Hurricane Mills, Tenn — It would seem like nothing can surprise Red Bull KTM’s David Knight and Am-Pro Yamaha’s Thad DuVall in the 2008 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series. The two GNCC stars took their fourth win in five 2008 races by topping the XC1 Pro and XC2 Pro Lites classes at the Acerbis Loretta Lynn’s GNCC. But both ended up surprising even themselves with their performances, proving once again that anything can happen in a three-hour off-road race.
Knight’s first surprise came from simply getting a better start than he expected. “I had a good start, it shocked me a bit, because I just used the electric start only,” said Knight, who usually uses his 450XC’s electric and kick starters at the same time, but decided simplify things after a series of terrible starts.
His second surprise came just a few miles into the race. “I followed some of the guys and I got hit with a rock in my throat, and I had to drop back for a bit,” said Knight. “I couldn’t breathe for a bit and I honestly thought I might be done. I thought I might have to pull it in.”
By then, Knight was dealing with another unexpected element. Shane Watts, the 2000 GNCC Champion who now only races a part-time schedule, started the race strong and actually took the lead and held it for the first few miles.
“After I could start breathing again, I just kind of rode behind Shane,” said Knight. “Then we got to some backmarkers, and there was a tree, and I went one way and he went the other and we collided. I took him out, and I was sorry about that, I didn’t mean for that to happen. After that, I put my head down and just cruised.”
Watts eventually dropped off the pace, and the FMF Suzuki duo of Charlie Mullins and Josh Strang picked up the chase on Knight. The same two riders tried to run Knight down at the previous GNCC in South Carolina to no avail, and although the kept the lead down to about a minute, they were never able to get within striking distance of the GNCC Champion. But the now 20-year-old Strang was still happy to come home in the runner-up spot for the second straight race on his Suzuki RM-Z450.
“The bike started on the second kick which was a bit of a bummer,” said the Australian Strang. “I passed some guys in the field early so that was good, and I was eventually able to make my way up to second. I’m really, really happy with how things are going. I put a lot of hard work in back home, and then Rodney and Lori Smith, I can’t thank them enough for the help they gave me when I came back here to the States.”
Mullins took third and gave credit to the riders in front of him. “It went well, but David and Josh just beat me,” said Mullins. “I felt really good on the last lap, but I just ran out of time. I’m going to build on that and get them next time.”
Mullins dealt with a surprise challenge from Husqvarna’s Glenn Kearney. The Australian switched to a new team in the off-season and had little testing time due to an off-season knee injury, but he’s coming around quickly. He carried his Husky up to third on the final lap before Mullins got back around him. Kearney’s fourth is still the best GNCC finish in decades for the venerable brand which is now owned by BMW.
Red Bull KTM’s Nathan Kanney and FMF Suzuki’s Paul Whibley came charging through next, both battling hard on the last lap and displacing Am-Pro Yamaha’s Jason Raines.
Raines looked rejuvenated as he raced toward his first top-five finish of the season. “I felt good, but on the last lap, something seemed, wrong, my front tire was sliding all over the place,” said Raines. The hard shale rock at Loretta’s had shaved most of the knobs off of his front tire. Later, Raines broke a goggle strap and had to stop in the pits, allowing Kanney and Whibley to get past.
FMF Suzuki’s Jimmy Jarrett was eighth in the XC1 class, with Kawasaki riders Garrett Edmisten and Jesse Robinson rounding out the top ten.
The XC2 Lites class blasted off of the starting line a minute after the XC1 class. The winner of the previous XC2 race, Monster Energy/Andrews Yamaha’s Dustin Gibson grabbed the Thumpertalk.com Holeshot award, but he hit a tree on the first lap and injured his foot. Powersport GrafX KTM’s Kailub Russell took the lead momentarily before making a mistake himself.
DuVall and Gibson’s teammate Weisenfels were able to get into the top two spots and set a blistering pace. DuVall has been dominant this season, but he continues to surprise himself with his performances. “The first lap I kind of cruised, I got behind Dustin, Kailub and Josh,” said DuVall. “We came into the field and I had a good line, I got around Josh and Dustin. I thought those guys would key off on me and stay there, but I don’t know what happened, my dad kept giving me pit boards saying 10 seconds, 20 seconds, I don’t know what I was doing but I was pulling away!”
Weisenfels took second but wants more. “Thad took off, and I didn’t know if he was really gonna’ go, and I wasn’t ready, so I got arm pump so bad,” said Weisenfels. “It took a long, long long time to go away. I want to win. This podium is where I need to be, but I want to win. I keep saying I want to race with Thad, but he was flying today.”
Russell held on for his second podium of the year with third. “I got a pretty good start and I got into the lead,” said DuVall. “But after the pro pits I fell over, and Weisenfels and Gibson got around me. I just followed Gibson around, and then Thad and Weisenfels passed all of us and they took off. I finally caught up to Weisenfels and we just battled it out all day.”
