Round six of the 2020 Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series would see the series head to Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, for the High Point GNCC. With near-perfect weather conditions greeting a weekend total of over 1,700 racers, the happenings on-track produced more of the close and intense racing that the series has become accustomed to in 2020. Here’s what we learned.
High Point History
The 2020 event would mark the first High Point GNCC since 2002. The Mason-Dixon GNCC is held each fall across the street, but getting back to High Point is big, as the name has a long history in GNCC Racing in addition to its Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship fame.
High Point played host to the first-ever AMA National Hare Scramble in 1979 and was a consistent stop on the GNCC schedule from 1987-2002. As the series grew and entry numbers grew bigger, the need for longer racecourses in the early 2000s would see the series move on from the famed facility, but pieces would return in 2018 as part of the Mason-Dixon GNCC course. With the Mason-Dixon still on schedule for later this fall and a need for a replacement event to fill this 2020 COVID-19 calendar, the decision was made to base a GNCC out of the Mathews Farm property, but cross the road and run a big chunk of the course at High Point Raceway.
This proved to be a popular choice, as folks love High Point, even though the motocross track was skipped this time due to extremely dry conditions. Yes, the GNCC crew has some great water trucks but these are two and three-hour long races. It’s not feasible or safe to water the motocross track mid-race, and no one wants riders to try to hit jumps in the dust. Still, as a huge number of riders signed up for their chance to ride the famed High Point GNCC.
Russell Bounces Back
At the previous round in South Carolina, FMF KTM’s Kailub Russell battled Monster Energy/Babbitt’s Kawasaki’s Josh Strang throughout the race and was ready to try a last lap pass for the lead. A big crash would take Russell out of contention for the win but he hung on for a second. With many wondering if he was still feeling the effects of the crash, Russell would bounce back at High Point to take his fifth win in six events.
However, Russell wasn’t entirely satisfied with the performance. Obviously, he was happy with the win, but he also stated that he was frustrated with how he rode and wasn’t happy with the ride. The frustration seems to stem from the late portions of the race, as Strang was able to close a sizeable gap on Russell. Kailub led every lap and at one point had extended to nearly 30 seconds ahead of Strang., but by the time the checkered flag flew, Strang had cut that lead down to just 11 seconds.
For Strang, this is another excellent ride. Yes, he would’ve ultimately liked to back up his Camp Coker Bullet GNCC win with another, but he completed the first lap all the way back in ninth place and worked his way to within 11 seconds of Russell by the end. Coming into the season, many were wondering where Strang would stand as he’s had a bit of a rough go over the past few seasons. When the season got underway with a number of top challengers out, it wasn’t surprising to see Strang on the podium, but not everyone was sure he would be running down Kailub Russell like he’s done since the series has returned following the coronavirus break.
What will happen next? Two rounds remain before the series begins its summer break and Strang would like to get more wins under his belt. At the same time, Russell still has the drive and fire to gain as many wins as possible. These next two rounds could prove to be pretty exciting.
XC1 Podium Threats
This race would mark the return of FMF KTM’s Ben Kelley, who had suffered a shoulder injury leading into the opening round in late February. Kelly is the much-hyped rookie in the XC1 class, a two-time XC2 Champion and the man who won almost immediately when he jumped on a 450 last year (although Russell and Thad Duvall missed those races with injury). In his first three-hour race back, Kelley was able to end the day in a very impressive third place. After winning two of his first three XC1 races in late 2019 (after wrapping up the XC2 title early) many expected Kelley to be a big contender in 2020. With the shoulder injury behind him, Kelley could step up to be a third challenger for overall wins.
Jordan Ashburn and Josh Toth would round out the top five, respectively, with both riders in podium contention at different portions of the race. Both riders have landed on the podium several times in their careers, and could very well be back there before the season ends. However, the heartbreaking rides of the weekend went to FactoryOne Sherco’s Grant Baylor and Phoenix Racing Honda’s Andrew Delong. Both riders were battling just behind Kelley, working to chase him down for the third place position. Unfortunately both would run into mechanical issues that ended their day early. We could also include AmPro Yamaha’s Layne Michael in this discussion for tough outings, as he was running second to Russell through the first three laps of the race until a dislocated shoulder on the fourth lap ended his day early as well.
Grant Baylor landed on the podium with a third place at the previous round, but for Andrew Delong it’s been quite a while since he’s found his way onto the podium. Delong has been putting in excellent rides for the past few rounds, but freak issues have taken him out of contention. This will ultimately serve as huge motivation and Delong will definitely be a guy to keep an eye on moving forward.
Layne Michael trailed the rear fender of Kailub Russell for the first three laps of Sunday's race until a crash ended his day early. Ken Hill This not usually the kind of pit stop you see at GNCC races but when you suffer a dislocated shoulder, you need to help as soon as you can get it! Mitch Kendra
XC2 Continues to Thrill!
As has been the norm in 2020, the XC2 class put in a barnburner of a race at High Point. Motocross convert Ben Nelko would lead the opening lap before last year’s Mason-Dixon GNCC XC2 winner Liam Draper would lead lap two. On lap three, Johnny Girroir would take over the lead before Mike Witkowski would lead the fourth lap. Draper returned to the lead for lap five, with Mike Witkowski leading the final two laps to take the win. What a race!
In seven laps, only Witkowski would lead two consecutive laps and only Witkowski and Draper would lead more than one lap. The battle for the lead wasn’t the only excitement as Craig Delong came through the pack to battle those leaders, Ryder Lafferty ran in podium contention early and Cody Barnes was just a few seconds off the podium at one point. This essentially created a seven-rider battle at the front of the XC2 pack throughout the race!
Witkowski would take the win with Delong second and Draper in third. Girroir held the points lead coming into the event, but would end the day in sixth place behind Barnes and Lafferty. Witkowski now takes over the XC2 points lead with Delong four points back in second, while Girroir drops to third—five points behind Delong and nine points out of the lead. This 2020 XC2 Class Championship could be the most hotly contested XC2 battle since the inception of the class in 2007.