GNCC Racing

Quick Fill #37:  This Week in GNCC

Quick Fill #37: This Week in GNCC

Thursday, October 29, 2020 | 2:35 PM
Thursday, October 29, 2020 | 2:35 PM

Welcome to Quick Fill.

Wow. What an incredible weekend at Ironman. We say it time and time again that Ironman is the biggest and most popular event of the year, and time after time it continues to prove that point. This one was no different. Coming in at just 17 riders short of the previous record, this year’s Ironman was yet again one for the ages. While it didn’t hit the all-time record, it came pretty close and we did have the largest turnout of AM Bikes, Youth Bikes and Micro Bikes of all-time! 

That came with good reason, as it was a great weekend for racing. Sure, it could have been just a little bit warmer out but overall the temperatures were pretty darn good and I really don’t think you could have created better dirt conditions. Indiana had been incredibly dry for quite some time prior to the event, and then it rained a whopping three inches Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. Thursday and Friday saw temperatures into the 70s, before dropping back down Friday evening, which helped to dry out the muddy spots and create just about the most perfect dirt you could ask for.

Simply put, if you missed out on this running of the Ironman, you very well may have missed out on the best Ironman conditions of all-time, or at the very least it was one of the top three best. The epic conditions likely lent a hand in the incredible racing we saw as well. From the first lap of the weekend until the end there was plenty of awesome racing to watch unfold, and if you weren’t having fun at Ironman I’m really not sure what the problem was!

Axell Hodges may not be a regular GNCC racer but the guy has serious bike skills and landed 2nd in the Industry class behind Heath Harrison.
Axell Hodges may not be a regular GNCC racer but the guy has serious bike skills and landed 2nd in the Industry class behind Heath Harrison. Ken Hill

The PM bike race just may have produced some of the best racing of the weekend. Early on it appeared as if Steward Baylor was on his way to his fourth consecutive win, and even when Josh Strang worked his way into the lead on lap four, Baylor was still right on his rear wheel through the closing portions of the race. Unfortunately for Baylor, he would find himself stuck on Ironman Hill on the final lap. He lost a little bit of time getting turned around and taking another pass up the hill, but he would put the hammer down and try to charge back to Strang’s rear wheel.

Strang was able to settle into a cruise mode and even with a hard-charging Baylor behind him; he just rode calm and collected into the finish to take the win. Of course, Baylor was not only trying to catch Strang but he was also trying to stay ahead of Ben Kelley and Kailub Russell, who were engaged in their own battle and also right on Baylor’s heels. After three hours and four minutes of racing, Strang would take the win ahead of Baylor, Kelley and Russell with the entire top four separated by just over ten seconds!

While all of this was going on, the XC2 guys were battling back and forth as well. Lyndon Snodgrass, Johnny Girroir and Craig Delong had all swapped the lead throughout the race. Girroir would run into some issues and drop to fifth, then while trying to charge back to the front he would suffer a hard crash and actually knock himself unconscious. He ended up limping into the finish for an 11th place, which would hurt his point standings, dropping him from first to third in the XC2 class. With one round remaining, Delong holds the XC2 lead with 9 points over Mike Witkowski and 16 points over Girroir.

Speaking of that one remaining round, yesterday Ryan Echols and I drove out to CJ Raceway, site of the Buckwheat 100, and scoped out the property a bit. Ryan has raced some local events there in the past, and I made a sweep lap on a dual sport bike at an NECXC event there a few years ago but scoping out property raw is a lot different. We learned a good bit about the place and it looks like this is going to be a pretty cool event.

If you’ve raced there before, I would expect it to feel like a totally different place. Obviously we’ll end up using a lot of the existing trails but we’ll likely end up creating some new ones as well and probably piece together something very different and a bit longer than local events there in the past. Some folks seem to be a little concerned about the parking, but we’re actually using a different entrance and a whole other section of field has been opened up for this event as well. Like I said, it won’t even feel like CJ Raceway.

Josh Strang can still get the job done! The guy is like a fine wine, he's just getting better with age!
Josh Strang can still get the job done! The guy is like a fine wine, he's just getting better with age! Ken Hill

If you’ve never been there before then you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. The facility does have some rock to it, but it isn’t overly rocky like The Mountaineer or the previous Mountaineer Run event we had in Masontown, WV a few years back. It has some faster trails but not necessarily anything wide open outside of a few field sections. It has a lot of black dirt as a long time ago it was a strip job and had a fair amount of coal on the property. This black dirt can actually be really nice, but there’s also some slick grey clay as well. The terrain has a good bit of elevation change, but I wouldn’t expect any massive hillclimbs, although there will be some fun uphill sections for sure. 

