Thad Duvall couldn’t have scripted it better after taking the win at the 20th Annual FMF Steele Creek GNCC 2019 in Morganton, North Carolina, March 31. It was the Rockstar Energy/Factory Husqvarna rider’s first victory of the season, and he pulled it off by finding an obscure line around a mud hole that he had found during the morning track inspection. The victory was also Duvall’s second in a row at the North Carolina facility and it put him right back in the championship chase after suffering through disappointing third-place finishes at the opening two rounds.
Thad Duvall Wins Steele Creek GNCC 2019
“It feels good,” said Duvall. “Two years in a row I was able to make the pass on the last lap. Just lucky. I knew there’s a mud hole every year that gets super, super bad towards the end of the race. I went and looked at it and just had a gut feeling that it would get really bad. So I cleaned out a line that went up on the bank and then bypassed the mud hole.”
Duvall’s extra effort would pay big dividends at the end of the race.
The Steele Creek course is typically one of the most demanding on the circuit, and since it’s constantly winding up and down the hilly countryside, it’s also one of the toughest to pass on. Duvall, Russell and Rockstar Energy/Factory Husqvarna Racing’s Trevor Bollinger, the three riders who led most of the race, found few opportunities to pass, although each did find a way to get to the front at one point or another during the three-hour race.
“You can’t get around the guys; it’s a bicycle track over there. There’s nowhere to go,” Russell explained after the race.
Russell, who grabbed the holeshot on his FMF/KTM and who led most of the race, led Duvall and Bollinger into the crucial seventh and final lap. Midway into the lap, however, Russell found Duvall’s big mud hole, and it stopped him momentarily.
“I had pulled out about twenty seconds, pretty much on cruise control,” said Russell. “I came around a turn and I knew it was going to be bad; there were guys just sitting on the track. I just picked a bad line and tried to get around a guy and I got hung up.”
With Russell stuck, Duvall saw his opportunity and went for it.
“Lucky enough, I came around the turn and I saw Kailub there and I just went up on the bank where my line was and went right back down,” said Duvall. “It worked out awesome. I’m glad I went there and found a line. It’s just one of those things where you just kind of learn over the years the bad spots and just go from there.”
Russell escaped the mud just in time to chase Duvall to the finish, although he was three seconds behind when Duvall took the checkers.
“It was a great race and I’m happy with how I rode; it just didn’t work out,” said Russell. “A guy kind of blocked me off there in the second-to-last one, but I wouldn’t have got him anyway. It is what it is. He rode good. Got lucky again.”
Bollinger turned in a great race, and for six laps he had as good a chance to win as Duvall or Russel, although he drop to 30 seconds off the pace at the finish.
“I wanted to be up front with those guys and we did it all race,” said Bollinger. “I got tangled up with some lappers there the last lap and lost the sight of the lead. It’s a bummer, but the lappers were tough out there. I don’t know how Kailub is so good at getting around them. It wasn’t a win but I didn’t feel as good here as I did at Georgia. I could run the pace but in Georgia I felt like I could go a lot faster. For how I felt I’m super pumped with how we did today. Looking forward to fighting with these boys again in two weeks.”
After winning the season opener, Steward Baylor Jr. came through in fourth overall in North Carolina, the same finish he had at round two in Georgia. The Tely Energy Racing/KTM rider came into the race a bit under the weather, and also had to deal with running out of gas at one point and stalling his engine at another. But despite the setbacks, Baylor turned in a great ride.
Josh Toth continued his initiation into the XC1 Pro division by bettering his previous two finishes by one place with a solid fifth overall. The FMF/KTM Factory rider was sixth at the previous two rounds.
Leading the way in the XC2 250 Pro class was Ben Kelley, who won the class with a sixth overall finish. The Trail Jesters KTM rider has won all three rounds so far and holds a 19-point lead in the class standings.
Kelley grabbed the holeshot to start the XC2 Pro class and quickly started challenging the XC1 guys.
“I just ran clean laps that whole way, just tried to charge and put a gap on the rest of the XC2 field,” said Kelley. “I was able to do that. So I just kept my head down. It was so fun going up and down the mountain, but it got rough and challenging. A few little crashes, but stoked to get another win.”
Seventh and eighth went to Babbitt’s Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jordan Ashburn and Josh Strang. KTM’s Jonathan Girroir was ninth and second XC2 rider, while Beta USA’s Mike Witkowski rounded out the top 10 overall and was third in the XC2 Pro class.
Another Beta USA rider, Cody Barnes, grabbed his second win in the FMF/ XC3 125 Pro-Am division, beating out KTM support rider Jesse Ansley and Husqvarna-mounted Jason Thomas. Barnes was 16th overall, while Ansley and Thomas were 18th and 21st, respectively.
2019 Amsoil GNCC Racing Championship
Morganton, North Carolina
RESULTS: March 31, 2019
- Thad Duvall (Hus)
- Kailub Russell (KTM)
- Trevor Bollinger (Hus)
- Steward Baylor (KTM)
- Josh Toth (KTM)
- Ben Kelley (KTM)
- Jordan Ashburn (Kaw)
- Josh Strang (Kaw)
- Jonathan Girroir (KTM)
- Mike Witkowski (Beta)
Click here for complete results.