From time to time, Rappahannock County residents might see a man, American flag in hand, sitting on a horse at Massies Corner or riding the same horse in the Sperryville and Flint Hill parades. They might correctly guess him to be patriotic, but what they probably would not guess is that he is a national champion rider.
Of all-terrain vehicles, that is.
Forrest Whorton, 53, of Castleton, has been racing professionally for just a few years, but has competed in dozens of races, winning the majority of them. He is currently ranked 21st overall in the Grand National Cross Country Series (GNCCS) ATV AM Class and first in the GNCCS AM Utility Senior Class (ages 45 and older), making him the GNCC AM Utility Senior (45+) Champion.
“In 2008, I started competing in the Virginia Cross Country Series [VXCS],” he said. “After landing second place in the first year, I decided to go national.” For the past two years, Whorton has also raced in the GNCCS, the 13-round race series that spans the eastern U.S., starting in Florida in March and ending in Indiana in October. The first year he fared well, but in 2010 he won nine out of 13 races in the senior utility class, sealing the championship.
But the road to victory was not easy.
“The races have many challenges, with woods, dirt, mud, hills, and obstacles that require some jumps,” he said. “Each 11 to 12 mile race takes about two hours to complete. We (riders) are allowed to inspect the course before the race, but are not allowed to have our ATVs on the course until race day.”
Like a number of other racers, the day before a competition, Whorton walks or rides a mountain bike along the course to look for potential problem areas. Then, after socializing with other racers and visiting vendor booths, he eats a hearty dinner and retires for a good night’s sleep. The next morning he and the other racers rise early to check in, suit up and be on the track ready to ride at 9:30 a.m.
“Anywhere from 200 to 350 riders, both men and women, line up to compete at each race,” Whorton said, noting that most riders are American but that some come from as far as Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
“Most everybody has great sportsmanship,” he said. “They’ll move out of the way if a faster racer wants to get around them, and they’ve got good attitude in general. The atmosphere is very family friendly.” Whorton’s wife, children and brother sometimes accompany him to races, he said, and his son Jonathan also races in the VXCS.
“Jonathan can beat me . . . he edges me out,” Whorton said, chuckling. “But this past year I outdid him in Virginia because he’s building a house and he and his wife had a baby.” Whorton also won the 2010 VXCS Utility Class championship.
Whorton said he’s happy his family is interested in racing because both the VXCS and the GNCCS are family-friendly competitions where patriotism is exhibited throughout the day, in uniform and by ceremony.
“Just before each race, there’s prayer, a speech, then the national anthem,” he said. “Right after the national anthem the race starts. That’s a wonderful way to start a race. It gives me a mental boost.”
Whorton also has a physical leg-up because he works out the year around to stay in shape to endure the many challenges of off-road racing.
“I walk, ride my ATV and mountain bike, plus I take Zeke for runs,” he said. “It takes quite a bit work to prepare for this series.”
Zeke is the horse Whorton rides in parades, and along the roads in Rappahannock County, where Whorton proudly displays the American flag in honor of veterans and for other causes he believes in. People often pull over, he said, to talk to him and sometimes take a picture. Also, he said, “Zeke loves it.”
“I’m a blessed man,” Whorton said. “I live in a great country, own a good company [Whorton Stone Masonry], have a wonderful family and can do things I love.”