Juha Salminen’s long journey to the United States is complete. The 10-time World Enduro Champion from Finland took a big win in St. Clairsville Ohio to lock up the 2005 Suzuki Grand National Cross Country title.
“This one ranks right up there with the first title I won in Europe,” said Salminen at the Power Line Park GNCC. “This is my job, and KTM wants me to win it for them. But it feels very good to come here and see new things and a new challenge every week.”
The new challenge this week came from a pair of Ohio riders who were determined to win in their home state. First came a battle from St. Clairsville’s own Chuck Woodford, who grabbed the holeshot but then let Salminen by to follow him. “The guy has raced all over the world, and I thought I could learn something from him,” said Woodford. “I wanted to be the dog and not the rabbit at that point. I was right there until I crashed with two laps to go. It was hard to get back into my rhythm after that.”
As Woodford faltered, 19-year-old rookie sensation Charlie Mullins was at it again, upping his pace and charging through the final lap to take second. “I had the lead early and then I crashed. I kind of let these guys get away a little bit, but I’m pretty happy to come back like this. I think I can win one of these.”
Salminen likes the ever-revolving door of challengers in the deep GNCC talent pool. “It’s fun and it’s good for the sport,” said Juha. “It’s surprising how the guys can go good at one race and then not so good at the other. But the conditions are the same for everyone, and I feel like I can do it in any kind of conditions. I really enjoy it here, but next year, it’s back to the manhunt because everyone will be after me.”
Fourth went to another Ohio rider, FMF Suzuki veteran “Fast” Freddie Andrews, with Am Pro Yamaha’s Barry Hawk fifth. Rain all weekend made for a muddy track that slowed a lot of riders, including Rodney Smith, who finished eighth.
Smith, the 2004 Suzuki GNCC Champ, took the number-one plate off of his RM250 and presented it to Salminen. “He’s a great guy and he deserves it, he’s good for the series,” said Smith. “I’m just trying to get back into it after a long time off with an injury. It’s tough.”
Only one race remains in the 2005 Suzuki GNCC Series, the Klotz Ironman Classic in Crawfordsville, Indiana in two weeks.
The Power Line Park GNCC was taped for an airing on the Outdoor Life Network. The series resumes on television on October 18, and the GNCC races air Tuesdays at 5 p.m., Thursdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. EST.