Welcome to the Digitaloffroad.com Debriefing Room. This is the place where we take a look at what really went down during the race, and I give my opinion on as much of it as I can. This article isn’t for the feint of heart. It’s long, probably a bit sloppy, and its length isn’t cut due to extreme conditions like the John Penton GNCC.
Leading up to the John Penton GNCC in Millfield, Ohio, it was pretty much guaranteed that the conditions were going to be bad. Just like death and taxes, you can rest assured that Mother Nature will provide with just awful race conditions when the GNCC series rolls into the Sunday Creek Raceway facility.
Due to the just awful conditions at the Penton the afternoon race was shortened to 2 hours, and after a lot of debate it was decided that the Pro, A, and B classes would run on their own instead of in one big combined race with the morning classes. It’s a tough call to make, and I can see both sides of the argument. If they had run one race, the track would’ve been in better shape, without the mile deep ruts and holes making for an overall better track. But, while the track would be better, you would have C-class riders out there at the same time as pros, and that can just lead to a disaster of epic proportions when they start getting lapped. After watching the struggles the morning racers had finishing a 1-hour event, and even considering the tough time a lot of B, A, and pro riders had making it around in the afternoon I’d say the Racer Productions crew without a doubt made the right call.
During the impromptu rider’s meeting to discuss how the race was going to be run, I talked to Thad DuVall’s dad and mechanic Chad, and he told me that they had a brand new race bike for Thad to ride. He said the same thing happened at Lafayette last year, they brought a fresh race bike, and then the race was a disaster. You’ve got to love when Murphy’s Law strikes. As has happened already this year, Thad got out front early, and it looked like there was a chance he could take his fresh race bike to the top of the podium. But as quickly as DuVall got out front, and as has already happened this year (and last), Thad suffered from another mechanical problem and only finished two laps.
DuVall’s AmPro teammate, and podium finisher from the previous round, Barry Hawk, only made one lap, before pulling out after getting his bike severely stuck in the Ohio quagmire. Hawk tweaked his back the day before the race playing with his son Talon, and just a few hours before the race wasn’t sure if he’d even ride. Hawk decided to go for it, but after being stuck and giving a tug, he realized how bad his back was tweaked and that he wouldn’t be able to get out on his own. Barry told me that by the time he was finally out of the mud, he was being passed by some of the very last rows from the start and knew his day was done and he went back to the pits to not risk hurting his already tender back.
To continue the bad luck streak for the AmPro team, Charlie Mullins’ win streak came to an end on the 3rd lap when he had bike problems in the infamous John Penton section of the track. Mullins and Josh Strang had hooked up at that point, and it looked like we were going to have a duel for the points lead, but a broken sprocket that sent his chain into the cases of his YZ, that ended all too soon.
So, what’s the deal with the AmPro team? Thad DuVall is riding one of the longest bad luck streaks I’ve ever heard of. The 2009 champ has yet to win a race, or really even be in contention for a win, and their title contender, Charlie Mullins, proved in Ohio that it’s just not the WRs that can break down.
Randy Hawkins has been around for ages and won a lot of races and championships on Yamahas, so it really is a big mystery. Thad DuVall has shown that the bike is capable of being ridden fast enough to win races, he just hasn’t been able to actually get it to the top of the podium. Is that because he rides too hard and just destroys stuff, or can it not last? Will Yamaha let the team race YZs after the break as had been rumored prior to the start of the season? I don’t really know the answer, but there’s a lot of talent on that team and the series would be a lot more exciting if they were in the hunt for entire races! No one out there works harder than Paul Whibley, and I’m sure at some point they’re going to get things figured out. But, if it’s not soon it’s going to be too late.
In the first lap of the race, it looked as though series points leader Josh Strang was going to have another off day, similar to the previous round in Somerset, PA where he struggled to find his groove and was way off the pace. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but after coming through the first lap in 7th place and over 40 seconds behind the leaders, Strang pinned it and made up a ton of time and got himself back into the race. His second and third laps were the fastest in the field, showing that when he needs it, Strang has the speed to run down anyone in the XC1 pro class. On the last lap Strang showed his true character, as he has done before, literally getting off of his bike and helping eventual race winner Cory Buttrick get up a hill. We’ve seen Strang do nice things like this before, after he unintentionally took out Jimmy Jarrett in Georgia last year he stopped and let Jimmy go by, not wanting to take a 2nd-place finish from Jarrett with a cheap takeout move. Then this year in Georgia, Strang literally stopped in the middle of the trail to let a GNCC TV crew member (okay, it was me) know that Thad DuVall had just had a gnarly crash and that he might be hurt. It’s good to see someone that’s in the championship hunt realize the importance of sportsmanship and just being a good guy, when others may have put their own selfish needs first and just pinned it.
