Race Report by Walker Fowler Racing
After a four-month hiatus, the 2018 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series picked back up on Saturday February 24 in Union, South Carolina. Walker Fowler put the nerves and excitement that are associated with round one behind him and picked right back up where he left off in 2017 and raced his way to the first win of the season.
The season opening Big Buck GNCC boasted perfect racing conditions and brought out a multitude of racers and fans. Fowler worked diligently during the offseason to ensure his hand-crafted team would remain the top championship contender.
Fowler shot off the start line and grabbed the holeshot ahead of the large 17-rider field, but misjudged the first portion of the track and went straight instead of turning with the direction of the track. This allowed majority of the class to pass him and he sat nearly in last when he got back on track. Fortunately, another pro also misjudged the track just a mile later and Fowler was able to make quick moves around the group of riders that were stuck behind him and position himself closer to the front. Then he applied the pressure to the next group of riders until he reached the Monster Mile mud hole where only two more riders sat between him and the lead. Richardson and McGill both struggled through the obstacle, while Fowler flawlessly navigated his Yamaha through the mud to once again find himself in the lead.
“From there I just minimized mistakes and worked on distancing myself through the pack, so I wouldn’t face any pressure at the end of the two hours,” explained Fowler. “I thought my machine and preparation was fantastic!”
The three-time champ crossed the finish line at round one almost two minutes over second place – proving that his focus is still on the title.
The holeshot success continued for Fowler in the UTV race where he was the first to enter the woods from the third row. A UTV veteran passed Fowler on the second lap, but that allowed him to latch onto the back and learn some new tactics. When mechanical issues struck the driver in front of him, Fowler powered back by and continued the quick pace.
Many other drivers faced mechanical issues, but Fowler’s machine stood up to the test and his careful navigation through the South Carolina woods moved him into podium contention on adjusted time. Even though Fowler was in competition with the newly allowed turbo machines, his Yamaha 1000 YXZ made a statement where Fowler scored his first ever UTV podium in third.
“The UTV races are a battle of attrition so if you keep the machine safe, odds are you will do pretty well,” explained Fowler. “Many drivers had issues and with adjusted time so I was able to land my first career podium. I don’t have a turbo vehicle, but I still feel like it’s plenty competitive and my goal for this season is to simply score points at all six rounds.”
After a successful opening round, Fowler felt confident heading into the Wild Boar GNCC this past weekend in Florida after training nearby for most of the winter season. Fowler got off to a great start and secured the lead before entering the woods. The champ used his expertise to set a quick pace and had nearly 30-seconds on second place when he checked through timing and scoring at the conclusion of the first lap. Fowler knew the demanding track had a potential to take its toll, so he reeled in his pace until his pit stop. Once he had a fresh tank of fuel, Fowler looked to power his way through the second half of the race.
Unfortunately, lap three didn’t go as well for Fowler as the first two did. Fowler slightly veered off the trail and clipped an unforgiving object that booted him off his machine. Fowler’s quad stayed right-side up and once he remounted he noticed the steering was drastically bent. GNCC Racing is known for having multiple course obstacles, and Fowler told himself it was just another obstacle he had to face. After a few close calls within the next few miles, Fowler adjusted and picked back up the pace to secure his second overall win of the season.
“Two races, two wins. That was the goal and we can check another one off the list,” said Fowler.
After the champagne was popped, Fowler traded in his gear for a fire suit and rushed to the start line for the UTV race. After making his first ever podium at Big Buck, Fowler had set some high goals for not only this race, but also the rest of the season.
“I just tried to focus on remembering the keys to driving, which meant I apparently forgot how to start it, resulting in a poor start…” said Fowler.
After a slow start to the race, Fowler maintained his focus on riding a safe race. One by one the big names in front of Fowler began to have issues, while Fowler kept his UTV intact and was battling with the two-time UTV champion, Cody Miller, and other podium contenders where he was physically racing in third. On the last lap, Fowler lost some valuable time due to a minor mechanical upset, but the YXZ is more than durable, so after he backed off the throttle a tad it was good to go. Fowler narrowly missed out on the podium, finishing fourth. With two of the six rounds now complete, Fowler has proved he has what it takes to contend for two championships this year.
“We are extremely satisfied with a 3-4 finish in the first two rounds, putting us tied for third in points and only two out of the overall lead,” said Fowler.