Pennsylvania native takes first win of the season, but Ballance clinches his third-straight GNCC title
It took Team Safari’s Matt Smiley nearly the entire season to score a GNCC win. And while he’s happy to finally have gotten one at the Powerline Park GNCC in St. Clairsville, Ohio, it’s just a bit too late to make a difference. With a second-place finish, LRD/Roll Designs Bill Ballance clinched his third-straight GNCC Championship. Brad Page held the lead late in the race but could only claim third.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been pushing every week trying to get one of these,” said the Team Safari/Roll/Axis/LRD/ITP/Pro Parts Racing/Kellener Motorsports-backed Smiley. “Today it didn’t look like I was going to get a win, but I did, which is a reverse of most of the races where I feel like I’m going to win and I wind up losing it.”
Smiley prevailed in a wild battle that went all the way down to the final corner, with he and Ballance sliding across the finish line together for an incredibly close finish after two hours of racing. Ballance, who only needed to finish ninth to clinch the title, had mounted a strong come-back after suffering a flat early in the race.
“It’s been a good season,” said Ballance, who rides for LRD, Roll, Klotz, Maxxis, Moose, IMS, Tag and Axis. “I’ve had a lot of great people behind me this year and I really appreciate all the help. It’s great to have gotten things back together after the year started out so sour.”
Ballance’s title defense was threatened when his ATVs, parts and gear were stolen from his hotel after the first round of the series. It took the Kentucky native a few weeks to get his new equipment sorted out, but once he did, he put in a huge charge which included seven overall wins and another title. “It’s turned around in a big way,” said Ballance.
Chris Borich and William Yokley were early contenders at Powerline Park, but crashes knocked them out of the hunt. They finished fourth and fifth overall. Four-Stroke Tech/White Bros./Elka/Maxxis/Maier/MSR-backed Chad Duvall rode his Honda 400EX to sixth overall and first in the Pro Production Class.
The racing took place on a rugged nine-mile woods loop, and the top pros completed five laps in the two-hour race. GNCC Trail Boss Jeff Russell, a former AMA National Enduro Champion on bikes, created the course. The track featured tight woods with numerous water holes and mud bogs, including one exceptionally deep mud hole in the middle of a high-speed fire road section. Rain early in the weekend made the course slick and dust free.
Ballance nailed the start and led lap one. His first challenge came from Yokley, who had battled past Smiley and Page to take second. Ballance flattened a front tire, and his poor-handling quad wedged into a tree, collecting Yokley with him. “I had to help him get untangled so I could get myself out,” said Yokley. “After that I was in fourth, and then on the last lap I came to a lapper who was hung up in a rut, and when I tried to bump him out of it killed his engine and I lost some more time stuck behind him.”
Ballance also lost time while changing a tire, which left Page, Borich and Smiley to trade the top spots. They went at it hard until Page secured the top spot. “I took the lead, felt great and got a little distance,” said Page.
But Ballance was coming back strong. From as far back as eighth, he sliced through traffic and got back into contention. “I just had to slowly work past guys, and I had to take my time because it was slick out there,” said Ballance.
Page missed the white flag and didn’t fight hard enough to hold off Smiley and Ballance. “I got hung up behind a lapped rider and Matt got by me,” said Page. “I just relaxed and caught back up, and then Bill passed me in a corner. I was just trying to keep my cool and ride smart, but then I came over here and the checkered flag came out. It was a surprise, but that’s just a part of racing.”
Ballance carved major time out of Smiley’s lead on the last lap and almost got the win. “I thought if I could run a flawless lap on the last lap I could have gotten it,” said Ballance. “I just missed him, but getting second and the championship is pretty good.”
“It was a real close finish between Bill and I,” said Smiley. “I knew someone was coming up behind me, but I didn’t know it was him because I was afraid to look. We’ve had a lot of close races over the years, I really have fun racing him.”
