(Left to right) Kailub Russell, Charlie Mullins and Chris Bach celebrate on the FMF Steele Creek podium. Photography by Ken Hill
FMF/KTM teammates Charlie Mullins and Kailub Russell went into the third round of the 2013 AMSOIL Grand National Cross-Country Series and FMF Steele Creek GNCC all locked up for the championship lead, but Mullins left in sole possession of the top spot after a tough three-hour battle in Morganton, North Carolina, April 7.
The two KTM riders quickly settled into the top-two positions and then battled back and forth for much of the race. By the midway point, the two were still neck and neck, and then Mullins finally took control and started to slowly pull way from Russell. During the last three laps, Mullins stretched out his lead to more than two minutes, eventually taking the victory, his second of the season, two minutes and 36 seconds ahead of Russell, who came into the Steele Creek race feeling under the weather and did not have the energy to race with Mullins the full three hours.
Finishing on the podium for the first time this year was KTM rider and home-state favorite Chris Bach who started the race in eighth. Bach spent a portion of the race dicing with AmPro Yamaha’s Jordan Ashburn before pulling away from him.
Ashburn ended up taking the checkered flag about two minutes behind Bach.
KTM rider Rory Mead rounded out the top five in the XC1 Pro class.
Mullins now has a five-point lead over Kailub and a 33-point gap on third-place Bach.
It was an all-out war in the XC2 Pro Lites class that saw three different riders lead at one point or another, but it was Yamaha rider Aaron Plessinger who was leading when it counted most. Plessinger, who was third going into the final lap, and KTM rider Jason Thomas banged handlebars through the last few corners with Plessinger coming out on top, just .234 seconds ahead of Thomas.
KTM rider Grant Baylor finished just 15 seconds back in third.
Points leader Andrew DeLong, on the FAR Husky, was in the hunt for the win at one point as well, but a fall toward the end of the race held him back. He ended up finishing fourth, 34 seconds behind Baylor.
Yamaha-mounted Jedediah Haines rounded out the top five almost three minutes in back of DeLong.
DeLong still leads the points race. He’s 12 points ahead of Thomas and 16 ahead of Baylor.