It almost has an old-school feel to it. If you’re an old school, long-time GNCC racer then this facility may remind you of the old Rausch Creek track mixed with the even older Hardrock track. That would be the Fairmont, WV “Hardrock” event and not the Ocala, Florida event that took place at Hardrock Cycle Park, just to clarify… Although, believe it or not, there is a section that does have some sand so maybe it does have a little Ocala, Florida feel in one area!

By the way, if you’re looking for accommodations for the Buckwheat 100 we just learned of a newly remodeled place just around 20 minutes away in Kingwood, WV. The Appalachian Hotel has some nice, new rooms available and they also have a brand new steakhouse and saloon called The Hitching Post inside. Check them out at for more info!

As usual, definitely check back next week to get a full run down on what to expect once you’re out on the course at the Buckwheat 100, but if you’re on the fence about coming out then don’t waste the opportunity because this has potential to be a really fun event. As an added bonus, the forecast right now is looking incredible. At the moment, there is no rain forecasted all next week and temperatures are supposed to be in the mid to upper 60s all week with highs of 68 on Saturday and Sunday!

We’ve got our fingers crossed that the forecast stays the same because a lot of folks were a bit worried about racing in West Virginia in early November. Right now it’s got the potential to turn out to be an incredible weekend, so here’s to hoping it stays that way! That’s all I’ve got for this week. Until next time, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here next week!

These guys were on rails Saturday afternoon! 
These guys were on rails Saturday afternoon!  Ken Hill

Catching Up With Ken (Ken Hill)

Wow, just wow! That may not be the most grammatically perfect way to kick off a paragraph but trying to sum up Ironman 2020 is hard. I mean it was just shy of matching or breaking the record for entries even though the weather forecast was bleak. The place is well known for being crazy and it lived up to that for sure. I was having trouble thinking how I could break down this weekend and all that surrounds it and I just start smiling as I recall little snip its from the event that seems to try and start way earlier in the week than most realize.

By Tuesday we were seeing reports of folks parked in line to get in, that in itself is crazy but hey, it’s the thing to do. By the time the gate opened on Thursday there was just a small city where a cornfield once had stood, all waiting to actually get into the facility. Social media was on fire all week long increasing the hype as well as radio interviews from one of the biggest and best racing backed communities in all of racing, CRAWFORDSVILLE! I pulled in Thursday evening and my first stop was the local adult beverage store to buy a friend a gift. Without prompting, the young lady behind the counter immediately went on a rant about her having to miss this year’s race due to her co-worker, who quit because she was told she had to work. The battle to be there is fierce in this town! It is indeed something to witness and I am glad to be part of it all.

Now the push leading up to this race has gone from great to insane as social media allows so many to spread the word, plan and generally call out any who are undecided. With the main theme of the event dialed in to raise awareness for various types of cancer, who doesn’t want to be out there showing support with an immense crowd of like-minded folks all gunning for a good time. It is magical as the week heads to the monumental weekend of racing and so much more. As Friday was hurried and rushed as so many get parked, the stages set up and the finishing touches on all the vendors spots it became clear that the weather wasn’t keeping folks away as the entire week was shown much love from mother nature until she decided to vacate the niceties and throw in some rain, strong gusts of wind and temperatures that started falling and fast.

Shorts and t-shirts were quickly replaced with hoodies and then heavy clothing as the festivities began. It did not seem to damper the spirits as the first ever Bottleneck Live Mullets for Mammies contest began. The contest was huge hit and raised just over $1000 for a local person struggling with cancer! The on stage fun was off the chain and I kept waiting for a Camaro to roll up with Def Leppard blaring! The fun that was had really summed up the spirit of the event and the good nature of the GNCC fan base and family. Thank you all who participated and contributed!

ATVs, Bikes, Youth, Adults, Concerts, Ironman Hill, and now a Mullet Contest. Ironman really has it all.
ATVs, Bikes, Youth, Adults, Concerts, Ironman Hill, and now a Mullet Contest. Ironman really has it all. Ken Hill

The racing itself would kick off in near darkness as the youth ATV racers took the field. With championships won and settled in most classes, all eyes turned to the epic battle that has been brewing between Indiana’s own Austin Abney and Tennessee’s Drew Landers in XC2. In the end the battle was won by Abney as a gracious Landers accepted things as best one could after a season filled with emotion, sheer craziness and insanely full for Landers after tying the knot just a few short weeks ago! 

