Crawfordsville, IN – Eight years and 105 races. That works out to about 5000 miles of mud, rocks, hills, dirt and trail in America's largest off-road series, the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series, and one thing remains the same through it all: Bill Ballance is on the verge of winning the GNCC Championship. If the factory Yamaha rider from Kentucky finishes 12th or better at this Saturday's final round of the '07 season, the Klotz Ironman GNCC in Indiana, he'll lock up his eighth-straight number-one plate, breaking the tie on top of the all-time leader board with seven-time champion Barry Hawk.
Not surprisingly for a championship won over rugged terrain, the path to Ballance's eight-straight crown has been anything but smooth. Long-time rival Chris Borich has pushed Ballance to the brink for the last three seasons, and on several occasions this year it looked like he would finally knock Ballance off.
"I've been in some pressure situations before and it always seems like we're able to rise through them," says Ballance.
At the mid point of the year, Borich launched a four-race win streak and held a decisive edge in the series standings. The pressure nearly broke Ballance. But instead of coming to the track with the familiar fire in his belly, intent on nothing but winning, Ballance started to take it all in stride. "You know, whatever happens this year, I've got to look back and be proud of what we've already accomplished," said Ballance when the series resumed in September after a summer break.
By keeping cool under fire, Ballance never cracked. He's finished on the podium in every race this season, including five wins and six runner-up placings. Borich has six victories, but bad luck at two races—brake troubles in Kentucky which resulted in a six-place finish, and a blown shock in North Carolina which pushed him back to 17th—will make it tough to collect the crown now. Borich must race to win in Indiana and hope for a lucky break in the form of a Ballance crash or mechanical failure.
Of course, Ballance hasn't had many of those in the last eight years, and he doesn't expect to start now.
With the year coming to a close, expect several riders to gun for their first victory, including West Virginia sophomore pro Adam McGill, Pennsylvania veteran Matt Smiley and popular Kentucky rider William Yokley. Missouri's Duane "The Rock" Johnson will be in the hunt, as well as Chris Bithell, who held Ballance off for a win in North Carolina a few weeks ago. Also, 2007 XC2 Pro-Am Champion Brandon Sommers will race the XC1 Pro class again after finishing fourth in his pro debut at the previous GNCC in Ohio.
Saturday's action also includes Youth ATV racing at 8 a.m. and a 10 a.m. morning race featuring the Women, 4x4 and Sport ATV classes. At 5 p.m. Side by Side/UTV machines will race for the first time ever at a GNCC, on a custom-built course.
The Klotz Ironman packs one of the largest crowds of the season. The Indiana fans are rabid about ATVs, and the event is named after the only GNCC Champion to hail from the state, Bob "Ironman" Sloan. The course features nearly every terrain imaginable for an ATV to cross, from rocks, mud and water to Ironman Hill, one of the steepest climbs on the entire Grand National tour.
A full bike program competes on Sunday, as well, with the same racing schedule as the ATVs. Tickets for the event cost $12 for the full weekend. The track is located south of Crawfordsville off of Route 47. The address for Tom's Marine is 1317 W Offield Rd. For more information, log on to www.gnccracing.com or call 304-284-0084.
Can-Am Grand National Cross Country ATV Series Overall Standings (After 12 of 13 rounds)
1. Bill Ballance 317/5 wins
2. Chris Borich 295/6 wins
3. Chris Bithell 237/1 win
4. Matt Smiley 182
5. Adam McGill 160
6. Brandon Sommers 157
7. Taylor Kiser 154
8. Bryan Cook 119
9. Duane Johnson 117
10. Chris Jenks 110