BLACKWATER 100 REUNION

BLACKWATER 100 REUNION

Where GNCC began—these are the conquerors of “America’s toughest race” By the staff of Dirt Wheels

BLACKWATER 100
Founded and promoted in 1975 by Dave Coombs Sr., the Blackwater 100 attracted motorcycle racers nationwide as the ultimate test of machine, skill and endurance. In 1983, three-wheelers became a regular fixture and would be joined by ATV racers a few years later. The race was shut down in 1993, but the seed was already planted for what became today’s Grand National Cross-Country series.

Every old photo we’ve ever seen of the Blackwater 100 begs the same question: how does anyone or any machine survive that? Truth be told, photos don’t do it justice. Held every June from 1975 to 1993 in Davis, West Virginia, the Blackwater 100 started out as a motorcycle race that attracted as many as 400 competitors from all over the country. The race is the masterpiece of legendary race promoter Davey Coombs Sr. who, with a chainsaw strapped to his back, cut out a 25-mile lap in the woods consisting of unrelenting obstacles, water crossings and tight tree-lined trails. If you were lucky enough to survive one lap, you still had a long way to go.

BLACKWATER 100
Riders of the Blackwater, front row left to right: Bob Kline, Jimmy Wise, Tom Tokay, Sue Wise, Bruce Alleman. Back row: Greg Burkholder, Chuck DeLullo, Tiger Lebron, Ted Trey, Norm Bish, Roy Dains, Chuck Fritz and John Tate.
BLACKWATER 100
Bob Kline, Ted Trey and Chuck Fritz. Fritz was a Blackwater regular, having raced from 1983 until 1992. That’s a lot of punishment.

MORE WHEELS AT BLACKWATER

In 1983, Open, 200cc, and 125cc Three-Wheeler classes were adopted, attracting 23 racers. The number quadrupled the following year, and as time turned another decade older and four-wheelers entered the mix, ATV entries alone totaled 373 (1992). By this time, Blackwater had already made its mark as “America’s toughest race” and attracted ATV racers from as far away as California. Unfortunately, the race’s popularity became its demise as environmental and liability concerns ended the challenge of beating Blackwater after the 1993 race, but not before it spawned the birth of the Grand National Cross-Country series (GNCC), which remains the toughest cross-country motorcycle and ATV racing series in the USA. 

Adam McGill, Bob Kline and Chuck DeLullo discuss the complexity of the Blackwater 100 compared to today’s GNCC Snowshoe racecourse. The latter is often labeled as the “Blackwater 2.” In front of them is a Honda wearing Adam’s Blackwater Tribute fenders that he raced with at Snowshoe in 2023. McGill auctioned them off and donated the money to veterans’ charities. Bob Kline won with a generous bid of $7,000.
BLACKWATER 100
Tom Tokay, Roy Daines and Jimmy Wise joke about coming out of retirement and giving Adam McGill and Steven Harrell a run for their money.
Three-time GNCC WXC champion Hannah Hunter mentors Tom Tokay on how to race a sport quad.

RIVER CROSSINGS AND MUD FLEAS

If the deep mud, “moon rocks,” insane climbs and never-ending obstacles weren’t enough, the spectators, aka “mud fleas,” added to the chaos, especially at the infamous Highway 93 river crossing. “After you leave the moon rocks and you come over a hill and across a field, you could see the explosion of color at the I-93 river crossing from three-quarters of a mile away,” said Bob Kline as he reflected on his 1986 Blackwater win in the Four-Stroke Three-Wheeler class. Kline continued: “There were tens of thousands of people, and as you got closer, you realized that’s the river crossing. The water might normally be a foot-and-a-half deep, but when we get to it, it was much deeper because the mud fleas would stack rocks and dam it up.” 

A couple of racetracks were set up on the Kline property, including an extended cross-country course that took nostalgia to a new and hilarious level. Jimmy Wise is all grins as he and his Honda ATC200X prepare to get in on the action.
He’s always outspoken and hilarious in the process, as well as one of the top ambassadors for the sport of ATV racing. Current XC1 GNCC Pro rider Adam McGill called the reunion one of the top experiences of his racing career. Here he’s seen accepting the award for traveling the longest distance to attend the reunion.
That’s the same ATC350X and the same frog that Bob Kline won Blackwater with in 1986. The mud was so thick that every rider looked the same shade of muck coming into the pits, so Bob counted on Kermit to let his crew know he was coming in for fuel.

The mud fleas also forced the racers to take, or at least attempt, the harder lines of the racecourse. “You couldn’t take the easy way when you got to the highway crossing. They had that blocked off, and there was no going through them. They would just point and tell you where to go. They wouldn’t help at first, but if you tried a few times, then the arms came out. They would form a human chain to pull you up and over,” said Kline.

Pre-race smack talk between Bob Kline and Ted Trey.

BLACKWATER 100 REUNION – GET TOGETHER FOR OLD AND NEW

Kline hosted the Blackwater 100 ATC/ATV riders reunion at his place in Pennsylvania back in October, where former racers came together to reminisce with old stories, do a little mini-ATV racing and share what nostalgia they still had from the races. A few brought the original ATCs that they raced at Blackwater. The amount of waterproofing done to these machines to survive the race is astounding. 

In addition to the old legends, a few current GNCC pro ATV riders showed up to pay homage to the men and women who laid the brickwork for the national racing we see today. Three-time WXC champion Hannah Hunter, last year’s XC2 champion and now XC1 Pro rider Steven Harrell, and “The Gator” himself, Adam McGill, were in attendance. “The Blackwater reunion is probably in the top three highlights of my racing career,” said McGill. “To meet all of those guys who paved the way for me to have a factory ride and got the manufacturers interested in ATV racing, they are the grassroots bricklayers of this sport. To be there and see Teddy Trey’s race resume from 1984, to see the pictures that they had and to hear the stories from a racer’s perspective was really neat. I am so happy that I made the drive up there [from West Virginia] to meet them.”

Despite being fierce rivals for 40 years, Ted Trey and Tom Tokay display sportsmanship and their lasting friendship. Racing is family!

Bob Kline, Jimmy Wise, Tom Tokay, Sue Wise, Bruce Alleman, Greg Burkholder, Chuck DeLullo, Tiger Lebron, Ted Trey, Norm Bish, Roy Dains, Chuck Fritz and John Tate—these are the ATV racing heroes that made it to the reunion. Just a few notable names that didn’t make it to this one are Barry Hawk, Mike Penland, William Yokley, Carmen and Mike Cafro and Bob “Ironman” Sloan. Sloan tragically passed away in 1994 during a racing incident at Starvation Point, the race that replaced the Blackwater 100. 

To all the veteran Blackwater racers, today’s ATV racing community owes you a gratitude of thanks. We’ll see you at the next Blackwater 100 Reunion!

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