While many Tech students pay for school through scholarships and internships, graduate student, Alan Shirley has a slightly different arrangement. He is paying for his Master’s in CEE by performing on his dirt bike.
This Saturday, Jan. 11, Shirley will perform in his largest event yet to a crowd of 60,000 at the Georgia Dome. Because of the large crowd, he is especially excited about this performance, which will be part of a larger Monster Jam variety show that will involve dirt bikes, cheerleaders and, of course, Monster Trucks.
Saturday will be a long day for Shirley, who will set up in the morning for about four hours and participate in a “pit party,” a meet and greet with special audience members who paid extra to have a more personal Monster Jam experience.
According to Shirley, he is most excited about meeting the kids at the “pit party” because he remembers being their age and looking up to the performers he saw.
At 6:30 p.m., Shirley’s first real performance of the night will begin, or as he calls it, “…the time when the risk comes in.”
While he trains constantly for his performances, Shirley can never know for sure how a stunt will turn out, but, according to him, fear will have little impact on his performance at the Georgia Dome.
“When you’re out there, you don’t have time to be scared,” says Shirley.
While he had always looked up to and admired dirt bikers, Shirley’s actual dirt biking career started a relatively short time ago in 2010.
Before then, he was a snowboard racer, but when he was racing at the East Coast Nationals, Shirley injured his knee. Not one to give up on his love of extreme sports, Shirley began dirt biking in hopes that it would have less of a negative impact on his knee.
“It is slightly better. Snowboarding is all on the right leg while this is more evenly divided,” said Shirley.
Since his start, Shirley’s dirt biking career has taken off. He started performing after a friend of his, who was ranked as the No. 2 bicyclist in the early 1990s, realized his potential.
“I took him down one day, and afterwards, he said, ‘I guess you’re ready to do shows now’,” Shirley said. “Now he’s the announcer for my show.”
Shirley now performs all over the country. He has performed in New York City and at the World Championship this summer. Later this year, he plans to perform at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Before his performance in New York City, which was in front of 40,000 people, Shirley had only performed in front of 2,000 to 3,000 people.
According to Shirley, performing at a high level can be “pretty intimidating.”
Even though he is getting his Master’s at Tech, Shirley dreams of being able to dirt bike professionally for life. But according to him, “the money is good but not enough to not get a real job. It looks like I’ll work during the week and perform on the weekends.”
Job opportunities have opened up to Shirley because of dirt biking, though. Many times, one of the men in the dirt bike lessons he teaches would work at a large engineering firm.
“I’ve made a lot of good contacts; a lot of engineers ride who like the adrenaline feel,” Shirley said.
When asked what the biggest lesson he has learned from dirt biking so far, Shirley joked, “I’ve really learned how to fix a dirt bike. I guess if none of my other careers work out, I could always be a mechanic.”
Currently, Shirley and his team are negotiating with the Student Center for a future performance on Tech’s campus.