Barry Hawk's amazing transformation from ATV Champion to dirt bike racer is complete. His second-place finish at round 11 of the 2003 AMA Grand National Cross Country Series, the Dunlop Spartan GNCC in Sparta, Kentucky, was enough to wrap his first-ever GNCC bike Championship. Hawk began racing motorcycles full-time four years ago, leaving seven GNCC ATV titles behind. Now he's champion again of the largest off-road racing series in America.
"We worked so hard for this, myself and the whole team," said Hawk. "Years ago, when I started winning on the ATVs, I looked up to guys like Rodney [Smith], Randy [Hawkins] and Scott [Summers]. I couldn't even talk to them. I still look up to them! But I guess I'm with them now. It definitely hasn't sunk in yet."
Hawk has been dominant all season, winning the opening round in Florida and collecting four more wins throughout the season.
The dominant rider in Kentucky, however, was Hawk's Am-Pro Yamaha teammate Jason Raines. After battling nagging injuries left over from his ill-fated 2002 campaign, Raines was back and ready at Sparta. He won wire-to-wire in one of the most dominant rides in recent GNCC history. "I started feeling really good lately practicing," said Raines. "I've realized my problem is that I get too worked up and stressed at the GNCCs. So I just tried to get out front and think like I was just on another practice ride. My Yamaha got me out to a good start, and I tried to build a gap early."
GNCCs races are almost always nip-and-tuck affairs, but Raines won this one by nearly a minute. He lies second in series' points, but the win wasn't enough to stop his friend Hawk from winning a title.
"The first time I won an overall on the ATV was in 1991," said Hawk. "It took me another year to win another one, but after I did, I never quit. The same thing happened on the bike. When I first started, I used to sit on the line thinking "maybe I could win, but I probably won't." But I won an overall in 2001, and then I won again a year later. I used to think too much about what position I was in, what suspension setting we had, what tire we were using. I needed to just forget that, ride like I know how to ride and maybe we can win a championship. It's worked out awesome.”
The Yamaha riders were followed by FMF Suzuki's Rodney Smith, who claimed third. The defending GNCC Champion graciously handed the number-one plate over to Hawk. "I didn't feel like I was on my game today, and I wasn't catching those guys, so I just took a third today," said Smith.
Fourth went to KTM's National Enduro Champion Mike Lafferty. Fifth was five-time GNCC Champ Scott Summers, who put in his best ride yet during his comeback. "I needed a top-five today, or I would have thought about ending this comeback attempt," said Summers, who retired due to a series of injuries in 2001. "I need to win. I just won't come out here to finish 8th. We were just a little too stiff on the suspension setting this weekend, and I got beat up too much. But we're getting close."
Team Green Kawasaki's effort was absent at Sparta. Chuck Woodford played the role of spectator, unable to race with a broken right wrist, and Fred Andrews missed the race with bruised ribs.
Team Suzuki had terrible luck at the event, with Mike Kiedrowski pulling out of the race with a hand injury, and Steve Hatch also suffering a DNF with a jammed thumb.
KTM's Shane Watts rode well in Kentucky, staying near the top five for much of the race before running out of gas on the last lap.
Two races remain in the 2003 AMA GNCC series. The next race takes place at St. Clairsville, Ohio, on October 4 and 5.
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 as many as 1300 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 featured sponsors include MSR, Yamaha, Dunlop, Wiseco, Maxxis, FMF, Klotz, and ITP, and riders compete for over $500,000 in series prizes and contingency money. The 13-round series will air on cable television later in the year. Associate sponsors include Ohlins, Cometic, Scott, Sidi, Boyesen, Twin Air, Pro Armor, Outerwears, Laeger's, Silent Sport and Morgantown Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and KTM.
Top 10 Overall
Dunlop Spartan GNCC - Sparta, Kentucky
1. Jason Raines (Yam)
2. Barry Hawk (Yam)
3. Rodney Smith (Suz)
4. Michael Lafferty (KTM)
5. Scott Summers (Hon)
6. Doug Blackwell (Hon)
7. Robbie Jenks (Yam)
8. Brian Garrahan (KTM)
9. Randy Hawkins (Yam)
10. Nathan Kanney (Yam)
AMA Grand National Cross Country Series Standings (After 11 of 13 rounds):
1. Barry Hawk, Jr. (278/5 wins)
2. Jason Raines (216/1 win)
3. Michael Lafferty (194/1 win)
4. Fred Andrews (175/1 win)
5. Robbie Jenks (154)
6. Randy Hawkins (143)
7. Steve Hatch (137)
8. Rodney Smith (129/1 win)
9. Doug Blackwell (87)
10. Chuck Woodford (85/2 wins)