The sixth round of the 2019 GNCC Racing season rolled into Millfield, Ohio’s Sunday Creek Motocross facility for the 30th annual John Penton GNCC. Rains leading up to the event made for slick conditions in the Ohio clay through the early portions of the weekend, but long periods of sunny skies began to dry things out by the afternoon motorcycle race. While the thick mud may have dried out, it would still be a tough and rutted race course, even for the top professional talent. Here’s what we learned.
1. Tough Day in the Saddle
When the top riders mention that it was a tough day in the saddle, then you know it was a tough course. The layout itself would not be an overly difficult one, but the areas that did not dry out after the rains would be incredibly slick. Couple that with a few tough hill climbs, one short area with large exposed rocks, and a technical downhill creek run, and it was a course where even the top riders struggled at times.
The previous round saw some similar conditions with deep ruts and a few slick areas, but the Ohio clay is very different than the tacky soil you find in Indiana. Ohio clay can rob you of traction on a dry day, but when you add any amount of water, it feels like riding on a sheet of ice.
2. Thirty Years of History
This year would mark the 30th running of The John Penton GNCC. Originally added to the series in 1990 as the Burr Oaks GNCC, the event would undergo a name change in the early 2000s to pay tribute to off-road pioneer, John Penton. This 30-year history makes The John Penton event the oldest event on the current GNCC schedule, and it sits just four events away from topping the list of most GNCC events ever hosted. Currently, Loretta Lynn’s still tops the list with 33 GNCC events hosted and while Loretta’s is currently not part of the GNCC schedule, it’s never impossible for it to return.
In the 30-year history of this event, the big talk is always the weather. This event is known as either being very muddy or very dusty, and some years you’ll experience both! With a long history of muddy races, native Ohioans excel at this event as they tend to be exceptionally gifted in finding traction on the slick Ohio clay. In fact, there has been 15 times where an Ohio rider has claimed the overall win, making for an impressive 50 percent winning rate.
3. Thad’s Dad, Chad, Is Rad!
Thad Duvall would come away with this year’s win at The John Penton GNCC, making his second Penton win in a row. However, this win would bear huge similarities to his win earlier this season at the Steele Creek GNCC. Kailub Russell managed to break away from Thad and pull out a slight lead on the final lap but an encounter with a lapped rider would once again play a huge role in the outcome of the race.
On the final lap, Russell entered a section of woods with the lead. Unfortunately for Russell, he would find himself in the same rut as a lapped rider who was struggling. Russell had nowhere to go, and as Duvall closed in, his father, Chad, spotted a different line that Thad was able to use to make his way around Russell.
Outside assistance is allowed in GNCC Racing, and it’s not uncommon to see a rider’s supporters also pointing lines for the competition. Sometimes the assistance plays a huge role in the outcome of the race, and “Chaddy Daddy” just happened to be in the right place at the right time to point out a line that aided Thad in making the pass for the win. These things don’t happen at every event, but every once in a while having your crew in the right areas can pay off big time.
4. Kelley’s Dominance Continues
Ben Kelley has been riding a wave of momentum this season and would claim his sixth win of the season. He’s swept every round so far, and in doing so he’s put himself in the record books as the rider with the most consecutive wins in the XC2 class. Kelley’s rise to the top has been incredibly impressive as it was just a mere three seasons ago that he was competing in his first full season of GNCC Racing. The Connecticut native tried out the XC2 class at the final four rounds of the 2015 season, and showed promise with a third place finish a rocky and tough Mountain Ridge GNCC that season.
From there, he began contesting the series full-time in 2016 landing two podium finishes that season, and two podiums in 2017. Coming into the 2018 season, Kelley had five podium finishes to his credit in 29 XC2 class starts, and it was suddenly like a switch flipped. The 2018 season would be a season of dreams for Kelley as he would click off a total of six wins, and claim five additional second place finishes on his way to the XC2 class championship. If Kelley can continue doing what he’s done thus far in 2019, he’s well on his way to a historical season in the XC2 class.
In fact, Kelley only needs to claim two more wins to tie the record for most XC2 wins in a single season. Currently Thad Duvall, Kailub Russell, Grant Baylor, Trevor Bollinger, and Josh Toth are all tied for most XC2 wins in a season with eight a piece. That’s a tough feat as anything can happen in the world of GNCC Racing, but Kelley has a shot at a history breaking 2019 season.
5. XC3 Excitement
Things are beginning to heat up in the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class as Cody Barnes has now taken the class points lead away from defending champion, Jesse Ansley. These two would battle back and forth for the class win throughout the entire three-hour race with the biggest gap between them being just around 23 seconds. The battle would really heat up in the closing stages of the race, as Ansley held the lead when the white flag flew. Barnes put his head down and chased him down, eventually making the pass, which he would hold to the finish line to take the win. After three hours and ten minutes of racing, Barnes would finish just a mere two seconds ahead of Ansley.
Rounding out the XC3 podium would be Joe Marsh. Joe is, well, just your Average Joe who loves to race his motorcycle. The XC3 class was designed for young up and coming riders to come together with experienced racers who aren’t looking to compete in the top pro classes. The John Penton podium is a great testament to this as Barnes and Ansley are 19 and 18 years old, while Joe is 38!
Joe is a six-time GNCC Vet-A class champion, and frequently switched between a 250 two-stroke and 125 en route to those Vet class titles. After six straight, Joe went looking for a bit of a challenge and contested the 200-A class in 2018, where he claimed two wins and ended the season in third place against riders that were half his age!
Joe excels in tough conditions, and the slick Ohio clay was exactly what he had waiting for all season to claim his first-ever XC3 class podium. It goes to show that you never know what to expect in the world of GNCC Racing.