GNCC Racing

Quick Fill #31: This Week in GNCC

Quick Fill #31: This Week in GNCC

Thursday, October 28, 2021 | 3:30 PM
Thursday, October 28, 2021 | 3:30 PM

 Welcome to Quick Fill. 

Wow, that’s a wrap on the 2021 season! Ironman is typically a great way to cap off the season as it seems like everyone who has an ATV or motorcycle in the area comes out to ride. This year absolutely shattered the previous record of 2,442 racers with an astonishing 2,710 riders for the whole weekend. Things started out a little slick and muddy on Saturday but got pretty good towards the end. Even the first AM bike race on Sunday started out just about perfect but then the rain started falling and it seemed like it never ended until the checkered flag flew on the PM race. 

The big story from Sunday was the water. There were ruts on the course full of standing water that seemed to start out two inches deep, then suddenly drop away to two feet deep. Things got even more interesting when the main creek just got entirely too deep and swift to cross, so the track crew went to work rerouting things for the PM race. Unfortunately this eliminated the iconic Ironman Hill and Twin Hills, but made the course navigable for the PM racers. The smaller creek crossing on the other side of the property ended up swelling as well during the PM race and a number of folks jumped in to make sure everyone made it across. It’s actually a pretty crazy sight to see guys pushing their bikes through the creek and it actually looked just like photos and video from the old Blackwater 100! 

When I headed out on sweep for the 10AM race I knew things were going to be interesting but honestly I don’t think I expected to encounter some of the ruts and water I did. It seemed like each rider I caught up to either pulled off the course and headed back to the pits, or simply pulled way ahead when I stopped to call in a tow. This left me riding most of that sweep lap by myself and racers know when there’s standing water and nobody to follow, you’re finding the good lines on your own. Now, by no means am I any sort of top level rider but I consider myself to be decent at line selection and just simply not getting stuck, but even I had to lift my bike out of multiple holes and I even stopped in one and backed out before I went any further. 

Even with the reroutes that took place, this all seemed to remain the same for the PM race as well. Lots of deep water holes, but by the end of the PM race it stopped raining and all that mud became sticky and sloppy as well. So, the final sweep lap of the day (and the year!) wasn’t any easier. I even found one hole that when I dropped the front wheel into it, the water came up to the front fender. So, hats off to anyone and everyone who got out there and rode this weekend. 2,710 of you are some of the toughest people on the planet, and you deserve a pat on the back. 

As you can imagine, getting that place cleaned up was no easy task either. When there’s that much mud and standing water, you can’t run the Sutter dozers around the trail or you just make a bigger mess. So, come Monday we headed out to pick all the arrows, tape, etc and boy was that an adventure as well. Just trying to get around the place was no easy task and we were absolutely blown away at the depth of some of the ruts out there. It took until Tuesday morning to get everything out of the woods, which is much longer than usual. Don’t worry, we didn’t just pack up and leave! The dozers are still there and our dozer ace Bob The Builder stayed behind to wait on things to dry out a bit and get to work. When that time comes, a crew will be heading back to Ironman to help doze, plant grass seed and start getting things back to normal. 

Congrats, champ! Mack Faint

It was a bit of a bummer that the epic battle between Ben Kelley and Steward Baylor never really came to fruition as both of those guys experienced trouble of their own during the race. Baylor had issues from the get go as he ended up needing to be bump started in the first woods section, then ended up needing a clutch and finished the day outside the top 20. Kelley also sat outside the top 20 at one point but managed to work his way back into ninth place overall for the day. Kelley’s finish and Baylor’s misfortune ended with Ben Kelley taking the 2021 GNCC National Championship, which even Baylor said is well deserved. 

One thing that really impresses me is that Ben Kelley is actually a bit of a newcomer to GNCC Racing. Kelley did four races at the end of 2015, and began the series full-time in 2016. Prior to that, he made a few appearances at Unadilla but was never a regular competitor. In just five years, Kelley has gone from a relatively unknown New Englander to two-time XC2 champ and GNCC National Champion, while also being just the second rider to claim both the XC2 and XC1 championship (Kailub Russell is the other, but Walker Fowler has also done it on the ATV side). In an era where riders are groomed from a young age to be GNCC stars, Kelley has come along and claimed a premier championship without aspiring to do so from a youth. That’s pretty unique! 

In the same flip of the coin, there’s no doubt that Steward Baylor was on fire in 2021 and will come into 2022 swinging. They say it’s harder to defend a title than it is to win the first one, and there’s no doubt that Ben will have his work cut out for himself next season. Craig Delong made his XC1 debut at Ironman and ended up riding to a really solid third place behind Thad Duvall and Josh Strang, so that’s a really impressive debut for the 2020 XC2 champ. Between a motivated Baylor, plus Jordan Ashburn who has been so close for so many years, and savvy veterans such as Thad Duvall and Josh Strang who both won races in 2021, the 2022 GNCC Racing season is already shaping up to be even more exciting than 2021. Even with so much competition, Kelley now knows what it takes to become the champ and will look to back that up once again in 2022. 

Check out that #5 on a blue machine... Yes, that IS Chris Borich! Ken Hill

Now, while all this excitement is happening on the bike side, the ATV guys have some excitement of their own. Walker Fowler has been racking up the wins and championships for several seasons now and really shows no signs of slowing down. He really has the opportunity to break some records as he currently sits second on the ATV wins list with 68, just seven wins behind the all-time winner, Chris Borich. He also sits tied with Barry Hawk for second-most titles with seven at this point, but still has a couple years to go before he could break Bill Ballance’s record of nine championships. 

Of course, much like Ben Kelley, Fowler has some tough competition of his own. Brycen Neal will be back in 2022 and Neal was really coming into his own before an injury sidelined him in 2021. He actually won three races in 2021, finished second in another and had a fourth place. He did have a couple of races where mechanical issues kept him out of contention, but Brycen really has been Fowler’s toughest competition the last couple of seasons. While he’s been sidelined, however, there have been other guys to step up and challenge Fowler as well. Hunter Hart and Cole Richardson both claimed wins in 2021 as well, then guys like Jarrod McClure and Adam McGill have also ran up front as well. There were also a few newcomers challenging for race wins in 2021 including Devon Feehan who ended up with three podiums in 2021, John Glauda led a portion of the Ironman and the longtime guys such as Josh Merritt and the six-time champ Chris Borich are still right there as well. 

So overall, the 2022 season is already looking to be one of the best in the history of GNCC Racing. That’s all I’ve got for this week as we’ve got a long off-season to talk about many other things. We’ll leave you with a few photos this week that are great comparisons to the Blackwater river crossings and that creek crossing at Ironman. Until next time, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here next week!

Doesn't this image of Ben Kelley sort of remind you of...
...this image of Mark Hyde in 1990?
And doesn't this photo of top amateur Triston Landrum remind you of...
...this photo of MotoTee's/Gear Racewear's John Ayers?