On the fast track: Worthington’s Payton Shippee wins national BMX championships

  • Logan Demerski, left, Payton Shippee and Jonah Graves represented the Full Circle race team at the 2020 USA BMX Grand Nationals over Thanksgiving weekend in November. COURTESY JILL SHIPPEE

  • Worthington’s Payton Shippee, 15, holds a plaque after winning the Race of Champions at the 2020 USA BMX Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the Thanksgiving weekend. COURTESY JILL SHIPPEE

  • Payton Shippee, left, and Jason Graves pose with Shippee’s trophy after the winning the 14-and-under novice Race of Champions at the 2020 USA BMX Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the Thanksgiving weekend. COURTESY JILL SHIPPEE

  • Worthington’s Payton Shippee, right, stands with Jonah Graves and the 8-foot trophy Shippee earned after winning the 14-and-under novice Grand National Championship race at the 2020 BMX Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. COURTESY JILL SHIPPEE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/1/2021 1:34:57 PM

Good thing the Shippees took their Chevy Suburban to Oklahoma for the 2020 USA BMX Grand Nationals over Thanksgiving. They needed the extra room for the trophies.

Worthington’s Payton Shippee, 15, won two large pieces of hardware competing in the 15 novice category: a plaque from the Race of Champions and an 8-foot trophy for the Grand National championship.

Not bad for a football player who hadn’t raced competitively before July.

“It was something I discovered I was pretty good at. I’ve always been interested in bikes. Me and my friends ride skate parks and dirt jumps all the time,” said Shippee, who attends Wahconah Regional in Dalton. “I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did.”

Before this strange summer, Shippee only rode a BMX bike recreationally with Jonah Graves, his best friend. He spent more time at the Graves’ house on their backyard dirt track once the COVID-19 pandemic halted most organized sports. Graves’ father, Jason Graves, owns Full Circle Bike Shop in Florence. The shop sponsors the Full Circle race team.

“This year just changed everything. He didn’t have that normal football year,” Jason Graves said. “He was at our house like every day riding bikes.”

Jonah Graves asked him if he wanted to ride bikes at the Foothills BMX Track in Connecticut one Thursday in July. The Shippees weren’t going to Maine that weekend like they often do in the summer, so Payton Shippee decided to go for it.

“We had talked about (me racing) when we were younger. I didn’t realize what it was. I didn’t realize it was a big bike world,” Shippee said. “Might as well try it. What’s the worst that can happen? (Jonah) was giving me pointers the whole way down.”

Shippee didn’t need many. He cruised to victory against a small field.

“He’s always had that talent, and he decided to run with it,” Jason Graves said.

He won again at Foothills in September. That earned him an invite to Grand Nationals, “the Grands” as it’s called. Two other members of the Full Circle race team were going: Jonah Graves, who races at the expert level, and Northampton’s Logan Demerski. The Shippees decided to go for it. Payton Shippee and his mother Jill drove 22 hours from Worthington to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the event. Because of the pandemic and wanting to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19, they wore masks throughout and regularly sanitized and washed their hands throughout.

“Each state that we stopped was very interesting. It seemed everywhere there were different rules,” Jill Shippee said. “If you take precautions with this whole thing I think it’s a home run.”

The event was eye-opening for the Shippees. Payton raced all weekend against riders from all over the country. Between heats, he and Jonah Graves practiced their starts on gates, checked out gear at bike shops and hung out in the Demerski’s RV or their hotel rooms.

“It’s so fun to travel halfway across the country with your best friend,” Payton Shippee said.

Jill Shippee was surprised at the sense of community among strangers. People sitting in front of her at the expo center were cheering for her son having no idea who he was.

“I can’t imagine it at full capacity because it was insane being there. The energy was crazy. Everybody there, their hearts are here,” Jill Shippee said. “If you’re there, you have a passion for this. The camaraderie of this sport was beyond impressive.”

Payton kept his composure for most of the races in Oklahoma despite the stage. He was nervous for the first leg of the Race of Champions and the semifinal round in the Grand Nationals. But no one beat him. Even when he didn’t start well, Shippee finished strong.

“For me what really clicked was the individual stuff about it. Biking you’re in it to win it by yourself,” he said. “I can push through it myself.”

To get the trophies home, they folded part of the Suburban’s third-row seat down and folded the entire second row down. Jill Shippee wrapped the top of the 8-foot trophy in a towel to preserve it for the road. It’s now displayed at Full Circle.

Payton Shippee plans to continue with BMX racing, but won’t give up on football. Massachusetts is scheduled to sponsor the sport in early spring during a modified “Fall II” season.

“I’ll do it for as long as I can,” he said.

In a way, Shippee could be any kid. BMX’s barrier to entry is low. All anyone needs is a bike, a shirt, long pants and a helmet.

“Anyone can do it,” Jason Graves said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.



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