2011 marked my first time taking more than a week to go to the opening rounds of the GNCC series, and I definitely have been missing out on some good times! Even though I did no racing during the trip and the only riding I did was aboard the RacerTV Can-Am Outlander, it was still awesome.

The trip began really early. I left North Carolina around 4am on Thursday March 3rd and drove straight through to Florida. On the way down the only stops I made were for gas and food until I got to Daytona. I drove out to the beach and hung out for a little while. I also ran into 2007 GNCC XC2 Lites Champion Justin Williamson on the beach. He was hanging out for the day then getting in some more practice before the race on the following Tuesday.

After spending some time on the beach I got back on the road and finished up the drive to River Ranch. It was only a small fraction of what I had just drove but it felt like it was even longer. Once I arrived I realized there wasn’t much going on, and there wasn’t internet access in the hotel rooms. Once I got settled in I went and found an internet connection to satisfy my fix for the night, then I ended up coming back to the room and falling asleep watching TV.

Friday was pretty laid back as well. I pretty much just hung out and watched everything come together around the track. Hoop and Krista showed up that night so I had some company in that lonely hotel room as well. On Saturday we headed out to ride some parts of the track to scope out some places to shoot from. This was also my first look at some of the places further out from the parking lot/pits. The infamous palmetto roots section was just as gnarly as it sounded and the big mudhole was pretty nasty as well.

Saturday night I drove up to Daytona to watch the Supercross. I got the ‘trackside upgrade’ which allows you to stand on the Nascar track and watch the race. The middle section of this area was slam packed so I ended up finding a spot near where I walked into it at. Well, this ended up being a promising spot as it’s exactly where James Stewart had his gnarly crash at during the main… and yes, it was even more gnarly in person.

Sunday rolled around and it was time to get to work shooting the ATV race. I had a few pretty interesting spots including the big mudhole which ended up getting lines further and further around it. That ended up being the most interesting spot on the track as well.

Monday was practice day for the bike riders and was a good first look at a lot of guys for 2011. I was walking around just before practice got under way and Rodney Tomblin snagged a little interview with me. It was pretty cool. I definitely felt like a big shot and less like a goon. I had a few things I thought of later that I would have liked to have included but I’ll save those for next time. One question that stumped me for a second was when Rodney asked what was one of the more interesting photos I had taken so far on the trip. At that point I wanted to say that I had snapped a photo of the Girls Gone Wild bus, but I opted to mention the James Stewart crash instead.

Tuesday saw the bike guys take the track for the first time in 2011 and since the track was a little bit different we had to go out in the morning and change some of our spots we were shooting. I ended up losing the mudhole but did get a pretty cool little ravine crossing. It ended up being an interesting spot as it was the place where Mike Brown made the pass for the lead on the 2nd lap. The race was pretty great as well but Charlie Mullins passed back for the win with Mike Brown in second and Chris Bach in third.

On Wednesday I left out and made my way to Georgia. On the way up I stopped at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala. It was definitely pretty interesting and I didn’t feel like I was there for a really long time but I ended up killing over and hour in there checking out everything from drag racers to antique cars.

Thursday I got to hang out with my favorite Georgia family, the Nortons. Katie is one of my best friends so I knew I was going to have fun no matter what. I hadn’t seen them since early last summer, so it had been way too long. I also finally met Katie’s boyfriend Craig who is a super cool guy as well. I got to hang out at Jesse’s golf match with Katie and Clinton, and to make things even more interesting Katie and I kept walking the edge of the course picking up lost golf balls… and yes, it got a little funny. I picked up like 13 balls myself, even had a chance to wash some of my balls in the ball washer then added with Katie’s balls we had like 24 balls total. I just said “balls” 4 times in one sentence… that’s full of win. Thanks again to the Norton’s and Craig McDaniel for everything.

On Friday I headed to the track to get the low down on what to expect. I got my spots figured out, and hung out for a little while so there wasn’t anything super epic that day. That evening a group of us had dinner at this restaurant attached to a Best Western. It was pretty interesting because it seemed like everything on the menu, they no longer served. I had this burger, it was awesome (sarcasm). Pretty sure they painted it with charcoal or set it on fire because it was way over done.

