GNCC Racing

Quick Fill #7: This Week in GNCC

Quick Fill #7: This Week in GNCC

Thursday, February 22, 2024 | 5:05 PM
Thursday, February 22, 2024 | 5:05 PM

Welcome to Quick Fill. 

Round one is in the books, and it was a good one. Big Buck is always a really great event and this year’s version of Big Buck just may go down in the books as one of the best of all-time. The weather turned out to be pretty awesome, even with some colder temperatures coming into Sunday but the conditions out on the racecourse more than made up for the lack of higher temperatures. Basically, what we’re getting at here is that if you skipped out, you missed a really good one. 

The great course conditions really lent its hand to some great racing as well on both the ATV and bike sides. There were a few surprises here and there, and while it’s only the first round it leads one to wonder exactly what will happen throughout the rest of the 2024 season because if we have some more of these kinds of surprises, then we’re in for an incredibly exciting season. 

Without completely recapping lap by lap what everyone just watched, here’s a few things of note that helped to make the Big Buck event as exciting as it was. First, on the ATV side, most people expected Brycen Neal to begin the 2024 season with a bang and he did exactly that. Brycen would lead wire to wire to take the overall win without much drama. However, what got into Josh Merritt?! This guy was on rails all day long and spent the opening laps of the race close enough to Brycen to make a move if Brycen were to make even the smallest mistake. 

Josh has been in the game for a number of years now and after finally landing a podium at last year’s John Penton GNCC, Josh ended the season with a career-best fifth overall. It’s obvious that Josh put in some work over the winter as he came into Big Buck looking stronger than ever and rode to a second-place finish behind the defending champ. And Josh even held that second place position throughout the entire race, also riding to a drama-free finish. Now that he has two of these second places finishes to his credit, in two vastly different conditions, he very well could be a serious threat for more podiums and possibly a race win through the rest of 2024. 

Walker Fowler’s 2024 season began much better than 2023. If you remember, Walker suffered a pretty serious injury prior to the 2023 season, and many were wondering if it was possible for him to make any sort of comeback. He ended up coming back before the end of the 2023 season and even snagged a race win proving the doubters wrong. Walker kicked off the 2024 season with a podium finish, coming from as far back as sixth place on the opening lap, which was pretty cool to see. Up until last year, Walker won the Wild Boar event every single year since 2015, so technically he’s still undefeated and will be looking to continue that next weekend. 

On the bike side it was somewhat of a similar story. Johnny Girroir put in a really solid ride to lead each lap and take the overall win. While he didn’t have quite the same buffer as Brycen Neal, he still was able to ride a smart race and hold that lead all the way to the checkered flag to claim the second overall win of his career. Meanwhile, the Baylor Brothers did exactly what they’re good at, and that’s digging their way out of a hole and into podium contention. 

On the opening lap, Steward Baylor was back in sixth place while Grant was buried deep in the pack in 14th place. Stu came up to third on the second lap, while Grant found his way into the top ten, and this story sort of continued through the rest of the race. Steward would find his way into second place when the two-lap card flew while Grant would continue working his way up to sixth, then fourth, then third by the checkered flag. Steward and Grant would end the day on the podium behind Girroir, second and third place respectively. 

It’s no secret that Stu is always a title contender and Grant has been able to claim some race wins of his own, but these guys are both really impressive as they seem to get better as the race wears on, and if Grant could hit this kind of stride a little earlier, he very well may contend for more race wins. Jordan Ashburn also rode a great race to consistently hang inside the top five, eventually ending the day in fourth while one of the most impressive rides went to Evan Smith, who is putting together his own privateer Husqvarna effort in 2024 to end up fifth place in the XC1 class. 

XC2 saw an intense race throughout the entire day with last year’s top championship contenders duking it out through the majority of the race. Angus Riordan and Liam Draper would swap the XC2 lead several times throughout the race but in the end, Riordan held Draper off to claim the win by just two seconds. Grant Davis also put together a stellar ride ending the on the podium in third place, even riding in the second-place position at one point. Meanwhile, Josh Toth is trying his hand at the XC2 class at select events in 2024 and dug himself from a seventh-place position early in the race to end the day in fourth, while 2023 FMF XC3 class champion Toby Cleveland would put together a great ride of his own to finish fifth place in his second XC2 race after having to ride the last portions of the race with his seat falling off. 

If this is any sort of teaser to what we can expect through the rest of the season, then 2024 is definitely shaping up to be a really, really good year. Up next, we make the transition to the deep Florida sand before heading straight back into the red clay in Georgia just a week after the Florida round. These two back-to-back rounds are always a grind, but with them being two polar opposite events, they can produce two very different results. 

