Steward struck early, winning the opening test by 11 seconds over defending NE Pro 2 champ Craig DeLong on his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna. Grant got off to a slow start, finishing fifth-fastest in test one. Meanwhile, XC Gear/Enduro Engineering/Husqvarna’s Ryder Lafferty was third in the test, ahead of FMF/KTM’s Ben Kelley.
The Baylor’s dropped off the pace in test two, with Steward finishing sixth and Grant finishing fourth, however, the dynamic duo would dominate the remainder of the race, as the two riders accounted for all four of the remaining test wins – each taking two wins.
On a side note, Steward won test four, despite crashing and taking a handlebar to his back, which required stitches afterwards. He left for the hospital immediately after the podium ceremony.
“I’ve always ridden really well here in the past,” said Steward. “It was a little rough there at the end. I rode really strong all day so it was a solid Sumter, a solid way to start the season. I came in with Epstein-Barr this year, so a little weak, a little tired, but we did everything we could and did exactly what we needed to do to start this year off.”
“In the first test I just struggled to find my flow and just got arm pump really bad and struggled to hold on,” said Grant. “By the third test I seemed to start finding my flow a bit. I think I was back in about fifth place after the first two tests. After maybe the fourth test I bumped up to second overall. Then going into the last test there, it was pretty tight between me and Craig. Six seconds apart going into the last test. So, I knew I had to drop the hammer in the last test. I knew I had to go through there without making any mistakes. I just tried to ride that last test really smooth and fast and it seemed to be my best test of the day.”
DeLong’s third-place finish marked his first podium in the NE Pro 1 class. Husqvarna/Max Motorsports/FXR Racing’s Evan Smith turned in a nice ride to finish fourth after some extended time off the bike.
“I was super happy to get back to racing. I’ve been waiting a long time for that,” said Smith. “Test one started out pretty reserved, trying to not make any mistakes or pump up or anything, just kind of feel it out. I lost a good bit of time in there and it kind of dug me in a hole. I was definitely in podium contention for a while and was working hard to do that, but had a good fall in test five that rung my bell a little bit. All in all, I felt really good on the bike and I was super happy to be back riding.”
Lafferty turned in a solid ride to start off the season, rounding out the top five. After running up front for the first half of the race, FMF/KTM’s Ben Kelley suffered two big crashes in test four and settled for sixth. After missing half of last year due to an injury, Coastal Racing GasGas’ Ricky Russell returned to action to claim eighth in Sumter, edging KTM-mounted Zach Hayes by two seconds. Hayes claimed second in the NE Pro 2 class with his ninth place finish.
In the Women’s Elite division, KTM-supported rider and four-time AMA EnduroCross Champion Shelby Turner claimed four of the five test wins to take a convincing victory ahead of Beta USA’s Rachel Gutish.
- Steward Baylor (Yam)
- Grant Baylor (GG)
- Craig DeLong (Hsq)
- Evan Smith (Hsq)
- Ryder Lafferty (Hsq)
- Ben Kelley (KTM)
- Jesse Ansley (KTM)
- Ricky Russell (GG)
- Zach Hayes (KTM)
- Liam Draper (KTM)