The 2019 Mason-Dixon GNCC will go down in history as one of the wilder events the Amsoil Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Racing series has ever seen. With an event plagued with dry and dusty conditions, many riders would succumb to mechanical issues in what was the driest GNCC event in nearly ten years. Here’s what we learned.
It Was Dry
As mentioned in the introduction, this event would be the driest and dustiest event GNCC Racing has seen in a number of years (as you'll see below in the highlight video). The GNCC track crew actually sat back and tried to think of the last time we saw conditions this dry with this much deep of silt, and the last event that comes to mind would have been the 2010 running of the Ironman GNCC. That's a long time ago! The past seasons have seen the opposite with overly wet conditions, which continued through the early part of the 2019 season.
However, the Mason-Dixon GNCC would become somewhat of a survival run, as the dust would wreak havoc on many different machines. Jordan Ashburn would lead the early stages of the race until he would suffer mechanical issues from the dust. It would then be Kailub Russell taking over the lead. He held it right down to the final laps of the race until he would stop for a mid-race filter change and see dust all around his intake. Playing it smart and keeping the machine in one piece, Kailub would limp his machine to a sixth-place finish.
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Had a decent day going fighting through the silt, with about a lap 1/2 to go my bike started to get sleepy on me. Quick on my feet I stopped at the first team guy on the trail and pulled the dust cover off and saw my filter was completely shot. All he had was a filter without a cage, I urgently ripped my cage out and started mounting my new filter on the trail. As I peeked into the air box I saw my intake was suffocated with dust and my heart sank with the thought of my bike and I being stranded helpless awaiting a tow back to the pits. Being at the bottom of a small valley and just as I came to expect my bike would not fire on its own, luckily Antti, Bob (one of our team members) and myself pushed my lifeless machine back up the hill in hopes to bump start it on the way down. With a shove from the guys gravitating down the hill all I could think was “don’t f@#$ this up” sputtering back to life at last. I was able to limp my way to the finish line in P-6, salvaging solid points in a day that could have very easily ended in a DNF. ?: @dchapman457
Thad Duvall would manage to keep his machine running and run away with the win, marking back-to-back wins at the Mason-Dixon event, with Ricky Russell ending up in second place and Trevor Bollinger rounding out the podium in third. Also impressive was Andrew Delong, who finished a season-best fourth place, while Layne Michael rounded out the top five for his season-best finish as well.
Both Steward and Grant Baylor would suffer mechanical issues as well, which would end their days early. The fine dust and the deep silt would make it difficult for even the best bike prep to prevent issues. Even the author of this article would feel the effects of the dust, as I would find my GNCC Sweep Bike struggling to stay running while coasting down long downhills due thanks to a thick dust coating on my air filter! (Editor’s note: Bolton is the junior trail boss, meaning he follows the final pack of racers around the track as a trail sweeper) With deep silt on some of the turns and uphill sections, it was difficult to find any relief from the dust, so it was very easy to find yourself running into issues.
Grant Baylor pushing his bike back to the pits. Mitch Kendra Jesse Ansely ripped out his air filter in the middle of the race. Mitch Kendra Kelley and the team trying to start his bike after a pit stop. Ken Hill After mechanical issues ended Stew Baylor's day, he started helping out Craig DeLong (here pushing to bump start DeLong bike) and company under at the Coastal Racing/Husqvarna tent. Mitch Kendra DeLong in the parking lot after they couldn't get his bike started. Moments later he went further down the parking lot but managed to get it started. Mitch Kendra Heading back to the track! Mitch Kendra
It’s Called Mason-Dixon For a Reason
This is an aptly named event. It’s not just because you’re racing close to the Mason-Dixon line, but you race ON it. Just before the five mile mark, the racecourse would cross from Pennsylvania where the pits and parking were located, into West Virginia where the five, six, seven, and eight mile markers were located. Also interesting is that probably 90 percent of this started out as new trail prior to Saturday’s ATV race, but it would get incredibly tough and choppy as the weekend wore on.
These two states had very different feels while out on the racecourse. The Pennsylvania sections tended to be a little faster, a little wider in spots and not quite as rough. As you crossed the Mason-Dixon line you would find yourself in tighter, twisty trail with some hills, going both up and down, that got deep with silt as the event wore on. The West Virginia section would also be a bit rockier, which added yet another challenge.
This definitely helped produce some of the close racing we saw as some riders excelled in certain areas of the course, then could find themselves struggling just a mile or so later. This is actually a pretty unique event and while this year’s course did not incorporate High Point Raceway due to the impending dry conditions, it still turned out to be one of the most interesting racetracks thus far in the 2019 season.
Ben Kelley Moves Up?
After wrapping up the XC2 class title at the previous round, Ben Kelley decided to abandon his chances of completing a perfect-season in the XC2 class in favor of beginning his XC1 career early, as he signed a three-year contract extension to join the FMF/KTM Factory Racing team in 2020 in mid-September. This took quite a few people by surprise as most expected him to finish out the 2019 season in the XC2 class and make his XC1 debut in 2020. While some may have hoped to see Ben shoot for a perfect season, this early move will actually prove to be a smart move on his part.
The move to the premier XC1 class is no easy task, especially for a rider who carries the weight of an XC2 class title. Thad Duvall claimed the 2008 XC2 class title and made his XC1 debut in 2009, but it would take Thad until 2010 to land a podium finish and until 2012 to claim a race win. Steward Baylor claimed the 2011 XC2 title and would not find an XC1 podium until 2016. By moving up early, Ben will be able to learn what he needs to work on before the 2020 GNCC Racing season begins. He will now have the winter off-season to make adjustments to his program and come into 2020 swinging, instead of trying to make those adjustments during the season.
While his XC1 debut may not have been what he hoped for, it would ultimately be out of his control as the dusty conditions plagued Ben’s bike and leave him with an eighth-place finish in the XC1 class, and 35th overall. With two rounds remaining, Ben has plenty more time to learn and very could be one of the biggest XC1 rookie threats of all time when the 2020 season begins.
A First-Time XC2 Winner
New Zealander Liam Draper made his GNCC debut in 2018 where he would ultimately land inside the top five of the XC2 class a few times. In 2019 he collected a career-best third place with back-to-back podium finishes at Snowshoe and High Voltage. Draper would emerge with his first XC2 class win at the Mason-Dixon, topping what would be one of the most exciting classes to watch through the entire weekend.
Mike Witkowski would lead the XC2 class in the early stages of the race, but would suffer mechanical issues on lap four, ultimately ending his day early. Draper would then take over the lead for a lap until Ryder Lafferty would find his way into the lead when the white flag flew. Unfortunately for Lafferty, he would suffer a mechanical issue with just three miles remaining in the race, and Draper would end the day with the win.
With Kelley out of the XC2 class, the door is wide open and there are a number of riders who will be looking to end the 2019 season on a high-note. Craig Delong has been the most consistent threat to the first-place spot, and Witkowski has been strong as well. However, now that Liam Draper has found out what it takes to pull off a win, he very well could be the strongest competitor of them all. The XC2 class very well could shape up to produce the most exciting racing in the final two rounds of the 2019 season.