What a long, strange trip the 2020 season has been for Steward Baylor. The four-time National Enduro Champ came into the year with lots of fanfare having signed with FactoryONE Sherco during the off-season. However, after unexpectedly parting ways with the team during the shutdown, Baylor had knee surgery and looked at one point like he might not race again this season. He then spent the summer enduro circuit trying out different bikes he had purchased and shopping around for a team that would help him finish out the year.
For Mountaineer GNCC in Beckley, West Virginia, September 13, Baylor appeared to be trying out yet another brand when he showed up with a YZ450FX and a one-race deal with Randy Hawkins’ Am Pro Yamaha team.
“I wanted to try to get a deal that I could get through this season and nobody else really wanted to do anything for just this season,” said Baylor. “Everything was looking like we were going to have to sign something for next year. I knew I’m capable of winning and putting any bike on the podium. I’ve proven it with every brand that I’ve ridden. I wanted to line up with the support of a team and not have to worry about working on my own motorcycle. That was what these guys offered. It’s a one-weekend deal. It was just this weekend and I don’t know what to expect from here.”
Baylor was fourth as FMF/KTM’s Kailub Russell led the XC1 pack into the woods for the opening lap of the three-hour race, with Ben Kelley and Phoenix Honda’s Andrew DeLong running second and third.
Russell took himself out of contention early on when he slid off the trail halfway into the lap.
“I just kind of went wide in a turn and I got hung up in a tree,” said Russell. “It was bent over so I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t go to the left. There was a ditch to my left. I couldn’t get back on the track, so I had to get off my bike and pull it back. By that time I was in last.”
Kelley was next in line and the smooth-riding speedster made a break for it, although he couldn’t shake Baylor, who was riding like he was on a mission.
“I knew someone was behind me, but I wasn’t sure who it was,” said Kelley. “Stew passed me on the second lap and I just tried to tuck in on him and find his lines, because I knew they were a lot different. But I stalled the bike and he got me by five to ten seconds so I couldn’t really see him. Then I slowly caught back up to him. Every time I would catch him, I’d have a crash either trying to get around a lapper or on my own.”
Baylor and Kelley pulled each other along until they had built a two-minute gap over the next group, which included Russell, Am Pro Yamaha’s Layne Michael, FactoryONE Sherco’s Grant Baylor, and FMF/KTM’s Josh Toth, who would later drop out when he aggravated a leg injury he suffered in practice the week before.
In the XC2 ranks, Trail Jesters Racing KTM’s Johnny Girroir broke away early from a four-way battle with Tely Energy Racing’s Liam Draper, Am Pro Yamaha’s Mike Witkowski and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Craig DeLong, to take a strong early lead over the group. At one point, Girroir moved into third in the overall standings, but crashes and dehydration late in the race kept him from maintaining that position.
Up front, Kelley moved to within a second of Baylor, but he too struggled with crashes and Baylor took the win by over a minute ahead of Kelley.
“Early in the race, I followed Ben and kind of figured out where he was fast and where he was slower,” said Baylor. “I knew on lap two exactly where to make my move and I did. I pushed and I got a little bit of a gap and then he was fast in another section. He reeled it in. I didn’t really try to fight it. I let him catch up, and I knew I was really fast in the next couple sections. I just pushed in the sections and tried to play the timing as best I could to push where I needed to. I was making the time up that I needed in the sections where I was fast and kind of cruising on the other half of the track, relax, trying to keep my breath under me. On that last lap, I knew I had a gap and I knew all I had to do was nail my lines and keep the wheels under me. I just rode a really flawless last lap, no mistakes. It got me to the finish.”
Russell rounded out the podium in third.
“I didn’t have the flow there at the beginning and those guys got away,” said Russell. “I knew Ben was going to be riding good. He’s lived in this kind of terrain his whole life. I haven’t really been up north at all this year, so this is my first experience this year in these slick, rocky conditions. I had a couple big ones there at the beginning of the race. I just had to settle down and just kind of ride into it. I just kept that kind of steady pace and tried not to fall down.”
Grant Baylor came out on top of a wild battle with Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki’s Jordan Ashburn, with Grant taking fourth less than a tenth of a second ahead of Ashburn.
Layne Michael was sixth and last of the XC1 riders.
Despite cramping from dehydration, Girroir maintained a feverous pace to take the XC2 win with seventh overall, 14 seconds up on Draper.
“I had a good flow going the first couple laps. Then I kind of rested a little bit and they reeled me in after the pit stop and I threw down a heater and pulled back away,” said Girroir. “Then I kind of just fell apart. I got tired the last bit of the race. I knew I had a good lead, so I rode smart. Did what I had to do to cross the checkered flag first.”
Draper made a last-second pass on both Craig and Witkowski to secure eighth overall.
“I knew coming into this race it was going to suit my style being technical, like a trials event,” said Draper. “I got off to a decent start, but Johnny checked out on us. I saw a pit board that said minus 20. So me, Craig and Witkowski just poked in together and was like a freight train for three hours. With two to go, they were both in front of me. Then I found some good lines and made a pass on the last lap. Passed both of them within a mile and just put my head down and charged to the finish and came away with second. So I’m pretty pumped. I worked hard this summer with my trainer, so it all pays off I guess.
Witkowski finished ninth with Craig settling for 10th.
Former Hare scramble National Champion Jason Raines looked at home of the slippery trail en route to first place in the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class.
Zack Hayes (KTM) finished second to Raines and continues to lead the way in the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am championship standings. Jason Lipscomb finished 40 seconds back in third.
Rachel Archer won the WXC Women’s Pro division for the second race in a row. The Am Pro Yamaha rider passed Rachel Gutish and was 1:44-seconds ahead of the Beta USA rider at the finish.
BABS/Fly/Maxiss/Yamaha-sponsored Becca Sheets left town with a 47-point lead in the series standings after finishing third.
Rockstar Husqvarna Lan Mills XC rider Tayla Jones skipped the race to allow her hand to heal.
2020 Amsoil GNCC Championship
Beckley, West Virginia
RESULTS (September 13, 2020)
OVERALL (Top 10)
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