GNCC Racing

Quick Fill #1: This Week in GNCC

Quick Fill #1: This Week in GNCC

Thursday, January 4, 2024 | 11:35 AM
Thursday, January 4, 2024 | 11:35 AM

Welcome to Quick Fill. 

And welcome to 2024. Now that the new year celebrations have all ended, we’re going to be rolling into the 2024 GNCC season before we know what hit us. At this point we’re only around six weeks from the beginning of the season and this is when the days will really fly by, eventually resulting in an all-out dash to get everything ready before Big Buck comes around. 

With the schedule, classes and rules all set in stone the logistical planning for everyone should be pretty much in the books. However, the part of having your machines (and yourselves!) physically ready to roll will continue through the coming weeks and usually comes down to a bit of a stressful time crunch for some. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone! Not only does this happen for racers and their families, but this happens on our end as well with various things. However, in the end everyone pulls it off and the show goes on as planned. 

We’re also at a point where usually we’re normally a bit beyond the “silly season” as things should be pretty well confirmed at this point and while there’s been a fair bit of news, this off-season has actually been pretty quiet as a whole. This is sort of normal for the ATV guys as they all have their own programs to put together and usually don’t have very many big changes from year to year. Everyone has their own little tricks and quirks they like to keep a little bit secret, and when you’ve got your head down putting deals together and getting yourself ready it can be a bit hard to keep the public updated and it seems like a lot of the ATV crowd has been a bit on the quiet side throughout the off-season. 

Back before social media, Quick Fill was a big thing for the latest news and happenings during the off-season. Jason Weigandt was at the helm of the Quick Fill ship back then and a lot of racers would send him info to share in Quick Fill each week as it was a great way to keep everyone updated and put word out about their newest supporters. Other guys (I’m looking at you Chris Borich!) have always been super quiet and like to show up at the first round and surprise everyone with their latest and greatest. As social media grew and Quick Fill was passed along to others such as Jen Kenyon, then myself for the last nine years (13 years of Quick Fill contributions total for me so far!) these kinds of “hey, put this in Quick Fill!” messages dwindled to, well, basically zero. 

The tools of social media make things much easier as these guys can put information out on their own terms and their own time schedule, so by no means am I complaining because I’m still getting the info… We just sometimes all get it at the same time! With that said, if anyone ever wants to go old-school and share anything in Quick Fill, it’s just as easy as shooting me an email at [email protected]. For what it’s worth, I used to randomly send emails to Weigandt and Rodney Tomblin with some Quick Fill tidbits before I ever started working at the events and next thing I knew I was stapling arrows on trees… Crazy how life works out. 

Enough about that, let’s take a look at what we might be able to expect in 2024 beginning with the ATV side of things. I swear, this is where I was going before the tangent of Quick Fill versus social media… Anyway, Brycen Neal will roll into 2024 looking to pick right back up where he left off and gunning for another championship. Brycen now has two titles to his credit and if history tells us anything, when ATV racers begin a championship run they keep it rolling for a long time. In fact, the last time a rider lost the ATV championship then regained it after another champion came over 30 years ago! Bob Sloan won the 1989 GNCC ATV National Championship before Chuck Dellulo would snag back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991. Sloan was able to regain the crown in 1992, but from there it’s only been a total of five different racers to win the last 31 ATV championships. 

In that time frame, Barry Hawk won seven straight titles from 1993-1999, Bill Ballance claimed a record nine titles from 2000-2008, then it was the Chris Borich six peat from 2009-2014. This would then lead us to the seven titles Walker Fowler won from 2015-2021 while Brycen Neal has two titles in 2022 and 2023. After an impressive seven wins in 2023 and three more podium finishes, there’s no doubt Brycen wants to keep his title streak alive and is the obvious favorite to do so, but it’s not going to be easy as the other contenders just seem to get better and better. 

Hunter Hart continues to improve year after year and wrapped up 2023 in the number two spot behind Neal. Hart won a pair of races in 2023, as well as seven additional podium finishes. Other than a mechanical issue at a muddy John Penton GNCC, Hart never finished worse seventh place and was only off the podium a total of three times throughout the entire season. Hunter has been active on social media as of late and is back at his usual winter stomping grounds around Croom in Florida, so he’s already on the ball with his 2024 prep and could potentially have the best season of his career in 2024. 

Josh Merritt put together his best season ever in 2023. What will 2024 bring?
Josh Merritt put together his best season ever in 2023. What will 2024 bring? Ken Hill

Cole Richardson ended the 2023 season with a solid third place in the final standings but made an announcement at the banquet that he’ll be stepping away from full-time competition. However, he recently picked up a really clean old Honda 250R, so maybe someone can talk Cole into bringing that thing out at some point in 2024! Also really solid in 2023 was the savvy veteran, Adam McGill. Just when you start to think maybe this guy is getting towards the end of his professional career, he pulls out some great results and finds himself in the center of the podium. McGill took the win at that ultra-muddy John Penton race this past season, and also claimed an extra podium on top of that and a total of seven top five finishes. There’s no need for the Gator to give up now as he could roll through the 2024 season as strong as he was in 2023 and maybe continue to challenge for race wins. 