The Powerline Park GNCC drew 951 total riders and 3000 spectators. The race will air on the Outdoor Life Network as part of the one-hour, weekly GNCC TV Series. Episodes air every Sunday at 5 p.m. EST and re-air Thursdays at 7 p.m. EST.
Wes McGlumphy was the top amateur rider, topping the 250 A class and claiming 19th overall out of 224 riders in the afternoon race.
William Howell continued his undefeated streak in the Four-Stroke Stock Class. Clad in jeans and workboots, he also took the overall win in the morning race for the seventh time this year.
The battle for the GNCC Women’s Class Championship got even tighter in Ohio, with Honda of Troy’s Stephanie Parton taking the win and her rival Traci Lenig Cecco scoring third after suffering a flat tire. Brenda Kress finished second. Parton and Cecco are virtually tied on points. Whichever woman wins the final round will win the 2002 Class Championship.
Brock Parker won his 10th Utility Stock Race of the season on his Kawasaki Prairie. He finished 47th overall in the morning. Scott Kilby won his 11th Utility Modified race of the season on his Penland Brother’s Racing Prairie 650. He finished 19th overall in the morning race. Todd Ribblet won the Utility Unlimited Class for chain-driven utility machines on a Polaris Scrambler. He finished 31st overall in the morning.
Smiley on the win: “I was just stalking there back in third behind Borich and Page, and then Chris had a problem and I got into second. I actually wasn’t sure if it was the last lap or not, but when I got around Brad, I knew no one would get back around me today. There was no way it was going to happen.”
Smiley’s sponsors: Team Safari, Pro-Parts Racing, Hi-Per Wheels, L.A. Sleeve, Pro-X Pistons, Hinson, Outerwears, LRD, MSR, Nu-Tech Racing Fuels, GPR Products, Boyesen/Twin Air, Leader Goggles and Winex helmets.
Ballance on the title: “I want to dedicate this one to my baby daughter. This was the first championship she was in the world to see.”
Ballance’s sponsors: Klotz/LRD/Roll/Maxxis/Axis/IMS/Tag/Kellener Motorsports/Alpinestars/Moose
Page on third: “I felt good out there. There’s a lot of tough guys out there, so anytime you can get up on the podium against them it makes you glad to get up there. I feel like I could have won it, and I haven’t won one all year. I really wanted to win. But that’s part of life you know, sometimes it doesn’t go your way. Those guys better watch out at the Ironman.” Page’s sponsors: Duncan/Roll/ITP/IMS/Temecula Motorsports
The AMA Grand National Cross Country series is America’s premier off-road racing series. One of the most physically demanding sports in the world, the nearly three-hour long cross-country races lead over 1000 riders through tracks ranging from eight to twelve miles in length. With varied terrain including hills, mud, dirt, rocks and motocross sections, GNCC races are tests of both survival and speed. GNCC sponsors include Wiseco, Yamaha, Dunlop, MSR, FMF, Klotz, Sidi, Scott, Maxxis, Laeger, EK Chain and Racer X Illustrated, and riders compete for over $500,000 in series prizes and contingency money. For more information, call Racer Productions at (304) 284-0084 or log on to www.gnccracing.com.
Overall Results: The Powerline Park GNCC
St. Clairsville, Ohio
October 5, 2002 (Round 12 of 13)
1. Matt Smiley (Rol); 2. Bill Ballance (Rol); 3. Bradley Page (Roll); 4. Chris Borich (Leg); 5. William Yokley (Rol); 6. Chad Duvall (Hon); 7. Jeremy Rice (Pre); 8. Chris Higgins (Leg); 9. Greg Trew (Hon); 10. Jason Lewis (Leg).
AMA Grand National Cross Country Series Overall Points Standings (After 12 of 13 rounds): 1. Bill Ballance (214/7 wins); 2. Matt Smiley (204/1 win); 3. William Yokley (196/3 wins); 4. Chris Borich (174); 5. Brad Page (157); 6. Santo Derisi (141); 7. Chad Duvall (144); 8. Bryan Baker (131); 9. Greg Trew (98); 10. Jeremy Rice (95).