. "They just out-power us. It's like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It's like [NASCAR Sprint] Cup drivers racing against Nationwide Series guys," Kent said.
The Sheltons could decide to join that group but they choose not to. "I think that putting a kid on a bike with that much power at his age, you're jeopardizing your kid's neck. Several of the parents agree with me but we have a meeting with the district folks [later this year]." Kent explained.
Kent doesn't mind if the two different styles of bikes run together in the same races but he said they should be scored in separate categories.
Aside from that the racing is simply fun for the Sheltons. "It's sort of like a brotherhood. If this guy has a problem on his bike people rush to help out."
Kendall has also been rushing toward the finish line. He admits, to get where he wants, he has to get better and prove himself at nationals but if the first few months of his racing career are any indication, Kendall is well on his way.
*If you'd like to sponsor Kendall and his racing team you can email his father Kent at <firstname.lastname@example.org>