2021 Palatka GNCC Results: The race for the 2021 Grand National Cross Country Series Championship just got interesting with FMF/KTM’s Ben Kelley moving to within two points of round-one winner Grant Baylor (KLM/GasGas) with a big win at the Wild Boar GNCC near Palatka, Florida.
Kelley Wins The Wild Boar GNCC
Rain leading up to race day combined with a massive turnout made for a rough and choppy course, which took its toll on the riders after three hours of racing, leaving even the fittest of riders running on fumes.
After getting off to a rough start, Kelley used the slow but steady approach to win one of the most grueling races on the GNCC calendar, moving from seventh at the end of lap one to a one-minute, 23-second advantage over runner-up Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Kawasaki Team Green’s Josh Strang at the finish.
According to Kelley, the race was chaotic in more than one way. “About mile four of the first lap it was mayhem,” said Kelley. “Lines everywhere, mud, ruts. Stuff was crazy. All of us were just weaving, taking different lines. Josh [Toth] went through a ditch, and I launched it and crashed into the back of him, so that set me back to seventh or so. I was a little frustrated, but I just kind of forgot about it, and I knew it was going to be a long, super tiring race. So I just kept a steady pace. I just slowly worked my way through the pack until I got into first.”
Perhaps trying too much to repeat the holeshot he got at the opening round two weeks before, Strang wheelied off the line and was dead last going into the first turn. However, like Kelley, Strang knows better than most what it takes to finish strong at the Wild Boar.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of shape you’re in, you just have to pace yourself at this race because the last two laps it’s always difficult,” said Strang. “If all the races go like this early in the race, it’s going to be a long, exciting season. Everyone is going fast. There are a few guys that can go to the end and they’re the guys that will be tough all year. It’s good. It’s exciting.”
Magna1 Motorsports Husqvarna’s Jordan Ashburn and Coastal Racing GasGas’ Ricky Russell led the race early. Ashburn grabbed the holeshot and then Russell went by halfway into the lap.
“I was pretty content with following and just kind of seeing what pace everybody wanted to run,” said Ashburn. “The track deteriorated really bad. I was dead at the end and all the other boys were, too. I ended up making a mistake. I ran out of tear-offs the last lap and my goggles got kind of trashed. I just didn’t see a root and went down and Strang got around me. I had to really just kind of regather myself that last lap. Just tried to put it together and keep it third and we did it.”
Grant Baylor, who won the series opener and came into Florida with the points lead, was back in the pack on lap one—a predicament he is quite used to. The South Carolina rider often has arm-pump early in a race and the Wild Boar course would definitely not help. After hovering around sixth for most of the race, Grant was able to pass Russell and his Coastal Racing GasGas teammate Johnny Girroir to take fourth overall at the finish.
FMF/KTM’s Josh Toth turned in a gutsy ride for fifth, riding with a plate in his hand for the second race in a row.
“I got off to a pretty good start and rode with the top guys for a little while,” he said. “I felt pretty good up there but the lack of riding from the injury kind of showed in the beginning. I got tight and pumped up, so I had to back it down and loosen up, find my flow and pick my way back through the race. I got back up to the top five and was battling with the guys up there and ended up fifth, so I’m pretty stoked on that.”
After leading the race on lap one, Ricky Russell missed the top-five by nine seconds to claim sixth.
Girroir took the XC2 250 Pro-class win with a seventh overall finish after taking the lead early.
“I got off into the lead on the first lap and kind of never looked back,” said Girroir. “I just took each lap as it came. It was really rough out there. I just tried to stay smooth. I had a big crash on the second-to-last lap, and I ripped my glove off. It kind of scared me a little bit, but I just kept cruising again and got another glove and rode it out to the end.”
Second in the XC2 250 Pro class and eighth overall was defending class champion Craig DeLong (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna). DeLong led the XC2 race from the start after grabbing the holeshot.
“I struggled a little bit in the beginning to kind of find my flow and Johnny kind of got away from us there,” said DeLong. “By the time I got into second he was about 30 to 40 seconds out. I struggled to stay off the ground today. I had three pretty big crashes. I feel like I left some out there. I felt like I could have been maybe a little bit better, but all in all I’m happy with another podium.”
AmPro Yamaha riders Layne Michael and Mike Witkowski rounded out the top 10.
Witkowski was also third in the XC2 250 Pro division. “I definitely struggled today,” said Witkowski. “I think we were a little off on bike setup, but I’m happy to be on the podium. It’s a long season, so I’ll take this and move forward and get back to some dirt.”
Magna1 Motorsports/Husqvarna’s Jonathan Johnson claimed his second win in a row in the FMF XC3 125cc Pro-Am class, this race topping Coastal Racing GasGas’ Ben Thompson by 2 minutes, 29-seconds.
Zach Hayes was third on a KTM.
BABS Racing Yamaha/Fly/Maxxis/Pro Circuit’s Becca Sheets got back on top of the box after winning the WXC Pro Women’s division ahead of AmPro Yamaha’s Rachael Archer.
“I was fifth place going into the woods after the field section behind the start,” said Sheets. “It was Rachel Archer and Rachel Gutish (Beta USA), Shelby Turner (KTM) and Tayla Jones (Magna1 Motorsports/Husqvarna) in front of me. I was able to get around Shelby and then Tayla checked a tree with her shoulder and just kind of fell over. From there I caught Rachel Gutish to get around her, and I made a good pass on Rachael Archer. She was just kind of struggling in some of the whoops and just kind of let me go around. From there I just took the lead and tried to be smart and patient with lappers.” CN
2021 AMA Grand National Cross-Country Series
Round 2 (Wild Boar)
RESULTS (March 7, 2021)