Losing someone close to you at a young age can have a lasting impact on your life. For many of us it’s the first big wake up call that life is precious, and nothing is guaranteed. How we handle that situation speaks volumes about a person. We can allow it to tear us down mentally and even physically. Or, we can allow it to motivate us. Push forward, work hard, and honor our friend by living the best life we know how. Along the way, never forgetting our friend and keeping their story alive through our journey.
This week’s featured rider, Ronnie Rusch, is about as perfect an example of motivation as you can get. He was already paving the way for a successful career in the world of GNCC, but the loss of a dear friend helped push him to the next level.
GNCCRacing.com: Ronnie Rusch, thanks for joining me this week. Two wins in a row for the XC2 ATV class and the points lead heading into round five. We’ll get to more of that in a moment, but first, tell us a little about who you are.
Ronnie Rusch: Thanks for having me! I’m from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and I’ve been riding since I was four years old. I’m 19 now, so yeah, 15 years racing ATVs. I love riding and doing it competitively. The memories made over the years and the people I meet on the weekend are what keeps me coming back. It’s an amazing experience.
You’ve been riding since you were four. When did you start running GNCC?
Started on a 90 right away. So I’ve been working my way up through the youth ranks all the way up to a 450 in the XC2 class now.
A true lifer, I love it! You’ve won 3 National Championships with GNCC. Tell us about those.
Yeah, I got a Championship in the 125 Sr. class in youth. I moved up to the 125 class the first year they had it and I went for nine consecutive wins. I believe the prior record for the class was seven consecutive wins, which Hunter Hart had had. Beating that record was huge for me. In fact I ended up winning twelve out of the thirteen rounds that season. Only race I didn’t win was the first race back after summer break. That was big for me. It was the first time people started taking notice that I was an up-and-coming rider in youth. Then I won a Schoolboy Sr. Championship. I moved up to the College A class the season after that where I got to race against my good buddy Matthew Blankenship. He ended up beating me that year and we both moved up to XC2. This is my third year in the XC2. Looking back over the last few years I’ve learned so much racing against guys in the XC2 class that have helped put me where I’m at right now.
You and Matthew (Blankenship) were tight. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I would constantly get you two mixed up. You could have passed for brothers. I know his death affected a lot of people, myself included. He was and still is in the minds and hearts of our GNCC Racin’ Nation. With you being close to him, how has that affected you in life and in racing?
I can’t remember exactly when we met. But we were your typical young kids hanging out at the GNCC together. Riding our bicycles around everywhere and having fun. I don’t believe he had started racing all of the GNCCs at that time, but we exchanged information and stayed in contact with each other. He ended up coming out to my house and riding with me and we continued to get closer. Training together was great. We constantly pushed each other, and I know it’s a huge part of my success now. I loved racing against him, it was always a good battle. Racing the College A and the XC2 with him are still some of my best memories. All he ever wanted to do was win XC2. Shortly before he died, he told me he had the goal of returning to GNCC in 2021 with the goal of winning XC2. Obviously as he and I got close, our families got close too. It’s still difficult to think about but I use it as motivation. I’m doing this for him this year. And so far, that’s working out in my favor. I’m happy things are going the way they are.
The motivation seems to be working. You’re leading the points chase for the XC2 class and you’re coming off back-to-back wins.
Round one was difficult. I came out and got the holeshot and everything seemed like it was going to go well. I ended up getting some bad arm pump. It was on me; I was stuck up north most of the winter and didn’t get to train down south like I normally do. I knew round one was going to be rough because of that. I actually stayed in a podium position most of the day, but the last lap got me. I got passed by one XC2 guy and after that it was like a freight train coming through. It is awesome to see how tight the racing is in the XC2 class. The competition is stiff. Some guys have had mechanical failures that are reflected in the points standings right now. But realistically the class is very deep with talent. After round one I stay at John Glauda’s house in North Carolina. There were no breaks, it was all training, hitting the gym and eating right. That made a huge difference. I went from getting sixth to a podium finish and now two wins in a row. I didn’t think that turnaround was going to happen his quick. I know that kind of progress typically takes time. But I’m happy with it and I’m going to keep pushing. Still on that same training program and I want to keep clicking these wins off. Wyatt (Wilkin) and Branden Owens are two guys that I know are hungry and will be back in the mix up front with us, so I have to keep getting wins and podiums. They’ve both had some tough breaks, so they’ll be coming back strong.
