Welcome to Quick Fill.
Another week down and now we’re just days away from Christmas. Time always seems to fly by this time of year as everyone comes together to enjoy the holidays and like they always say; time flies when you’re having fun. So, before we know it the holiday season will have come and gone and we’ll be inching closer and closer to kicking off the 2022 GNCC Racing season. It’s exciting and stressful all at once as people rush around to get things ready, us included.
Of course, before we jump right into the 2022 season, now is a great time to look back at the 2021 season. There was a real unique feel kicking off the 2021 season as Kailub Russell would be absent following his retirement, which opened things up for a new champion on the bike side and on the ATV side Brycen Neal had come on incredibly strong at the end of the 2020 season and looked to be a pretty good threat to challenge Walker Fowler for the ATV title.
When the green flag flew for the first time at Big Buck, it would be Jarrod McClure leading the way for the first lap of the XC1 ATV season. However, it wouldn’t be long before Brycen Neal would find his way into the lead and hold that lead all the way down to the checkered flag. Walker Fowler would be forced to work his way through the pack, coming from sixth place on the opening lap to end the day five seconds behind Neal in second place. Hunter Hart proved that he had put in work over the off-season as he kicked off his 2021 season with a podium finish in third.
For Fowler, this would be the first time since 2014 that he had not claimed the opening round win and interestingly enough was only the second time since 2009 that the defending champion did not win the opening round. The two previous times came in 2015 when Fowler won the opening round opposed to defending champ Chris Borich, and in 2009 Taylor Kiser claimed the overall win at the opening round instead of defending champ, Bill Ballance. When you dive further back, however, it wasn’t uncommon for Ballance to successfully defend his titles without winning that opening round, which brings up some interesting stats.
When it comes to defending ATV champions winning the opening round, Walker Fowler has won five of the six opening rounds he has contested thus far as defending champion and won six opening rounds total. Chris Borich won five of the six rounds he raced as defending champion and eight opening rounds total, but Ballance only won the opening round as defending champion one time, and only two times total! Barry Hawk won all six opening rounds he raced as the defending champion, which Fowler now has a shot to tie in 2022.
The kickoff to the bike side of things in 2021 was one of the most highly anticipated opening rounds in many years. Defending champion, Kailub Russell, decided to retire from full-time racing after the 2020 season and there were a ton of different scenarios folks were waiting to see play out. The opening round, however, set itself up to be different from the get-go. Steward Baylor, who won four of the five final rounds in 2020 was set to miss that opening round due to an open wound that was healing, which left things even more wide open in terms of a clear favorite.
Ben Kelley would jump out to the early lead, before suddenly dropping back to seventh place midway through the race. This would turn the lead over to Jordan Ashburn for a lap before Grant Baylor would take the lead and hold it all the way down to the wire to take the overall win. Thad Duvall would end the day in second place with Josh Strang rounding out the podium in third. While these guys were duking it out, the XC2 class had excitement of its own with Mike Witkowski taking the win ahead of defending XC2 champ Craig Delong in second and Lyndon Snodgrass in third. Witkowski would check out to a commanding win, while eventual XC2 champ Johnny Girroir had his struggles and ended the day in seventh, which further contributed to one of the most unique opening rounds of all time.
On the bike side, it’s a bit more common to see defending champions have a rough go at the opening round. Out of the seven opening rounds Kailub Russell raced as a defending champion, he only won three of them! Charlie Mullins, Josh Strang, Barry Hawk, Fred Andrews and Jim Maltba all have a GNCC title to their credit but did not win the opening round as defending champ the following season. In the same flip of the coin, Shane Watts backed up his 2000 championship with the opening round win in 2001. David Knight and Juha Salminen raced two seasons each and won two titles each with both of them kicking off their second season winning the opening round as defending champion. However, two-time champs, Paul Whibley and Scott Plessinger, never won the opening round as defending champion.
Then there’s five-time champion, Rodney Smith who never won the opening round as defending series champion while another five-time champ, Scott Summers, only won two opening rounds as defending champion, which actually matches nine-time champ Ed Lojak! So, it’s actually more common for the defending bike champion to NOT win the opening round. Prior to 1980, the series was made up of several standalone events and became a true “series” with a champion in 1980. That means, from 1981-2021 the series has started with a defending champion. Out of those 40 opening rounds, the defending bike champion has only won the opening round a total of ten times!
We’ll continue taking a look at the 2021 season in the coming weeks as we roll closer and closer to the beginning of the 2022 season. That’s just about going to do it for this week’s edition of Quick Fill. However, since this is the final edition of Quick Fill before Christmas, we felt it would be a great time to bring back the GNCC Night Before Christmas that has been shared in the past, although its been several years. Enjoy your Christmas, the weekend and holiday season and we’ll see you back here next week!
GNCC Night Before Christmas
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all across the land
Not a creature was stirring, not even at Ironman;
Every machine sitting in the garage with care,
In hopes that next season soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of 2-strokes danced in their heads;
Mamma in her PJ’s, and I in my Snowshoe shirt
Had just settled down to dream about the dirt
When out on the lawn I heard such a sound,
It appeared the GNCC crew had just came to town;
Running to the garage I got very siked
Threw on my boots and jumped on my bike.
The moon on the breast of the newly lighted track,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects out back,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a full row of riders, dressed out in fresh gear.
With that striped shirt flagman whom I always see,
I knew right away that it was Ricky Towery.
Suddenly over the loudspeaker Rodney came,
And he yelled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Baylor and Kelley, Fowler and McGill, Ashburn and Strang, McClure and Neal”
To the first turn, it shall be a great day,
TEEEEEEEEENN SECONDS and we’ll be underway!"
Ripping up the wet dirt beneath the sky,
I thought to myself, “man these guys can really fly”,
So up the steepest hill each rider flew,
Throwing roost all the way, with the mud fleas’ helping too.
And then with a splash going through the deepest creek
I told myself “I’m going to do this every week!”
Drawing my hand to pull a tear off from my goggle lens,
I realized that I was in a position to win.
So I hammered down, and began to pull away
My confidence told me that today was my day.
I grabbed the hose and took a sip from my Camelbak,
Right before climbing the biggest hill on the track.
As I crested the hill I realized the track was rough
To finish this race, I’ve got to be tough.
I kept it together, not one single stall,
Next thing I knew, I was leading the overall!
I wonder to myself, “how could it be,
An amateur like me has somehow taken the lead?”
Even though my mind nearly filled with doubt,
These kinds of things are what GNCC Racing is all about.
I just had to keep things up for one more lap,
A win like this would put me on the map!
Through pro pits with a twist of the throttle,
Stopping for gas and a fresh water bottle.
My crew spoke not a word, but went straight to work,
And filled up the gas tank; then turned with a jerk.
I asked about 2nd place, my voice filled with doubt,
They gave me a nod and said “man, you checked out!”
Crossing the finish I took the checkered flag
I jumped on the podium, and tossed out some swag.
I grabbed the mic from Rodney and yelled with all my might,
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOODNIGHT!
Random Photo of the Week
As is a new tradition, we’ll end this week’s Quick Fill with the Random Photo of the Week. This one doubles as a throwback to 2012 that I just found on an old phone of mine. If you were at Ironman prior to 2012 you’ll remember that the area which is now the motocross track was mostly woods. When you showed up in 2012, it looked like this as it had been cleared off to get ready for the motocross track and this photo comes from Monday after the 2012 Ironman GNCC when motocross track layout work got underway. It’s come a long way in a fairly short period of time!