After more than two months off for the summer break, the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country series is back this weekend at the Unadilla Valley Sports Center, for the Can-Am Unadilla GNCC, round 10 of the 13 stop series. And those three riders, GEICO/JG Racing Monster Kawasaki's Paul Whibley and the two FMF Makita Suzuki guys, Josh Strang and Charlie Mullins, have some unfinished business to settle when announcer Rodney Tomblin’s rousing call of “Ten Seconds!” echoes across the start line. Adding to the drama this weekend is the fact that the riders will be racing at the legendary Unadilla track, where just recently the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship was held.
Whibley and Strang have tossed the points lead back and forth since the sixth round, when Whibley finally broke Strang’s three wins in a row streak. But while Whibley and Strang have battled back and forth for the points lead, Mullins has stayed close behind, and is now only 4 points behind Strang and 17 behind Whibley, making it very easy for him to steal a few wins and take the championship from both. Mullins hasn’t won a race since his round one win in the Florida sand, but staying on the podium almost every other race except three has kept him a viable contender.
“I’m still behind but it’s still not out of the question,” Mullins said. “I definitely think I should be able to There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to win all four. But I know everyone is working hard.”
When the series left off, Defending Champion David Knight had sprung a surprise visit on the ranks at the MotorcycleUSA.com Snowshoe GNCC. While Knight had the lead on time adjustments, Strang almost had him for the physical lead, and in some places, passed the champion. Behind them, Whibley battled with Am-Pro Yamaha’s Barry Hawk until Hawk crashed, giving Whibley a better margin in third place. Then, the unthinkable happened up ahead, as Strang hit a deer, knocking him out of a podium place. With Hawk and Strang out, Whibley could take the 2nd place win behind Knight and put himself 13 points ahead of Strang.
When the season was over, the crew went their separate ways. While Whibley was crowned the OMA Champion, Strang stayed relatively unseen on the radar as he went back home to Australia and Mullins competed in the Amateur day portion of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship Series.
“I will definitely have to go out there and put in some good results,” Whibley said. “It’s hardly sewn up. I’ve been training hard. I’m confident I’m in good as shape if I have been but I’m sure they’ve been doing the same. It’s going to be close right down to the final round.”
All three said they are anticipating the last four rounds: the Can-Am Unadilla, on September 12-13; the Moose Yadkin Valley Stomp, on September 26-27; the ITP Power Line Park on October 3-4; and the final round, the Klotz Ironman on October 24-25.
“I think these tracks suit me better than the other guys,” Strang said. “Making a comeback, and winning the championship is my goal. My confidence is very high. I’m definitely ready to go.”
But Strang isn’t the only one. Whibley said he spent close to every possible moment training and riding except for “doing the Vegas thing for a few days and going to that lake thing nearby…the Hoover Dam.”
Whibley even hung out at Ricky Dietrich’s for a few days and rode some Endurocross tracks. Strang continued his training in California with five-time GNCC Champion Rodney at Lori Smith’s, which has been touted as a really tough place to train. On more than one occasion the Smith couple have been called “real ass kickers.” Mullins, besides doing well in the amateur portion of the nationals, competed in a few WORCS races.
Behind the “Big Three” is another clutter of riders eager to prove their worth before the season is over. Whibley’s teammate Jimmy Jarrett is in limbo, with 30 or more points on either side of him. While Jarrett can’t really move up or down in the rankings, he’s made it close to first place in the races, taking second place a handful of times and has the ability to make a good showing the rest of the season.
New York’s Nathan Kanney is the home-state favorite at Unadilla, and he took his first career victory on the familiar terrain back in 2006, and also grabbed podium finishes there at each of his other visits. He’s exceptionally strong on this track. Kanney, a Shock Doctor KTM rider, was expected to challenge for the title this year but has been held out of victory lane so far. Unadilla could signal the start of his comeback.
At Snowshoe, Am-Pro FMF Yamaha’s Barry Hawk ran into bad luck again, crashing into a tree after putting in a dedicated charge after Whibley. He hopes to find himself battling with the series’ leader again this weekend. Kanney’s teammate Kurt Caselli has stayed in the top 10 but hasn’t seen the success he hoped for this season. Husaberg’s Jesse Robinson is eighth in the points standings, followed by Husqvarna’s Glenn Kearney and Kenneth Gilbert.
And Am-Pro FMF Yamaha’s Thad DuVall could serve as a real wild card. Last year’s XC2 Champion has has run through an unprecedented string of bad luck this year in his 450 debut, but his speed and talent is still there.
In XC2 action, Shock Doctor KTM’s Kailub Russell is still in command of the points lead after finishing third at Snowshoe, and is a substantial 54 points ahead of teammate Cory Buttrick. Monster Energy/FAR Racing’s Jason Thomas took home his first win at Snowshoe and sits in third. Buttrick and Thomas are only two points apart and while they may not be able to catch Russell in the championship, it will be an exciting battle to see who might take home the number 2 plate.
The charge through the final four rounds begins this weekend at Unadilla.