You’re from Pennsylvania guy, so I have to think the middle-late part of the season is where you’re most confident as the schedule puts us closer to home for you. Yet here you are the points leader after four rounds down south and in the sand. How much more confidence does that give you as we head into the meat of this season?
My confidence is very high. The beginning of the season down south is tough for a guy like me who prefers the tracks we see in PA, Ohio, and West Virginia. Getting those wins early makes me feel like I have all the momentum I need to keep the wins coming as the schedule gets closer and closer to home. If I can do it in the sand, I know I can get it done on terrain I’m more used to riding.
Let’s talk personal life. Are you still putting music out? How about a girlfriend?
Yeah, I’m still putting out music. I’ve been more focused on racing the past few months, but I’ll have some new stuff out soon, for sure. Girlfriend, heck yeah! She’s been with me for about three years now. She’s a nice girl and keeps me on my toes. Makes sure I’m not getting lazy and keep me out of trouble.
Favorite GNCC race tracks?
Huge fan of The John Penton, Snowshoe and Camp Coker. The track at Camp Coker was brutal this year. A lot of people have been comparing it to Florida. I honestly have to agree, I think it was tougher than Florida. I love The General as well. I got my first ever XC2 podium there last year and I got my first XC2 win there this season.
You’re a fan of the rough rounds! I like it! Who helps you out in the pits?
BNR Motorsports! They’ve been killing it this season. He’s been doing my bikes this year and does an amazing job. Zero complaints from me. He also does my shocks which have been absolutely dialed. Still running the Custom Axis rear shock, just re-done by Ryan. Everything in my program seems to be going well. Finally getting everything figured out. Without Ryan and the BNR crew I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. If anyone needs anything done, hit those guys up! They threw out some coin for the Holeshots this year too, which is awesome!
Anything else I missed, what else would you like to add?
Yeah, I wanted to give a shoutout to GNCC and RacerTV. The series is obviously the biggest in the country, but it’s grown so much over the last few years. You guys give us the media coverage we couldn’t get anywhere else. I know some people have complained this year about lapped traffic, but I’m okay with it. That means our sport is growing and I know a lot of that has to do with people watching at home on RacerTV see how much fun this is, and they want to come out and give it a shout. It’s a good problem to have. I think it’s only going to get bigger and better in the coming years.
Okay, I’m calling you out now. Tough question, who in your class is your toughest competition? Who’s the rider or riders that you know you have to finish in front of or the Championship run is in jeopardy?
Actually I look at it a little different. I try to keep my eyes forward. So I focus more on the guys toward the back of the pack in the XC1. I know if I can work my way up into the XC1 riders I’m having a good race. Whenever you can hook onto one of those guys, you’re going a pace that results in a win or a podium in the XC2 because everyone in the XC1, from top to bottom, are fast. I try to see where I’m at compared to Austin Abney too. He was the XC2 Champion last year and I know if I’m pacing with him then I’m doing something right. They’re all out there shredding, so anytime I can get hooked up with one of them I’m learning something.
Last question, then we’ll let you thank some sponsors. Post-win meal?
Steak, baked potato and some mac N’ cheese.
God bless, I love this country so much. How do like your steak prepared?
Oh, medium rare, obviously.
Perfection! Thanks for pow-wowing with me today. Who would you like to thank?
First off, mom and dad, couldn’t do it without them. BNR Motorsports, Senge Graphics, Moose Racing, HMF, Nine2, Houser Racing, ODI, Cometic Gaskets, DP Brakes, MAXXIS Tires, IMS Products, Evans Coolant, Klotz Lube, Works Connection, Tireballs, Wire Out, Ryno Power and Waynesburg Yamaha.