In 2nd grade, counting wins, burning track

Ethan Bowlin has raced his dirt bike since age 4, making a name for himself in motocross circles

October 22, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ethan Bowlin walked out of his bedroom wearing a fire engine red jersey and matching pants.

The 7-year-old pulled on a pair of foam-padded gloves, leather boots and a plastic chest protector.

Then he went out in the garage and chose his yellow 50-cubic-centimeter Cobra CM dirt bike.

"I love to ride my bikes," Ethan said, as his father, John Bowlin, pushed the bike out of the garage to start it. "It makes me feel happy."

The youngster, a second-grader at William S. James Elementary School, put on his helmet, climbed onto the bike and began racing around a dirt track in the backyard of the family's Abingdon home. The tires kicked up mud as the boy zipped around the course like a professional rider.

It's not just the backyard track that Ethan has been burning up. The young rider has been making a name for himself in motocross circles, winning state and regional events, finishing second in his first national competition and garnering an endorsement deal.

For Ethan, racing is all about winning.

"When I get on a bike, I ride to win," he said.

It seemed inevitable early that Ethan would take up motocross. His father was an avid rider and racer, and Ethan received his first bike when he was 1, a gift from his grandfather.

His parents wanted him to have other interests, too, so they introduced him to other activities.

"When he was 4 years old we let him try T-ball," said Bowlin, a 32-year-old auto body technician. "But he wanted to bat and didn't want to play the field. We found that Ethan's more of an individual athlete. And in biking it's just you and your bike."

Ethan began riding at age 3 on a dirt bike with training wheels. When he was able to ride a street bicycle without training wheels, his father removed the training wheels from his dirt bike.

"He got on it and just rode," said Bowlin, who began riding dirt bikes at age 15. "He never fell once."

Despite his apparent natural abilities, Ethan wasn't above butterflies. Upon arriving in North Carolina to ride in his first competition in 2004, Ethan announced that he wasn't ready to race.

"He told me he was nervous and that he couldn't get in front of people and ride yet," said Bowlin, who also has won state, regional and national awards. "He decided not to race that time."

But a few days later he was back at a track and ready to race, and he has been racing ever since.

He has acquired three bikes costing about $3,000 each and has landed his first sponsor, Twigg Cycles in Hagerstown. In exchange for the sponsorship, Ethan endorses the company's products on the racetracks.

Ethan also has been depicted on the cover of Motorcycle Racing Action magazine.

The biggest perks are the travel and family time, said his mother, Jennifer Bowlin.

"We take our mobile home and travel as a family to the various destinations," she said. "So we spend a lot of time together and I really enjoy that."

In August, the family went to the Loretta Lynn's Amateur National Championship in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. The trip was great but the race was even more of an experience, John Bowlin said.

Going into the race, Ethan's father didn't want to put any pressure on the boy, but he quietly predicted that his son would be among the top 10 finishers in the three-race competition.

It wasn't easy. "It was 100 degrees, and we were watching the race from a creek where we sat lawn chairs to stay cool," John Bowlin said. "Some kids stopped for water, but not Ethan."

Ethan started the race in the top 10. But when another racer lost control, he collided with Ethan and knocked both off their bikes.

"I was mad," Ethan said. "But I got back on my bike and didn't let it slow me down."

At the halfway point Ethan had clawed his way into third place among the 42 riders, and he finished sixth. In the next race he finished third.

In the last race of the series, Ethan came out on top.

"He moved into the lead and just left everyone behind him," his father said. "He won by eight seconds, which is a lot in racing."

Ethan placed second overall in the competition, for which he received a trophy and $700 in motorcycle dollars. His performance turned some heads.

"There are about 2,400 people that compete in Loretta Lynn's competition, ranging in age from 4 to 40, and they come back year after year to break into the top 10. And they never do," said Jim Bull, editor of Motorcycle Racing Action. "You have to be motivated to do well at Ethan's age. So for him to come back after a bad start and win second place his first time out, at the nationals, is a huge accomplishment."

Ethan plans to head to his next national competition, the Winter National Olympics in Winter Gardens, Fla., Thanksgiving week.

Ethan and his father will compete with top amateur champions from all over the world. The event comprises five days of racing on indoor and outdoor tracks.

"I've been riding so much now that once I get on the bike I'm not nervous anymore," Ethan said. "But if I do get nervous, I just pray. And once the gate drops, I'm there to ride and do my best."

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