If round one taught us anything, it’s that the 2024 season could have some surprises and that Florida to Georgia swing has been known to produce some surprises of its own, so stay tuned because the next few weeks will be really cool to watch unfold. That’s actually going to do it for this week’s edition of Quick Fill. The track crew is already in Florida and while it’s a little early to get started on the racetrack, there’s still plenty of work to do getting some equipment cleaned back up and ready, so there’s still work to be done on our end. Check back next week for the latest updates from the woods of Florida and what to expect once you’re out on the racecourse. Until then, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here next week! 

Brycen Neal kicked off the 2024 season with a win.
Brycen Neal kicked off the 2024 season with a win. Ken Hill

Catching Up With Ken (Ken Hill) 

Well, when I am wrong, I admit it and I was wrong. Arriving at the track Friday morning I looked around and was thinking there seemed to be a lot of space still available to park, which usually isn’t the case at Big Buck. Even Saturday morning things sort of seemed light as I rolled right through the main gate, I saw open areas which really left me scratching my head. As I reported into the registration trailer verify the workload, those concerns dissipated as hordes of folks were in line and signing up! All was right with the world once again as the great GNCC machine was indeed firing on all cylinders. The various segmented divisions were all busy doing what they do and other than a few small issues, Saturday’s insanity of non-stop action was getting started on the right foot. As I went through my day it was indeed hectic as race after race was run and completed all seemingly without a hitch and it appeared the weather, albeit cool, was going to cooperate so one more issue that have been an issue just teased with a dark cloud here and there, but I did appreciate the suns appearance on Sunday. 

The micro and youth races are always fun to watch, mainly for the families who have their young ones on the track. The emotion and intensity are a blast to witness but not so much fun to be a part of as the rollercoaster ride of competition plays out race after race. Throw in the hurried schedule and Saturday can overwhelm you, especially if it is your first GNCC or first attempt at the race heavy day. It does make the day fly by in most cases which usually pivot around how well problems are dealt with and of course if problems arise. If they did this round, I didn’t notice it as the day was full speed from start to finish. I know the first three races of the day had me bouncing between the starts, the action and the podium and couldn’t tell you how well any particular rider did. Personally, I made a plan to start the day and stuck to it, but I am still undecided on how well my plan worked as I too only get this split race order twice a year usually. 

Finally, the morning race was on the track, and it gave many of us a small amount of a rest as the two-hour event unfolded. The conditions were great with nothing standing in the way of victory for those able to put together a win. 4x4 Pro racer Cody Collier was dialed as he ran away with his commanding win as he starts another run at the championship. Jessica Ellioff would not have the cushion Collier had but handled the pressure well like the champion she is as she too put her first win of the season down into the history books. In fact, Brycen Neal would be the third returning champion to claim victory in the new season after a stellar run proving he isn’t going anywhere but the podium in 2024. I am not sure why those three champions stand out this round, probably just because it is simple and easy to remember. In all seriousness through, this season in these classes should provide some of the best racing we’ve seen. The champions have already proven themselves and it’s the riders behind them that will have to write their own future as we start adding round after round on the season. Hunter Hart and Walker Fowler both want badly to reel in Neal which is going to prove to be a difficult task especially when Josh Merritt powers his way to the podium and builds steam for the onslaught of racing on the horizon. 

When the schedule is split, Sundays feel like a piece of cake as long as the weather cooperates, which it did. Rachael Archer, another returning champion, had all eyes on her as she put in an impressive race to take home the WXC win for her new team. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see her grab a big cushion in points as her competition works diligently to sort things out as many changes hit the class in the off season as new teams formed. The pro bike race was one of the races that did not see the returning champ claim a win as Johnny Girrior put down an incredible three-hour pace that put him center of the box. Fellow KTM mounted Angus Riordan followed suit as he took the XC2 win after a hard-fought battle during the three-hour race. 

All in all, it was a solid weekend with some head scratching going on as the replay of the day’s events kick in and riders look for issues that kept them from victory while others get the heavy lifting done while celebrating after a well-earned finish. This could be one of those seasons where we see a few riders run away with things as others struggle bus just got serviced and awaits them. I do know it’s much easier to watch and write about it versus having to be behind the bars but that’s what makes them heroes! That’s about all from me as a backup of the weekend is all that stands between me and my completion of round one. I am back home for a few days as I try and do the “in between storms” dance to keep things growing around here but soon will find myself joining you on the road to Florida where hopefully we see another great event filled with sunshine and tolerable temps. 

Be safe in all you do and as always, God bless us all!