Gibson dug through the pain of an injured foot to take fourth, while Red Bull KTM’s defending class champion Justin Williamson showed signs of improvement by taking fifth.
Powersports GrafX KTM’s Cory Buttrick finished as the top amateur overall and earned the Four-Stroke A Lites victory.
The Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series continues with the Wiseco John Penton GNCC in Millfield, Ohio on May 10 and 11.
The race was set at the home of famous country music singer Loretta Lynn. The Loretta Lynn Ranch is a full-functioning campground, and is also home to the Air Nautiques/AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships, the world’s largest motocross race, each summer.
The GNCC course used portions of the Loretta’s motocross track, including the starting line and a massive table top jump. But the most challenging part of the track was the hard, rocky soil that made up most of the trails. “The track was really slick today,” said runner up Josh Strang. “It was hard and we had some shale rocks, it felt like you were riding on a flat tire all day. And the bumps, they were really square edged. It was tough.”
The Racer X Holeshot Award in the XC1 class went to Charlie Mullins, the Thumpertalk.com XC2 holeshot award went to Dustin Gibson, and the AXA Advisors amateur holeshot award went to
David Knight’s season has started much better than last years, when he struggled with bad luck. “It’s totally different than last year,” said Knight. “This year, it’s sort of, you know, I ride steady, push when I have to, and try to control it from there. I’d like to get as many points as I can just in case some stuff happens like last year, but you know it seems like once you get over the hump like that you’re good.”
Somehow, Thad DuVall didn’t expect to win races this season. “I came into this season having not that high of expectations, I wanted to be top five every race and be in there at the end for the championship,” said DuVall. “To have things go like this, it’s awesome.”
Five-time GNCC Champion Rodney Smith returned to the track by winning the Sportsman class during the two-hour GNCC morning race.
As impressive as Knight and DuVall have been this year, KTM rider Steward Baylor is even more dominant in the GNCC Youth ranks. The 13-year-old took the Youth overall win over 125 other riders, making him undefeated on the season.
Team Monster Energy/Kawasaki is beginning to round back into shape after injuries knocked their two contenders from the XC2 Championship chase. Scott Watkins, back from a broken wrist, finished sixth, and Andrew Matusek, back from a broken foot, finished seventh.
GEICO/TDI Racing’s JT Bennett returned to the track in the XC2 ranks after a bout with illness. He even dusted off his YZ125 for the race just for fun. Bennett was only able to put in a few laps, but it’s a positive step after missing the last three races.
Cory Buttrick took top amateur overall honors and topped the Four-Stroke A Lites class. Josh Monsrud won the 200 A class, Jordan Ashburn won 250 A, and Chris Bach won Open A. Dennis Decker won the Senior A class.
Five-time GNCC Champion Scott Summers had a good day. The Team Manager for the Husqvarna race team had Glenn Kearney take fourth overall in the XC1 Class and also notched the Vet A victory himself.
Acerbis Loretta Lynn’s GNCC
Hurricane Mills, TN
1. David Knight Isle of Man (KTM)
2. Josh Strang Australia (Suz)
3. Charles Mullins Hamilton, OH (Suz)
4. Glenn Kearney Australia (HSQ)
5. Nathan Kanney High Falls, NY (KTM)
6. Paul Whibley New Zealand (Suz)
7. Jason Raines Belfair, WA (Yam)
8. Jimmy Jarrett Beloit, OH (Suz)
9. Garrett Edmisten Vero Beach, FL (Kaw)
10. Jesse Robinson Connely’s Spring, NC (Kaw)
XC2 Pro Lites
1. Thad DuVall Williamstown, WV (Yam)
2. Josh Weisenfels Fort Smith, AR (Yam)
3. Kailub Russell Kingston, OH (KTM)
4. Dustin Gibson Cumberland Furnace, TN (Yam)
5. Justin Williamson Sanford, FL (KTM)
6. Scott Watkins Leetonia, OH (Kaw)
7. Andrew Matusek Fayetteville, GA (Kaw)
8. David Snyder Navarre, OH (Yam)
9. Eric Bailey King George, VA (KTM)
10. Brian Lawson Adams, MA (Yam)
XC1 Points Standings
1. David Knight (141/4 wins)
2. Charles Mullins (98/1 win)
3. Paul Whibley (88)
4. Nathan Kanney (86)
5. Joshua Strang (83)
6. Jimmy Jarrett (81)
7. Jason Raines (63)
7. Jesse Robinson (63)
9. Glenn Kearney (60)
10. Garrett Edmisten (57)
XC2 Points Standings
1. Thad DuVall (145/4 wins)
2. Dustin Gibson (111/1 win)
3. Josh Weisenfels (103)
4. Kailub Russell (84)
5. Justin Williamson (63)
6. Brian Lawson (59)
6. Andrew Matusek (59)
8. Johnny Barber (55)
9. Nick Gentry (45)
10. Wallace Palmer (43)
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