The afternoon race on both days mean one thing to fans and that is Ironman Hill. Flocks of fans converge on one hill to see a little mayhem and a lot of great racing. Brycen Neal was on fire from the start to the checkered flag as he ran nearly unchallenged to take the win. Returning champion Walker Fowler sat this round out as he is still struggling with his non racing hand injury from this summer leaving the door wide open and Neal took full advantage. Things could get interesting in 2021 between these two. Cole Richardson rolled in for second and Jarod McClure took third as these two keep finding success and something to build on for the next season. It wasn’t one for the record books as far as sheer excitement but it was a solid race that had everyone cheering!

Now usually I would have been super high stress as a few of these rounds have so much going on it is hard to stay on top of it camera wise. I have learned that I can only do so much and a few events have to suffer as I prioritize what to try and capture as many special events overlap each other. With the eMTB race being a non points race it got nixed so I could take pics of the trick or treating and costume contest as well as the other fun events such as the Stacyc race and in the middle of things I catch word about some rider named Axell who was going to hit a jump on the motocross track. Ok, so I grab my camera, head off to see what the hubbub is and whoa! This dude needed a pilot license as he set his Kawasaki into the stratosphere!

It didn’t last long but was immense fun for those who saw it. I texted my kids to ask who this cat was and both went ballistic. I took a selfie to prove he was there and lost buddy points as their jealousy meters both hit the rev limiter! One kid said, “He jumps things, like houses and stuff” while the other text read… Well, I can’t really repeat it on here but it revolved around the Army, Covid, and generally being ticked he wasn’t home to hit this event with me haha! Now to back that up, Axell Hodges was set to race the Industry class. The chatter was good natured and filled with stabs at “this isn’t FMX” all in good nature and fun. Well folks, with nearly 1000 entries in the AM bike race, Hodges took second in class and 22nd overall. That’s impressive period and I want to thank him for coming out and having a great time with all of us. Maybe next year we will build a “Hodges” line and see if he can just the entire bottom and clear Ironman Hill.

Brycen Neal sure made Ironman Hill look easy!
Brycen Neal sure made Ironman Hill look easy! Ken Hill

With another evening of festivities on tap, the crowds gathered for concerts and of course the trick or treating which lead us all to bed very tired and ready to kick off the final day of competition. Even in a normal year, the morning bike race is usually a mess filled with bottlenecks and time robbing delays as bikes wait to get towed off the track. All I know is that Ryan Echols deserves a medal and a raise if he is indeed the one responsible for this year’s layout. Other than a few small sections the race went off without much of a hiccup. The flow literally flowed right into the afternoon race, which was incredibly fast!

Between the crowds and general attendance, getting from point A to B safely was a chore and I actually missed cutting off the leaders twice however I had chosen to hit locations that allowed multiple shooting locations on each lap so I knew I had captured enough albeit at the expense of hitting a few iconic spots I usually cover. No fear, we have a great pool of shooters out there so I knew those spots were being covered. Josh Strang was on a roll and late in the race it appeared Steward Baylor was going to run him down and claim another win for Blue. A mistake on Ironman Hill was the ending of that quest allowing Strang to take the win with Baylor crossing the finish line in second with Ben Kelley taking third.

So again, wow! I could easily push out another 1500 words and still only scratch the surface of this event. Now quite a few of you that follow me know that my youngest kid has been deployed since last November and was due home Saturday. It killed me to not be there but I was able to get word from home at the 2pm start that he had landed safely and was back at the homestead. What killed me was not being able to see the videos the family had taken for me until late in the evening. When he last saw me I was incredibly sick and only got worse as he left a hanger to board a flight out of the country. His first three weeks of being deployed were spent doing his job and not knowing if I would be above ground when he returned. His command pleaded with him to go home through channels but he refused telling them he had a job to do and I would want him to remain with his unit no matter what and he was 100% correct.

You don’t ever quit, you never give up and you always push forward. It’s how I live and now I see that is how my kids will live. Not sure I have a favorite proud moment but his decision ranks up there with the best of them. I came into this season a mess literally. I wasn’t sure what I could do or how long I could do it but the office staff kept pushing and so did everyone else with the exception of my wife who is now convinced I am certifiably stupid. Ok, all the doctors agree with her but they don’t race so they can bugger off! I have already contracted with the series again for the 2021 season so say cheese! Let’s just hope this Covid stuff goes away or gets handled or whatever and we can get back to normal. I have some big plans for next season and roadblocks aren’t included! As always, be safe in all you do, see you all at the final round in West by God Virginia and may the good Lord continue to bless us all!