GNCC Racing

Quick Fill #1: This Week in GNCC

Quick Fill #1: This Week in GNCC

Thursday, January 7, 2021 | 1:25 PM
Thursday, January 7, 2021 | 1:25 PM

Welcome to Quick Fill. 

And welcome to a jam-packed first edition of Quick Fill in 2021! This year actually marks season number SIXTEEN of Quick Fill. That’s right, its now been 15 years since the first edition of Quick Fill graced the GNCC website back in 2006 and as it enters it’s 16th season I really hope to keep this thing informative but also want to make it fun to read at the same time. Last year I mentioned that I had dug through a bunch of old editions of Quick Fill dating back to when it first started and Jason Weigandt really made those old Quick Fill entries entertaining. 

Weege handled the Quick Fill duties from it’s beginning in 2006 with some help here and there all the way through early 2011. Jen Kenyon took over the Quick Fill reins in 2011 with some assistance from Mr. Rodney Tomblin himself, and sometime around mid-2011 I started contributing as well. When Jen left the company in early 2015, I started heading up this whole Quick Fill thing and have been at it ever since. 

So here we are, going on 10 years since my first “real” Quick Fill contribution (I’d sent in a few little pieces here before contributing full time) and I feel like its time to put some effort back into making this thing really enjoyable to read. I’m sure I’m just overly critical of myself, but I feel like the last few years this article has been informative and gets you the info you need, and I know there’s a lot of you who look forward to reading each week. However, to me, it’s felt a little stale. It’s been good, but it could be a lot better and I hope to have some ideas to freshen things up and pepper in some humor as well. If you’ve got any suggestions, drop me a line at [email protected]

Speaking of changes, we’d like to say thanks to Rachel Gutish for helping out with Tuesday Toolbox as well as the Youth and Women’s Race Reports the last few years. Rachel is stepping up her focus on her racing career, so she actually stepped away from the writing duties as 2020 ended. Moving forward it looks like our own Mikey Waynes will be stepping up to handle the Tuesday Toolbox duties, so, welcome aboard Mikey… Even though you were already aboard. In the meantime I had actually filled in for this week’s Tuesday Toolbox, which was the first one I had done in basically four years. I caught up with Masters A class champ, Mike Grizzle, and it turned out to be a cool read. Check that out HERE

Moving on to some actual news and info, we’ve officially closed out the year 2020 and are now a whole week into the New Year, and this year is shaping up to have a really different feel. I’m not sure if this is just something I feel but if you’re a long-time GNCC follower then it seems like every few years a new season comes along that has a totally different feel than the last few. Whether it’s due to riders coming or going, changing brands, changing styles, changing technology or what, it seems like every few years brings in a real wind of change. 

80s rock band Scorpions said to “follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park listening to the wind of change” so here’s my personal list of the winds of change through various seasons of GNCC… By the way, I know that has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m talking about but you don’t get too many chances to throw in some obscure 80s rock lyrics. 

Oh, this is also a great opportunity to pepper in a few #ThrowbackThursday photos as well, so enjoy!

Those early ATV races were a lot different than they are now... But oddly also the same... If that makes sense?
Those early ATV races were a lot different than they are now... But oddly also the same... If that makes sense? GNCC Archive

1984 – The series went through a real change as ATVs were added to the series for the first time (although they raced select events in 1983 for no points). Additionally, the series changed from the 100-Miler Series to the Grand National Cross Country Series as we know it now. 

1990 – Heading into the 90s, the series really started coming into it’s own with event turnouts growing and Scott Summers stepping up to win his first title after Ed Lojak’s reign as the top rider. 

1993 – Barry Hawk wins his first ATV title and starts a seven-year run as ATV champion, which set the standard that the ATV guys are still living up to today. Fred Andrews wins the bike championship after showing up to ride the opening round “just for fun”. Unfortunately this was also the end of an era as it marked the final running in the original GNCC event, the infamous Blackwater 100. 

Mid-90s – It’s hard to pick definite years of big changes here. Hawk kept dominating the ATV side while Scott Summers and Scott Plessinger swapped bike titles for several years before Rodney Smith stepped up to claim his first two titles in 98/99. The late 90s also ushered in the “split” race format on the bike side. Prior to 1998 all the big bike classes raced together. 

Barry Hawk raced both ATVs and bikes for several years before making a full-time switch to the bike side in 2000.
Barry Hawk raced both ATVs and bikes for several years before making a full-time switch to the bike side in 2000. GNCC Archive

2000 – Barry Hawk moves to bikes full-time and Bill Ballance begins his nine-year title run, which is still the record for most overall titles. Shane Watts becomes the first foreign GNCC champion and claims the title by riding EVERY size big bike KTM offered in 2000. He raced 125, 200, 250, 300 and 380 2-strokes and the 400 and 520 4-strokes. 

2001 – This would be the first year where the series was on TV full-time with full race recaps and this really started to make things look even more polished and really professional. This would also lead to factory semis instead of box vans, the cool signage, and some really trick looking race bikes. Additionally, this is when all 13 rounds began to count for Pro riders. Until 2001 Pro riders had been able to drop their worst or missed races, just like the amateur classes. 

2004 – This is where the ATV side really began a huge push onto four-stroke machines. Simply put; going from the old custom built 250Rs and such onto four-strokes that came mostly race ready from the factory was a game changer. 