Josh Merritt put together the best season of his career in 2023 which included a second-place finish at The John Penton and a total of six top five finishes to end the year fifth place overall. Now that Josh has tasted this kind of success and was even better in the latter half of the season, he could improve further in 2024 and possibly challenge for podium finishes and even that illusive first win. Also strong in 2023 was John Glauda who actually found himself on the podium three times and a total of six top five finishes. Glauda ended up missing the last two rounds due to a pretty nasty wrist injury but should be ready to roll into 2024. 

Wyatt Wilkin made his rookie XC1 debut in 2023 after coming up short of the XC2 title in 2022 and put together a pretty solid season. Wyatt only finished outside the top 10 three times and even landed inside the top five at The John Penton. Now that he’s got over the hump and learning curve of his first XC1 season, Wyatt might be able to establish himself as a new up and coming challenger. 

Steven Harrell ended the 2023 season in the eighth-place overall position and claimed the XC2 championship along the way. After wrapping the title up early, he bumped up to XC1 for the season finale at Ironman and rode to a very respectable ninth place in his first attempted. Harrell has progressed rapidly over the last few seasons and has the potential to do so even more in 2024. 

Jarrod McClure has finished in the number nine position the last two seasons and even with a little bit of bad luck that has hindered his results here and there, McClure still has the speed to run at the front of the pack. He finished on the podium at Snowshoe and grabbed two other top five finishes in 2023. The don’t call him the Sneaky Snake for nothing and it really wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him right back up at the front of the pack in 2024. 

Jay Shadron rounded out the top ten overall in 2023 and while the season may not have gone exactly how he would have hoped, finishing inside the top ten at all but three rounds he contested is nothing to scoff at. An injury during the summer left a bit of a question mark by Jay’s name as a return for the final two rounds didn’t yield the results he had hoped for, but with more time to adjust it will be interesting to see how things play put for Jay in 2024. 

While the last couple of seasons haven’t quite been the Chris Borich performances we were used to for so long, he’s still really fast and actually improved a bit in 2023. Chris is notorious for staying quiet through the off-season, so who knows what 2024 will bring for the six-time champ. To see him come back and run at the front of the pack wouldn’t really surprise anyone, and even to see him consistently inside the top ten still brings a smile to many fans faces. The dude has earned the right to keep chugging away as long as he wants. 

Adam McGill might be eligible for a vet class, but he can still win races. He'll be looking for more in 2024.
Adam McGill might be eligible for a vet class, but he can still win races. He'll be looking for more in 2024. Ken Hill

Oh, by the way, there is also this guy who won a race in 2023 after coming back from a pretty nasty injury. Rumors flew around the first part of the year that Walker Fowler’s injury might have been one that severely changes his career. He made a return at Snowshoe to a sixth-place finish, which is actually very good and then returned from summer break with a fourth place. He then won Buckwheat and finished second at Ironman to end the season. This pretty much took question marks out of a lot of people’s minds and Walker showed that he still has the speed. This will make the 2024 season pretty darn exciting with a healthy Walker Fowler back in the mix. 

On the bike side, 2023 was a season for the record books. The first seven rounds produced seven different winners, and then we had an eighth different winner in the finale round. This has never happened before and the chances of breaking that record are pretty slim, but definitely not impossible. Annually there seems to be a number of changes among the bike racers and while there are a few here and there, 2024 isn’t producing many majority changes thus far. 

Craig Delong is back with the Factory Husqvarna squad to defend his 2023 title. Delong has long been one of the most consistent riders in the series and comes into 2024 looking to produce more of the same results and hunt for another championship. It won’t be easy by no means, but consistency is always key, and Delong really shines in the consistency department. Delong became the third different champion in the previous three seasons and while he will be gunning for another title, he’s definitely got some serious competition coming into 2024. 

Steward Baylor was Delong’s biggest title challenger in 2023 and will come into 2024 more hungry than ever to finally snag that GNCC title that has seemed to elude him for so long. And, Stu will be doing this on a new bike! This deal has been in the work for quite some time and honestly, it’s been really hard not to talk about it; especially after getting a lot of the behind-the-scenes details during our trip to Japan. Well, word is finally out that Stu will be riding a Kawasaki in 2024 as part of the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Red Bear Kawasaki team. This effort will actually be mostly the same team as what Stu had put together for 2023, just with a little different backing and a different motorcycle. 

Ben Kelley returns to the Factory KTM team for 2024 and will be looking to challenge for the title once again. Kelley won the 2021 title and was really strong to start the 2022 season before an injury sidelined him and cost him a second title. Ben came back with two wins in 2023 but also had some struggles with the nagging leg injury from 2022. Ben is a pretty quiet guy and hasn’t been very active on social media through this off-season, so that could mean he’s got his head down working to come back stronger than ever in 2024. 

