The GNCC Rolls Into Town, as “The General” Returns To Aonia Pass

Published on 1 March 2024 at 11:32




It’s loud, it’s fast, it’s dirty.


The largest off-road racing series in the US rolls into Wilkes County March 8-9-10 for round three of the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC)* series, “The General”. 


Aonia Pass Motorsport Park first hosted the event in 2003, when it was owned and operated by Washington’s Perry Gunter. Mr. Gunter passed away in 2015, and Aonia, without his guidance, lost the event for two years. It returned to Washington in 2018 after two lackluster race dates in Hancock County.


The Aonia Pass race course — just 7 miles east of Washington on US-17/78 — incorporates up to 12 miles of varied terrain, including hills, woods, mud, dirt, rocks and roots, and a motocross section. You can expect a slightly different course from the past, though some of the popular sections of the previous course may be added back.


Aonia’s new owners have made significant improvements to the facility. Aaron and Emily Jane Howell arrived from Australia last year and immediately began making upgrades around the property, including a GP-style course to accommodate side-by-side ATV racers (not part of the GNCC series). The previous owners managed to harvest timber across much of the property, which should make for easier spectating, but likely will alter the previous course layout. Last year’s race was run in extremely wet conditions; riders with mud experience had an advantage. Trail conditions were brutal, so competitors and spectators should be aware of how unpredictable early March weather can be.


Many top US and international riders compete in the series, including members of Team USA which swept the International Six Days of Enduro in Argentina last year (ISDE is the oldest continuous off-road competition in the world). GNCC regulars Dante Olivera and Jonny Girroir were on the men’s World Trophy-winning team, joined by Brandy Richards, Kori Steede, and Rachel Gutish who won the Women’s Trophy.


The race paddock is much different than in early years. All the top pros and major off-road manufacturers are represented and the pit area features the same 50-foot haulers you see at any major motorsports event.  But there are still many amateur competitors who show up with bikes in the back of a van or pickup or on a trailer. You don’t need to be a top pro to compete in the series; GNCC Racing has a total of 134 classes: 70 Bike classes, 53 ATV classes and 11 eMTB (mountain bike) classes – there’s literally a class for every age and every skill level.


The series began in 1975 when Dave Coombs was contacted by a preacher from a church in Davis, West Virginia. The preacher wanted to help the economy of his struggling town by hosting a motorcycle race. Coombs saw major potential in the area and thought that a grand prix-style race through the town and surrounding countryside would be special enough to bring visitors to the town. Coombs named this race the “Blackwater 100”, for nearby Blackwater Falls and the Blackwater River, and 100 for the number of miles in the race.


That series evolved into the GNCC by 1984; the Blackwater 100 was shut down after the 1993 event, but by this point the GNCC series had earned the reputation as the “Premier Offroad Racing Series in America”. Throughout the 90s the series grew in popularity. GNCC Racing has grown from small, regional races to professional-grade events that attract professional and amateur riders from across the world. The grueling two and three-hour GNCC races attract as many as 2,700 riders over courses ranging in length from eight to 12 miles, mainly single-track woods trails, open fields, and the occasional motocross layout.


Complete event information is available on the GNCC website 



*(Not to be confused with the “Grand National Curling Club”, founded in 1857, or the “Grand National Calling Championships”, started in 1977 to honor the top national turkey callers, or even “Gastric Non-Cardia Carcinoma.)


Written by Richard Crabbe

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