Juha Salminen really upped the game when he came over in 2005. He also brought along Antti Kallonen as his mechanic and when Juha moved on, Antti stayed in the US to become the KTM Off-Road Team Manager, which he still is today.
Juha Salminen really upped the game when he came over in 2005. He also brought along Antti Kallonen as his mechanic and when Juha moved on, Antti stayed in the US to become the KTM Off-Road Team Manager, which he still is today. GNCC Archive

2005 – On the bike side, Juha Salminen comes over and changes the game. The races go from two-hours of really fast trail riding and an hour of an all-out race, to three-hours of flat out racing. 

2007 – Salminen heads back to Europe and David Knight takes his spot. The overall presentation of each event really changed too with some sleek signage, more sponsors, more teams, etc. 

2009 – Chris Borich finally emerges with his first of six ATV National Championships after challenging Bill Ballance for a number of years. 

2011 – Walker Fowler swept the season in the XC2 ATV class and actually won two races overall. He and Brian Wolf are still the only two XC2 ATV riders to win an overall. It’s still never been done on the bike side. Charlie Mullins wins the bike championship and becomes the first rider to really transition from GNCC youth ranks to win the National Championship. Additionally, he broke through as the first American GNCC champion since 2004. Salminen and Knight took the championships from 2005-2008, followed by Paul Whibley in 2009 and Josh Strang in 2010. 

Bill Ballance was the last 250R to claim a GNCC ATV overall win back at Ironman in 2003.
Bill Ballance was the last 250R to claim a GNCC ATV overall win back at Ironman in 2003. GNCC Archive

2013 – Kailub Russell begins his eight-season title run with his first championship. 

2015 – Walker Fowler becomes the first ATV rider to transition from Youth to Pro and claim the National Championship as he claims his first title. He’s now up to six, and tied with Chris Borich! 

For me, from a racing standpoint things have been kind of similar since 2016. From the standpoint of what I do, things have changed a lot on our end as we’ve had some staff changes, staff responsibility changes, and the overall look of the events have really changed with some different designs, great sponsors and some really creative folks who make each event feel even bigger than the last. Agree? Disagree? Let me know at [email protected] if you have thoughts about years of changes. 

However, rolling in 2021 we’re definitely in a huge wind of change on the racing side. On the ATV side, Walker Fowler is undoubtedly still the man to beat but Brycen Neal has really, really stepped it up through late 2020 and really has potential to play spoiler. All the ATV riders really don’t have a lot of brand or team changes on the horizon but they have a serious drive to topple Walker and emerge as champion. 

The ATV crowd always seems to stay pretty quiet until it’s almost time to go racing and that’s pretty cool in a way. It’s almost like a surprise when things kick off at round one. It’s actually been this way for a long time, even before social media got to be as big as it is now. Chris Borich has been notoriously secret for a long time and for a lot of folks when he shows up at round one with something different, it’s the first time they’ve seen or heard of it. 

Going down the list of top ATV guys and scrolling through their social media posts, Walker Fowler did make a post this week saying that he plans on “keeping 95% the same” so it sounds like looking at it from the outside, there won’t be any changes to Walker’s program. Brycen Neal has been really quiet so far this off-season, which is actually pretty interesting. Brycen won three of the last four races, so him staying quiet and flying a bit under the radar could prove to be really interesting. Cole Richardson has shared a couple of things on social media and he’s been training in Florida, which if you don’t know is like a tradition for pro riders. No real news of any big changes for Cole, which is no surprise because he had a great program in 2020. 

Walker Fowler is looking pretty excited for 2021.
Walker Fowler is looking pretty excited for 2021.

On the bike side, wow, there are some huge changes coming this year. 2020 marked Kailub Russell’s final full-time season in the XC1 field, so the door is wide open for a new champion to emerge for the first time since Paul Whibley’s 2012 championship. Kawasaki announced their 2021 off-road teams this week and mentioned that Josh Strang and Lyndon Snodgrass are back but it looks like Jordan Ashburn won’t be back aboard a Kawasaki. There’s no official announcement just yet, but he’s still racing and the rumor is that he’ll be aboard a white machine with backing from an existing program.

Coastal did announce late last year that they would become the Coastal GasGas Factory Racing team, and a few of the Coastal regulars have already been out riding their new machines. There's not been a formal PR just yet, but literally as this week's Quick Fill was posted, the 2021 GasGas intro was taking place out in California. Coastal was of course included in this intro and it's official that Ricky Russell and Johnny Girroir will be part of the Coastal GasGas team.

Of course, it looks as if Coastal won’t be the only GasGas team on Pro Row. A social media post this week showed a new GasGas with a number 314. Grant Baylor will make the switch from Sherco to the new KLM GasGas team. KLM had a Kawasaki effort in 2020 with Evan Earl but has now inked a deal with Milwaukee tools and GasGas for a full-blown team in 2021. It also looks like they’re going to have a number of amateur riders as well!

There will be plenty of others putting out their 2021 info in the coming weeks and this always ends up being a really exciting time of the year. Between these announcements, some pre-season racing and the general buzz of everyone getting ready for the 2021 season it really gets everyone looking forward to the upcoming season. That’s all I’ve got for this week. We hope you enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here next week for another edition of Quick Fill that we hope to make even more entertaining.

Grant Baylor will be making the switch to a GasGas in 2021.
Grant Baylor will be making the switch to a GasGas in 2021.