Another super nice Aussie, didn’t fair as well in the mud of Ohio. Glenn Kearney may have a similar accent as Strang, but he’s got about 6″ less height, and in the slippery muddy conditions that’s a pretty serious disadvantage. After struggling the past two years with Husky’s that would drown out in a small puddle, Kearney says that his new ride is a virtual submarine giving him the confidence that he can actually finish the race. Unfortunately his short legs gave him trouble as he constantly found himself off balance and unable to dab his legs as easily as some of the other taller riders. Most of the riders were having to use their feet as skis for the majority of the course since it was so slick, and basically one big rut, and this really isn’t an option for GK. On the last lap, if the race wasn’t bad enough, Kearney got stuck about 3 miles from the finish and ended up having to pry his Husqvarna from the mud using logs to release the suction from the rear wheel. That’s right folks, he had to use freaking logs for leverage to get his bike from the mud, that’s how bad it was!
GK for sure wasn’t the only rider to get stuck, and stuck bad. About halfway through the race I heard trail boss Buren Hamrick come on the radio to say that he had just had to use the winch on his CanAm quad to get Chris Bach out of a bad mud hole. Bach said that Buren tried pulling him with just the quad, but it couldn’t get him out, so he had to wedge his quad between two trees, and then use the winch to pull him out. Yeah, that’s right again folks, Buren had to wedge his quad between trees to pull him out! Insane! Bach is another guy that has been riding the bad luck train the past few races, and I’m sure he’s ready to get off that train at the next stop.
Bach’s friend and fellow KTM racer, Nate Kanney has been another whose ticket on the bad luck train has been punched as well. Kanney excels in conditions like we had at the Penton. He enjoys the challenge of riding in extremely technical conditions, and it was obvious when watching him ride at the Penton that he was in a way enjoying the challenge. While a lot of riders would come around some of the super slick turns sitting down with their feet out, Kanney would come through standing up, feet on the pegs, with masterful throttle control. It was pretty cool watching him do that, kind of reminiscent of Juha Salminen. Unfortunately for Kanney on the 2nd lap, his bike started losing coolant. He kept it going and amazingly was still in a podium spot when the bike finally let loose just a few miles from the finish. That’s the second race in a row that Natedogg was in a podium spot to have something happen near the end of the race to keep him off of it.
If you’ve made it this far in my first-ever attempt at a Racer X Redux / Transworld Observations look at a GNCC race you must be a super fan! And since you’re on top of everything GNCC you know that I’ve yet to really talk about the biggest story of the entire weekend, CORY FREAKING BUTTRICK won in only his 8th XC1 pro race at the ripe old age of 18! I posed this question to Jason Weigandt, and he may know more about the GNCC series than anyone alive besides Rita Coombs, and he can’t think of a younger rider to ever win a GNCC overall. It would make sense that the (probably) youngest overall winner ever would be Cory B–this is what he was born to do. He’s raced the series forever, winning tons of races on minis and in the amateur ranks, and I think that’s what makes you forget how young he really is. He’s been here forever. And what a better place for him to get his first win, so close to home, with tons of friends and family there. Buttrick is wise beyond his years and rode a very smart race, and got a little help from Josh Strang on the last lap, but ask any racer out there and they’ll tell you that the breaks always go your way when it’s “your” day. Watching the teary-eyed hug-fest that broke down after Cory crossed the finish line I admit I got a little choked up myself. There’s something about literally watching a person’s dreams, and really an entire families dreams come true right before your eyes.
In GNCC racing as a whole, and more importantly in extreme races like this year’s John Penton race, it really is about the breaks and the breakdowns. Riders like DuVall, Mullins, and Kanney certainly didn’t have many breaks go their way, and to top it off had the breakdowns to boot. Guys like Bach and Kearney also didn’t have the breaks go their way, they got stuck, like, really, really stuck, but they didn’t break down. Then you have the riders on the podium, the guys who caught the majority of the breaks and were able to finish the race in what seemed like lightyears before the other riders in the race. So, what can you do to be the guy who has the race go their way? I really don’t know. It has something to do with a combination of skill, patience, experience, and the x-factor, luck. If you’ve got the secret formula figured out, maybe pass it on to Thad DuVall, he could certainly use it!