2022 GNCC champ Jordan Ashburn will be the next rider making a switch as Magna1 Motorsports that Ashburn previously raced with transitioned into the Landers KTM team, which is the new Factory KTM XC2 support squad with Angus Riordan and Grant Davis. With this change, Ashburn moves over to the Coastal Racing Factory GasGas squad donning his machine with the number three that brought him success in 2022 on the way to the GNCC title. Ashburn claimed a race win in 2023, as well as a pair of podium finishes and six other top five finishes.

Josh Strang was the eighth different winner in 2023. What will he be riding in 2024?
Josh Strang was the eighth different winner in 2023. What will he be riding in 2024? Ken Hill

Ricky Russell is another rider with no real changes for 2024 as he’ll be back on the AmPro Yamaha. Ricky claimed a race win for himself in 2023 and four other podium finishes, plus a couple more top five finishes. Russell and Ashburn are two guys that just seem to get better with age and Ricky could find himself at the front of the pack challenging for even more race wins in 2024. Grant Baylor is supposed to be back with the Babbitts Kawasaki squad in 2024, so don’t expect any changes there. When it comes to guys who really keep things quiet, Grant takes the cake. He only posted on social media twice in 2023 and is probably the only modern-day guy who could win a National Enduro title and not make a peep about it. But this works for him! He claimed another National Enduro title in 2023 (the third of his career) plus a GNCC race win and four other top five finishes. 

This brings us next to Josh Strang. Josh is now the savvy veteran of the bike ranks, and still continues to get awesome results. Josh snagged the season finale win at the Ironman, plus a pair of other podium finishes and some solid results on the way to seventh overall for the season. Word is Josh will not be back with the Babbitts Kawasaki squad for 2024, but there’s not been any word on what Josh will be riding. This can be pretty fun as it makes it a cool surprise when the time comes and no matter what Josh lands on, we know he’ll still be pretty darn good. 

Johnny Girroir was another rider to claim a race win in 2023, and also snagged three additional podium finishes. Unfortunately, he also had a few struggles that hinder his results, but eighth overall is nothing to scoff at. He’s back with the Factory KTM guys in 2024 and with a race win under his belt, he knows he has what it takes to do it again and very well may come into 2024 stronger than ever.

Angus Riordan and Liam Draper had a bit of a battle for the XC2 title in 2023 with the XC2 championship going to Draper. Riordan actually finished higher in the overall as those points can pay out a little bit differently when you get XC1 riders in the mix but these two will be back in the XC2 class in 2024 on familiar machinery. Draper is back with the AmPro Yamaha team where he’s been able to find the best success of his career, while Riordan is still aboard a KTM; albeit with a little different backing as part of the new Landers KTM support team. Both of these guys will surely be two big threats for the XC2 title, but they’ll still have some other serious challenges. 

Ruy Barbosa led much of the XC2 title before an injury over the summer break took him out of the final rounds and cost him the championship. His Phoenix Honda teammate, Cody Barnes, also put in some solid XC2 rides in 2023 and both of these guys could step up to make serious challenges to Draper and Riordan. This could be yet another year with numerous riders battling it out for that XC2 title like we’ve seen for several years. 

In addition to all these guys, Trevor Bollinger is back with the Factory Husqvarna team and looking to bounce back from a tough 2023 season with a couple of injuries that hindered his results. Then there’s Thad Duvall. Bad Thad also had a rough go in 2023 with a pretty big injury that kept him out of the majority of the season and as the year wound down it started to sound like Thad was beginning to plan for life outside of racing. 

Ryder Lafferty will be in the XC1 class full-time in 2024. He rode really well in his first XC1 race at Buckwheat and could prove to be very fast in 2024.
Ryder Lafferty will be in the XC1 class full-time in 2024. He rode really well in his first XC1 race at Buckwheat and could prove to be very fast in 2024. Ken Hill

Then Thad started posting videos of him riding a Kawasaki and has been hinting towards a gig with Stu’s team. Nothing is official yet, and there’s all sorts of rumors flying in all sorts of directions regarding Thad’s plans, so it will be exciting to see exactly how this all pans out. These rumors include something about him riding a 250, which he posted clips of himself riding in addition to the 450. He rode a 250 in the XC1 class previously, and even won the ultra-muddy Mammoth GNCC on one, so will he be giving that another crack? Time will tell. 

Ryder Lafferty will be back with the Coastal GasGas guys in 2024 and will be making the move to the XC1 class full-time. Ryder started the 2023 season strong with a pair of wins in the XC2 class, followed by a little bit of bad luck, and then some respectable top five XC2 finishes before a few other struggles. With the XC2 title hunt out of reach, Ryder tried his hand at the XC1 class for the first time at Buckwheat and put together an incredibly impressive performance running in the second-place spot for a large portion of the race, just around two seconds out the lead. A hard last lap crash dropped him outside the top five, but that experience alone could prove to be a great motivator for Lafferty. 

As you can see, there are a lot of great storylines coming into the 2024 season, and this doesn’t even include the 4x4 Pro, WXC or XC3 classes, nor any of the amateur classes! This kind of excitement is what makes GNCC so great and we’re pretty excited to get this season off and rolling. Start making your preparations now and it will be here before you know it. That’s going to do it for this week’s edition of Quick Fill. Enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here next week!