But we aren’t just talking about ATV riders. We’re talking about two-wheeled stars who made the switch over to four wheels. Two weeks ago, Can-Am GNCC Champion David Knight decided to give ATV racing a shot at the Klotz Ironman GNCC in Indiana. Knighter had already wrapped up the GNCC bike title, so, for fun, he hopped on a KTM 525XC ATV and gave GNCC ATV racing a go.
The ATV pack salivated over the idea of beating up on the bike champ, but Knighter made it clear he was just trying to have fun. He was serious enough to race in the premiere XC1 pro class, but after a mid-pack start, he quickly moved over and let the rest of the pro pack past him so he wouldn’t interfere with anyone. Eventually Knight found his pace, though, and battled A class riders for much of the day. He finished 49th overall out of 230 riders, ahead of all of the B riders on the course. So, it could be said that Knighter is a decent A class rider on ATVs.
Such crossovers have actually been going on for a long time, in both directions.
Gary Denton was once a promising 125cc National Motocross talent from Southern California, with several top ten finishes in the nationals. But when Suzuki introduced their Quad Racer back in 1985, Denton got on one and immediately started winning. And winning. With eight AMA National ATV Championships, Denton is the winningest ATV racer of all time. Here’s some cool trivia: Denton’s mechanic was Wayne Hinson, who developed a heavy-duty clutch system for Denton’s machines that resulted in massive holeshots week after week. Eventually, Hinson started selling the clutch systems, and today Hinson clutches are even used by factory motocross bike teams.
One of Denton’s chief rivals was Georgia’s Donnie Banks. Big Donnie won a bunch of titles in the Mickey Thompson Stadium GP Series, and he could handle Denton and everyone else on a rough motocross track. After retiring from ATVs, Donnie promoted races in Georgia and started racing bikes, winning motos at Loretta Lynn’s and nearly pulling off the 40+ Championship there a few years back. He came within one position of becoming the first man to win at Loretta’s on bikes and ATVs.
On the reverse side, Kory Ellis is the Team Manager for the factory Suzuki ATV (Rockstar/MSR/Yoshimura/Pro Taper) squad. Kory was a top racer just a few years ago, winning a few ATV MX Nationals, but he also qualified for Loretta Lynn’s on a bike, so he would just stay at the track for a full two weeks.
Current Asterisk/CTi rep Tom Carson was a top privateer racer in the 1980s. To make extra money, Carson would often grab an ATV and sign up for additional classes at supercrosses in Canada and Europe. Often, Carson would win the bike and ATV pro classes in the same night!
Today, John Ayers is the head man running the facilities at AMA Toyota Motocross Championship events. In the early 1980s, Ayers was a top privateer motocross talent, and then he switched to off-road and raced the ISDE and the GNCCs. Then he grabbed the first Suzuki Quad Racer he could get his hands on and quickly started winning GNCC races on those, including an overall win at the Blackwater 100.
Our own David Pingree is still supposed to put together a story about racing an ATV. So far, he’s managed to get out of it...
Perhaps the ultimate crossover star is Barry Hawk. He won seven GNCC ATV Titles on ATVs, then switched over to bikes and made it all the way to the top there, winning the 2003 bike crown and finishing second behind Juha Salminen and Knight in ’05, ’06 and ’07. Hawk’s no slouch on a motocross track, either. In 2002, he raced the High Point National and qualified easily in the 250 class, going 29-29 for 30th overall.
Interestingly, Hawk only started racing bikes to improve his ATV skills. On four-wheels, Hawk was constantly battling veteran Bob Sloan for the GNCC Championship. Sloan would race an ATV on Saturday and a bike on Sunday just to get in additional training time. So Hawk, figuring he had to do whatever Sloan did, got a bike and did the same thing.
Soon, Hawk got pretty fast on a bike, picking up a Suzuki support ride from Bromley Suzuki in Pennsylvania (at one point Bromley supported both Hawk and Barry Carsten, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the greatest team of all time). Then came a factory Yamaha deal, so Hawk parked his ATV for good, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sloan makes for a much sadder story. At one GNCC, he and Hawk were battling hard on the last lap, and Sloan suddenly went into cardiac arrest and collapsed. He passed away on the track. Today, the GNCC final round in Indiana is named after Sloan, who was known as “The Ironman” for racing ATVs and bikes on the same weekend.
Davey Coombs adds this commentary on Sloan:
“I remember those Bob Sloan days well. He and I were about the same speed – well, I was a little faster but he had more endurance – so we’d often end up together at the end of the races. He never beat me, and I teased him about it all the time. One more year and, yeah, he would have beaten me. I ended up giving the eulogy at his funeral. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do and I truly believe it helped shape who I am, or at least who I try to be...”