Snowshoe, WV – It was one tough, gnarly race, but the fans liked it and so did Yamaha's Bill Ballance, who grabbed momentum on the track and in the series to win the Moose Racing Snowshoe GNCC in West Virginia, round eight of the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series. The massive ski resort at Snowshoe presented beautiful accommodations and a paved stretch of road for the start, but several miles of the course were made of almost impassible by mud, hills and rocks. Ballance moved around his rival Chris Borich early in one of those sections, and Borich ran out of time in his comeback bid, finishing second on his East Coast ATV Honda. Borich's teammate Matt Smiley took third.
"There was probably three miles of the track out there that was just as gnarly as probably anything we ever see on any track throughout the whole season," said Ballance, the seven-time and defending GNCC Champion. "At one time there was five or six of us together, I think Chris and Matt and Bithell, and we come into that one section and everybody started splitting off and going different directions, and I picked a line and thought, 'Oh Lord, this is way out of the way, I'm getting ready to get passed by a bunch of people,' and wound up getting on through it, and wound up being an easier but longer line and I didn't get hung up, and I think I got around those guys right there. I just put my head down and started pushing."
Borich received the $100 ITP Holeshot Award for leading the first lap after the unique GP start, but he wasn't happy with second. "I was expecting a five lap race, and I don't know what happened there, but I came in, and the next lap the white flag was out and I was like, what the heck?," said Borich. Bottlenecks and mud were wreaking havoc on many racers, leading officials to cut the race from five laps to four to finish at the standard GNCC two-hour mark (Ballance finished in 1:57.48). "I put my hammer down and came up just a little short I guess, but it's going to drive me more here over the break and push real hard. I'm not giving up, it ain't gonna be that easy."
Borich dropped to the tail end of the top five but kept charging until he was closing on his teammate Smiley for second. "It was a really fun track out there," said Smiley. "Just a couple of real muddy sections that you really had to use your head and not get hung up behind anybody. If somebody got stuck in front of you, you were screwed, so I was hoping to just stay with them and pick them off in there, and just make dust in these last few sections, but hey, what are you going to do? I wanted to make a move at the end there, but I guess Bill pitted earlier and he got away a little bit."
Fourth overall went to LTERacing.com's Chris Bithell and fifth to West Virginia's own Adam McGill. Monster Energy/National Guard/Kawasaki's William Yokley was sixth on a KXF450, with Chris Jenks seventh and Bryan Cook eighth.
The XC2 Pro Am class presented a big battle of its own, and GT Thunder Yamaha's Brandon Sommers came from behind to notch his seventh win in eight races this year, as well as ninth overall. "I don't think I dropped any further back than about third or fourth all day," said Sommers. "I just had to keep pushing, you'd lose a lot of time when you'd get hung up and just run hard and usually make more mistakes when you're running hard, but it all worked out in the end."
David Crane took the ATVRiders.com Holeshot award for leading the first lap in XC2, and he followed Sommers through the pack after getting stuck on his own. "I really thought somebody was in front of us," said Crane. "Brandon's so fast, he caught me and I thought, well, maybe he'd pull me past whoever was in front of us, so I tried to follow him but he's just too crazy. I'm very happy to be up here."
Mark Notman got third, and he was happy with the GP style start. "It's been rough all year," said Notman. "I haven't been able to get a good start. With this start we did today, I was able to get up front with the top guys and run with them, and stay up there all day."
The muddy conditions were most apparent in the wild 10a.m. race, which made history when the top three overall riders were on 4x4 machines. Jerime Dudding won the overall riding in the 4x4 Lites class on a Can-Am Outlander 500. "It was an unbelievable day," said Dudding. "You know, it was a really neat course because it had some wide open that you could really stretch your legs on these Can-Ams, and then there was real tight and technicall, and then as the track developed it got so muddy. You would literally come to these bottlenecks and it would just be like a parking lot. 4WDs, sport quads, you name it, piled up in there. I literally at one point ran over another quad, whoever he is, I'm sorry but I had to get passed him. It was an awesome race, thank the Lord for this one, it was unbelievable!"
"It feels great," said second place overall and 4x4 Open winner Bryan Buckannon, on a Can-Am 650. "Everybody said they were waiting for the utilities to come up here and overall, and today here we got it, and I don't think anybody thought that there'd be this line up that's up here, but we're just showing that we're here to race and run for everything we've got."
Third overall in the morning went to another Can-Am racer, Limited Class winner Michael Swift. "There were three spots back there that were pretty nasty," said Swift. "You'd come and it'd just be a parking lot. Most of them were through creek beds, the trees were so thick you just got to hope you can mow 'em over, so you gotta' pick the littlest ones you can find and just mow 'em, sometimes you have to back up and do it two or three times so the front end will finally fall over on them. You couldn't do it if you didn't have four-wheel drive. These bikes are so fast in the open stuff, you can pass a lot of the sport bikes. It was a good track."
Yamaha's Traci Cecco saw her seven-race win streak snapped when she had a battery die on the last lap. Yamaha rider Lexie Coulter took her first career win in the Women's class and finished seventh in the morning race.
All told just under 1400 racers competed in the event.
The 2007 Can-Am GNCC begins a summer break before returning for the final five rounds in the fall, beginning with the Geico Mountain Ridge GNCC in Somerset, PA on September 1 and 2.
Start, Ballance and Borich photos by David Scearce, ski lift photo by Jason Hooper.