The second and third rounds of the 2023 Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Racing season took place on back-to-back weekends, as is tradition. However, as these two events are always complete opposites in terms of dirt conditions, this year was even more of the opposite as Florida produced overly dry conditions and Georgia saw heavy rains saturate the slick red clay. Here are a few things of note from those two rounds.
Incredibly Varying Conditions
It has been a tradition for many years that the Florida and Georgia GNCC rounds take place back-to-back, opposed to the typical ‘weekend off’ between events. For a number of years, the Florida round even took place on a Tuesday during Bike Week and the Georgia event would happen the following Sunday… And if you were really up for some riding in between you could race the Alligator Enduro on Thursday. However, in 2014 the Florida GNCC event changed to the typical GNCC weekend event, and while it might not be quite the grind it used to be, the quick turnaround is still pretty tough.
This year proved to be even more tough given the conditions of both events. Florida’s Wild Boar GNCC saw very dry conditions as there would be basically zero rainfall for about two weeks prior to the race. While it wasn’t an overly dusty race, it still had effect on portions of the racecourse as the already loose sugar type sand would be even more loose making for a brutally rough and tough course by the end of the weekend.
Fast forward a week to The General GNCC in Georgia and it would be a full-blown mudfest. Saturday’s ATV race saw near-perfect conditions in the red clay, but the rain began to fall overnight and into Sunday morning, then spotty throughout the day Sunday. This would leave the course totally saturated with the thick, sloppy red clay and several deep waterholes to contend with as well, making it a truly tough day in the saddle for even the top racers.
Check out the Wild Boar GNCC Highlights:
Three Rounds, Three Winners
Three rounds are now complete in the 2023 GNCC Racing season and there has now been three different overall winners. After Steward Baylor Jr. took the opening round win in late February, many eyes were on him as a guy to make a run for multiple race wins, but the next two rounds would see a number of challengers step up to the plate to contend for the race win, and two different riders have now emerged as winners as well.
In Florida, Craig Delong would lead the opening laps of the race, throwing his name in the hat as a new contender for an overall win. Delong has been incredibly consistent throughout his entire career landing more XC2 podiums than one can easily count, and that consistency led him to the XC2 title in 2020. He would make his XC1 debut last season and end the season in the second-place spot with three podium finishes to round out the year, and only finished outside the top five three times through the entire 2022 season.
Hot on his heels, and eventually leading a lap of his own would be Ricky Russell. Ricky claimed the 2022 season finale win and with a team change over the winter, Russell has been hungry to get back on that top step of the podium and has shown some very solid speed through the first three rounds. However, while these guys would lead the majority of the race, neither would hold on for the race win.
Ben Kelley, who is still dealing with a nagging leg injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2022 season, would dig deep and take the race win in the incredibly rough and deep Florida sand whoops. This proved to be a gritty performance as word is circulating that the nagging leg injury is really bothering BK, and at times it’s pretty obvious as he’s been keeping his feet on the pegs as much as possible during the three-hour long GNCC races. While this might be the case, his finishes really don’t reflect that!
The overall podium at the Wild Boar GNCC:
Steward Baylor would also put together an impressive ride of his own in Florida. He came from buried deep in the pack, dealing with issues early in the race and literally dead last in the XC1 field to end the Florida round in second place while Delong would hold on and round out the podium in third.
As the series made its way into Georgia, Delong would take what he learned leading the pack in Florida and put it to really good use. In the nasty, sloppy, muddy conditions, Delong would lead each lap to claim his first-ever GNCC overall win. No drama, nothing crazy, nothing flashy, just a really solid performance by one of the most consistent guys GNCC Racing has ever seen. Josh Strang would hold the second-place spot early in the race, then begin to drop back outside the top five, before charging back up through the field again to end the day second with his first podium finish of the 2023 season.
Strang, who was the 2010 GNCC champ and is still winning races as of 2022, might now the “old guy” of the XC1 pack but he can still contend for race wins. For both Delong and Strang, this performance just might be the boost they both need to really keep shaking things up at the front of the XC1 pack. Steward Baylor would finish on the Georgia podium in third but admitted to taking an illegal line on the racetrack and passing another racer while doing so. He let the competition back by, but still received a penalty that dropped him to fourth place.
Typically, this would actually be a two-position penalty as you have to give back the position you gained and take another position for taking the illegal line. However, given the situation on a very muddy course and the fact that Stu gave the spot back himself, he was only given the single position penalty. This means Ben Kelley is now credited as the third-place finisher and holds the overall points lead by three-points ahead of Baylor.
|1||Ben Kelley||Harwinton, CT||76|
|2||Steward Baylor||Belton, SC||73|
|3||Craig Delong||Morgantown, PA||67|
|4||Jordan Ashburn||Cookeville, TN||43|
|5||Grant Baylor||Belton, SC||42|
Another First Timer
The XC2 class continues to produce some real barnburner racing as defending champ, Lyndon Snodgrass, has been in the mix but hasn’t quite been able to pick right back up where he left off in 2022. At the Florida round, Ryder Lafferty would lead the overwhelming majority of the race and snag his second straight XC2 class win with Liam Draper ending the day in second and Snodgrass rounding out the podium in third.
However, the Georgia round would be were things really started to get a bit interesting as none of these guys would even finish on the podium! In the early stages of the race, it would actually be the two Beta two-strokes of Evan Smith and Jonathan Johnson leading the way in the XC2 class while guys like XC2 rookie Grant Davis and former race winner Cody Barnes held the third-place position.
Check out The General GNCC Highlights:
As the race wore on, things began to shakeup even more as Aussie Angus Riordan would work his way through the pack, eventually taking over the lead late in the race to grab his first-ever XC2 class race win. Smith would put that Beta two-stroke on the podium in second place while Barnes would land his first podium of the season in third. Lafferty would salvage a seventh place after some early race issues cost him a significant amount of time, and Snodgrass had some issues of his own, finishing the day in sixth.
Lafferty still holds the XC2 points lead but Riordan now moves into the second-place spot, seven points behind Lafferty and six points ahead Snodgrass in third. The XC2 class has been deep with talent for several years and that trend continues as this year could be yet another tight battle for the XC2 championship, all the way down to the wire.