EVENT: 2021 GNCC SERIES KICKOFF

The chasers are stepping it up By Ken Hill

When the preparation was over and the start flag flew, Westley Wolfe and his Suzuki LT-R450 grabbed the holeshot money.

The short off-season seems to get shorter each year for those competing in the Grand National Cross-Country series (GNCC). The run up to the 2021 season was shorter than ever when COVID delays pushed the 2020 season late! As teams and riders scrambled to get parts and needed equipment, the world seemed to be working against them. With restrictions at ports due to continuing COVID issues, even the suppliers were scrambling to get parts and products in the country and shipped. And, shipping had its own hiccups and issues.

Winner Brycen Neal inspected the terrain in the first turn. Fortunately for him, Walker Fowler hit the turf as well.

Several of the series’ top racers were literally turning wrenches just days before the opening round. Factor in the explosive growth in the ATV world brought on by the pandemic and people’s desires to get outside, even new machines were near extinction, especially since Yamaha is the only manufacturer producing a sport quad these days!

This mud sculpture is current champ Walker Fowler demonstrating the come-from-behind look.

There seemed to be a huge 2021 swing to blue as rider after rider found the supply chain more accessible if you were riding a Yamaha, not to mention support from the aftermarket. We don’t see it slowing down any time soon when it comes to finding YFZ450R performance.

John Glauda Jr. (Yamaha) is one of the fast, young riders coming up. He notched a fifth place in the Big Buck.

LONG-TIME RUNNING

Big Buck is a legendary property for the series and is one of the longest-running locations of the 13-round series that is now entering its 49th year. Rain deluged the region, but the property sits just high enough to allow drainage. That kept the round alive and well even though the forecast rain fell and a brisk plunge in temperature greeted the amazing 2000-plus entries for the opening round! The GNCC racing nation is a hearty breed that can face any adversity, so the conditions were just another step in prep for everyone.

Brycen Neal was showing the effects of racing through the pack but was also pumped to have the win.

Returning XC1 Pro Walker Fowler is now a veteran of so many seasons that all setbacks were taken in stride as he began his preparations. He focused on doing what he has done for the past six seasons—put his Yamaha out front and put win after win away. Most assume he is unbeatable, and for many years he has been. He leaves a wake of broken dreams behind him for the competitors that try to unseat him.

Hunter Hart made the podium a Yamaha YFZ450R sweep with his third place at Big Buck.

WITH RESPECT

This is a new season, a new thirst for blood and the top talent is growing tired of finishing behind Fowler even though they fully respect his results. Brycen Neal is one racer who has been knocking on the win column. Neal followed Fowler from the Youth ranks and has always been just a step behind the champ, although he has managed to secure quite a few wins. Neal is focused, has the talent and may have everything he needs to take the fight to whoever happens to be between him and first place. Following Neal is a host of racers that are either on the cusp of greatness or are so solid in their performances that they can chip out a win at any given event. Names such as Jarrod McClure, Cole Richardson and series favorite Hunter Hart all have what’s needed to take a win. None have been able to put together a season that forces a points battle with the reigning champ. The old guard still poses a threat with the likes of Chris Borich and Adam McGill, who are still able to make their mark even as the rising talent pool makes them earn their position. It all adds up to great racing and better competitors as the series continues to grow after nearly five decades.

Walker Fowler gives the competition “the look.” It says, “It was only five seconds, boys. Enjoy it while you can.”

TIME TO GO

Sunshine throughout the morning on race day combined with earlier races had the course still slick in spots, but shaped up quickly as the 2 p.m. start time neared. Westley Wolf took the holeshot, and chaos ensued as Brycen Neal and Walker Fowler both hit the ground in turn two! After getting back on all four wheels, the duo was faced with catching the class and doing what they could to work towards the front.

It wasn’t long before their charge paid off; however, Neal reached the leader first and passed him with Fowler in pursuit. With nearly a 12-mile course and two hours of racing, details trickled in. The gap between the two would narrow then spread back out. As the white flag came out, Neal had a solid lead on Fowler as the pair continued to distance themselves from the lead pack. With one lap left, it was time for Fowler to come out of the woods and claim the win. Neal was having none of that. He pushed hard as he wanted every second between him and the fast-approaching Fowler to count. Then the race was over, with Neal getting his first win of the season. Fowler could be seen replaying events to see what he might have done. Cheers erupted from those still gathered as popular Hunter Hart earned third.

Multi-time former champ Chris Borich effortlessly made the switch from his 2020 Honda team to his Suzuki privateer bike.

WHAT NOW?

With the race behind them, the podium celebration kicked into high gear. Brycen Neal has to prove he can continue to keep Fowler in check, and Walker Fowler knows exactly what he needs to do to go after his seventh championship. For Hart, a great finish at this round may set the tone for him as a breakout racer this season. No matter which rider you pick behind Walker, it seems to come down to putting together a season and not just a glimmer here and there. The stockpile of ammo Fowler has for those gunning for him seems unmatched, but there is a lot of racing between now and the crowning of the 2021 champion. Bucking the trend, veteran Chris Borich returned to the Suzuki LT-R450 after parting ways with his 2020 team. A respectable fourth for the champ is nothing to overlook, as even after all these seasons he still has what it takes. On the other end of the spectrum is fifth-place finisher John Glauda Jr. who represents the latest batch of young guns all taking aim at the Pro class.

Round two, the Wild Boar, will be held in Palatka, Florida, and it’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top, as the sand takes a great setup and incredible endurance. Last year it was Fowler and Neal battling it out, so these two should be ready to do battle yet again as this new season picks up its pace!

Winner Brycen Neal inspected the terrain in the first turn. Fortunately for him, Walker Fowler hit the turf as well.

RESULTS

XC1 Pro

1. Brycen Neal (YAM)

2. Walker Fowler (YAM)

3. Hunter Hart (YAM)

4. Chris Borich (SUZ)

5. John Glauda Jr. (YAM)

6. Cole Richardson (YAM)

7. Jarrod McClure (HON)

8. Josh Merritt (YAM)

9. Westley Wolfe (SUZ)

10. Austin Abney (HON)

XC2

1. Wyatt J. Wilkin (YAM)

2. Ben R. Kowalewski (YAM)

3. Max Lindquist (YAM)

4. Kenny Shick (YAM)

5. Tanner Walker (YAM)

4×4 Pro

1. Cody Collier (CAN)

2. Landon C. Wolfe (CAN)

3. Robbie D. Pecorari (CAN)

4. Haedyn Mickelson (CAN)

5. Justin Wood (CAN)

WXC

1. Hannah D. Hunter (HON)

2. Jessica Elioff (YAM)

3. Katelyn Osburn (HON)

4. Emily Wise (YAM)

5. Alicia M. Mccormick (YAM)

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