Saturday saw the time to ‘do work’ again with the ATV race. Once again the race stayed pretty tight and was pretty interesting but Chris Borich once again took the win. I don’t know a whole lot about the ATV side of things but I do know that Borich totally dominates.

Sunday was the final day of the trip and one of my favorites. With the Florida opener out of the way, I was excited to see who would come out on top in Georgia. In the morning race, Shelby Rolen made her return to racing after back to back injuries and quickly grabbed the holeshot in the Womens class. She led for a while but apparently her clutch went out of adjustment. I was heading over to the motocross track to watch and saw her bike leaned up against a tree. She was nowhere to be found, but I hadn’t heard of any injured riders over the radio so I figured it was mechanical and she had walked back. Her dad got it fixed and I gave her a ride back to the bike.

Over on the motocross track during the morning race I got a chance to cheer a few of my buddies on. One of my favorites was when Scott Greer came by, I threw out a pretty awesome shocker and got a good “woo” out of him. Yep, that sounded so wrong on so many levels.

When the afternoon race rolled around I was pretty pumped to see it go down. Brent Buntyn came down to check out the race. Brent made those super awesome slow-mo videos (Steele Creek 09, Yadkinville 2010, Am-Pro Yamaha 2011) and I took him to a few different spots. I definitely can’t wait to see what his finished product looks like. Anyway, once the race was underway it seemed like there were a ton of lead changes. I’d see one guy up front in one spot, then I’d move to my next spot and someone else would be in the lead!

The scary moment of the day came on lap 2. I was shooting in this pine section and it had a pretty good kicker in it. I noticed the top few pro guys getting kicked a little TOO high and thought someone might eat it there… Sure enough, Mike Lafferty hits it and goes down HARD. Then to top it off, the bike punishes him even more. A few seconds go by and he doesn’t get up, so I turn off the camera and run over to him. He’s on the ground trying to catch his breath, luckily there was also a EMS guy on a quad at the same spot and he came over. I pulled Mike’s goggles off to try and get him some air, but meanwhile the rest of the XC1 class and the top XC2 guys are making their way through but Mike is still laying in the middle of the trail. I asked another guy that ran over a few seconds after me to go down the trail to try to slow everyone down, then I’m pointing them into another line…

Ever been in the middle of the track with some of the fastest riders in the world heading right for you? Yeah, that was a little bit sketchy because a couple of guys didn’t see what was going on until they were right on top of me. After a few more seconds that happened to seem like an eternity, Mike finally got up. He just knocked the wind out of himself but it looked and seemed like it was way worse. Barry Hawk also showed up during the middle of this and since he was there and my next shot was coming up quick, I had to leave the spot but when I left Mike was walking back to his bike and of course got on and kept racing.

As the race wore on I started to get more curious as to who exactly was going to take the win. Finally on the last lap, I was shooting this mud hole at the 10 mile mark (just before the finish) and Paul Whibley came through a few seconds ahead of Josh Strang. I knew that as long as Whibley kept it up right, he was going to take the win. Sure enough, he took it followed by Josh Strang and Thad Duvall.

Once it was all said and done, I had my “duh” moment for the day. I volunteered to edit some GoPro footage for Jen Kenyon, she had it on her Macbook and I tried to put it on my external harddrive. Well, since my drive is formatted for PC, that was a no go. I even called over Rob Mitchell to try to help, and I got confused on which drive I had and almost had him reformat it. What a rookie mistake all around on my part.

We then tried to put the footage on a flash drive, put it on the laptop I had with me, then onto my external. Then the footage didn’t want to seem to go on the flash drive. Then I realized that it was like 8 gigs worth of footage and a 1 gig flash drive. So I figured that was strike 3, and called it quits. Now I’m pumped to see what Jen comes up with for the GoPro video.

As the trip came to a close I couldn’t help but get pumped for the rest of the season because both of the first two rounds were great races. If it’s any indication as to what we can expect out of 2011, then I’d definitely say it could be one of the best seasons ever.

For pictures from the trip, check out my 2011 GNCC Adventures album on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jbolton286