Have you all recovered from one of the biggest Steele Creek GNCCs in recent memory? I’ve been struggling all week after killing myself getting around through the crowd on Sunday. I have a whole new respect for all of you that run back and forth between spots pitting and cheering on your riders every lap. The crowd was so thick that I was forced to park my Can-Am and walk/run from spot-to-spot in order to catch the leaders and let me tell you, my off-season training of drinking Coors Light and sitting on the couch didn’t quite prepare me for that level of exertion!
One rider who was obviously prepared for the race and conditions was FMF/KTM’s Kailub Russell. KR absolutely killed it at Steele Creek taking a wire-to-wire win that was reminiscent of his many victories in the XC2 Pro Lites class in years past. KR has won a lot of races in his career, from minis to 200A and through the XC2 ranks, and now with three XC1 race wins to his credit I don’t see him getting tense or uncomfortable riding out front in that class. Throughout his career he’s been one of those guys that when he wanted to ride well he typically did, and when he, for whatever reason, wasn’t “into it” that day the results would suffer. In a similar fashion to how Charlie Mullins was able to keep the demons that plagued him in the past at bay last season, Kailub has learned to block out those negative thoughts as well. For instance, he used to absolutely hate racing in Ohio—ironic since he’s an Ohio native—but last year he nearly won the John Penton GNCC then took the win at Power Line Park. To cut to the chase, in my opinion Kailub is a legitimate title contender in his sophomore season in the XC1 class after his last two performances.
It’s pretty crazy the amount of coverage the GNCC series is getting this year, with Vurb Off-Road and Off-Road Viking both pumping out edits right after each race as well as the RacerTV edits I do. I can remember when I first started coming to the GNCCs in 2005 you pretty much never saw video from a race unless you bought a DVD from the MotoTees trailer. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out all of the videos from Steele Creek as they all have their own unique vibe and capture various portions of the 11-mile course. At the end of my RacerTV edit is one of the cooler shots I’ve shot in a while, showing Kailub Russell drinking a Gatorade after the finish with Paul Whibley coming by in the background headed towards the checkered flag.
One rider who would like to forget his performance at Steele Creek is JG Offroad Honda rider Nate Kanney. After pulling out of the Florida round, Nate rebounded with a solid 4th-place finish in Georgia. I’m sure I’m not the only one that thought that was the ride Nate needed to get the ball rolling for 2012, but unfortunately he pulled out of the Steele Creek round after only 2 laps. I hit up Nate today to find out what was up and he put it simply, “What can I say? I didn’t know it was going to be this brutal on my working fulltime and trying to compete with those racehorses. I’m not really out of shape, probably as good of general fitness as I’ve ever been but I have literally no bike time during the week anymore.” I’m sure all of you, like myself, who do something other than race dirt bikes for a living can relate to what Nate is going through, and I personally can’t imagine trying to ride the pace those guys do without being able to focus 100% of your efforts on it. Nate went on to tell me that he’s been struggling with the “arm pump nightmare” of his life, but he’s going to keep plugging away and gut out what he can when the days are tough.
Kanney wasn’t the only rider with a forgettable performance in North Carolina. FMF/KTM’s Charlie Mullins’ GNCC debut on the new Factory Edition KTM 450 SX-F didn’t go nearly as planned, and despite what most would’ve thought coming into the race, the problems were with the man and not the machine. I talked to Charlie today to get it straight from his mouth as there had been various rumors on the message boards. “Yeah, I was sick all week. The bike was good I just wasn’t my best. I hit a wall and did the best I could. I’m feeling all good now and will be ready for Big Buck,” said Mullins. Charlie did a good job of keeping his sickness under wraps leading up to the race, but anyone that saw him fade from second to sixth knew that something wasn’t quite right with the defending champ. With a weekend off to recover I’m sure Mullins will be back on form and try to repeat his winning performance from last year at Big Buck.
I can’t write this 411 without at least one mention of Steward Baylor’s great ride to 2nd-overall and a massive win in the XC2 Pro Lites class. Baylor is the can’t-miss kid so far in 2012 with 2 wins in the National Enduros and three straight GNCC wins. After three rounds of the series Baylor has proven he has speed and endurance that are unmatched in the class so far and with both Jason Thomas and Jesse Robinson each having one bad race thus far his points lead is already a massive 22-points. If Robinson or Thomas don’t start winning some races soon we could wind up with a Ryan Villopoto-like early championship wrap-up for Baylor.
FMF Racing released an updated version of their awesome TV commercial that has been running during the Supercross events this year. I was wondering if any of my GNCC footage would remain in the new version and was very pleasantly surprised that there’s still one shot in there of Charlie Mullins celebrating on the podium at Loretta Lynn’s. Check it out here: http://www.fmfracing.com/Team/Videos
A bit of good news for FMF/RPM/KTM Racing Team Maxxis racer Josh Strang, he has finally been released to ride again after the last surgery to remove the screws from his leg appears to have been successful in allowing the bone to heal. Strang has been at Rodney Smith’s house training the last couple of weeks and is hoping to return to racing at the Endurocross season opener in Las Vegas in May. No word on when we’ll get to see Strang make a return to the East Coast, but we’ll keep you posted when we find out.
We will be seeing an Australian on a KTM for Big Buck as Toby Price is coming back over to race that round. Toby gets in on Monday night and is picking up a bike from Triangle Cycles in Durham to race at the Big Buck. His plan is to try and make it out West for the next round of WORCS as well, but he’s yet to get that sorted. Toby was a motocrosser originally and is a winner of Finke in Australia which is very similar to Baja or Hare and Hound racing, so he could very well excel at that faster-paced type of racing.
I know there’s still a lot to cover, like Cory Buttrick’s impressive podium ride or Jordan Ashburn making the switch to a YZ-450 and finishing 5th, and I haven’t even gotten to the XC2 class and Brad Bakken’s first podium of the season. I promise we’ll cover all that and more next week, but for now I’m in the car driving to Maryland for Easter and Krista’s driving is making me carsick! Have a great weekend!