Photos by Scott Hunter
For young Sandriana Shipman, riding was a family thing. She started at age three on a Honda ATC70 3-wheeler. “I’d chase my cousins,” she said, “and when I tried to turn I’d fall off and it’d run me over. I’d run after it crying because I wanted to try again.”
Eventually she moved to a PW50, and then a Cobra 50, which her dad turned into a mini flat tracker. “I raced it at a half-mile that year at Thundertown in the Thunder Dome when I was seven.”
After racing for years she knew she wanted to go Pro when she turned 16. “I got to go to Springfield and sat on the front straightaway,” she remembers. “I said, ‘I’m gonna do that next year.’ So I signed up to get my Pro license.”
But while she was ready to dive into a Pro career, she met nothing but adversity. She had two older 450s and seemed to blow them up regularly, and when dad couldn’t help rebuild them anymore she did it herself. When she couldn’t manage, friends helped out, including Grand National Champion Bryan Smith.
“Bryan had a frame and mailed me everything,” she remembers, “and with bits and pieces I was able to build a bike from the ground up. But then an AFT rule change stipulated that bikes had to be ’09 or newer to ride Pro, and mine was an ‘06 frame and was carbureted. My heart broke.”
Eventually she made a deal on a used KTM 450, put a lawnmower trailer behind her Honda CRV and drove south to Daytona for the TT. It didn’t go well, and she spent six weeks living in her car, but persevered. “I didn’t have a new bike.” she said. “I wore old leathers, old boots, and a helmet that had hit the ground 50 times. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to race.”
One of Sandriana’s best moments was making her first main event – something rarely done by women in professional flat track – at Calistoga, California. “It was a sick track,” she remembered. “I was fifth in qualifying, which was great, fifth in my heat and fifth in the semi; I even beat Shayna [Texter]. I lined up ninth for the Main; that’s mid-pack, so I didn’t just squeak in.”
Unfortunately, injuries have been a big part of her story. In 17 years of racing she’s had multiple vertebral compression fractures, 12 herniated discs, with two of those herniations impinging on the spinal cord. She’s also had 14 broken ribs, a punctured lung, lacerated liver, fractured right hip, four metacarpals broken, plated and screwed, broken right radius and ulna, broken right femur, broken right fibula and tibia … and that’s just naming a few.
But it was never about the crashes for her; it was always about getting back up. After her crash at the Texas Half-Mile in 2018, no one thought she’d race again. In true Sandriana style, she proved everyone wrong. But the injuries did take a toll, and at the end of the 2019 AFT season she decided to retire from professional racing.
Still, she’s not done with motorcycles. “I’m back to racing just for fun,” she told us, “learning to adapt to my latest injuries, and I plan to do most of the Steve Nace AllStar National races when we’re finally back racing. I’m also creating and managing a national-level flat track race team (1st Impressions Racing) and planning to have one or two American Flat Track singles riders on the team next year.” Another comeback!
After all the adversity she’s faced, Sandriana has some great advice for girls and other young people who want to get involved with motorcycles. “When you want something, ignore everyone and everything else and just do it. When I decided I was going to go Pro they said I needed $50K, a sprinter van and two new bikes before I could even think about it. I ignored that and did what I could with what I had. With perseverance and hard work, you literally can do anything!”
You can follow Sandriana at @sandriana.shipman on Instagram and @SandrianaShipman on Facebook. — Joy Burgess