With overlapping races in the NE, it would likely be up to those local Pros, like Max Morgan, Phil Kmetz, Brandon Blakely, Kyle Grau. Could there be a sleeper with his first impressive result or a Wild Card coming out of the blue? Would we have enough ladies show up in what seems to be an always struggling category? Would Beech live up to its reputation delivering its usual rain and fog? Would we be surprised with nothing but a weekend of the sun's rays (yeah right), pretty much unheard of in Beech's racing history.
Welcome to the ThunderGROM - The weekend begins with pre-practice prep and tuning with the young guns of GROM Racing. They couldn't have picked a better place to call home for the next two and half days. Just walk out the back door, down the walkway (pictured), and out on the slopes of Beech Mountain Resort you are.
Up Way Too Early - Never miss the opportunity to drive up to the highest ski resort in the Eastern USA for a sunrise (5506 feet above sea level). T'was a bit on the cloudy side, but that didn't keep the color palette from working its magic. Yeah, heading out the door at 5:45am is early, but Mother Nature never disappoints and it's worth it every time. #nofilter
The Early Bird Gets the Worm - Once the rope drops at the lift house at the base of the resort, the first handful of chairs are always stacked full. Four bikes to a rack, four racers to a chair. Four GROMS to be exact chomping at the bit to get those knobbies covered in North Carolina dirt.
Part I, Into the White - Those that know me would tell you I despise, with a passion, black kits. OK, I will admit it, there's a time and place for everything. At the top of the course you are out in the open, usually surrounded by clouds and grey skies (mind you, this is Beech Mtn, that's how she rolls). Greg Nelson a local 'old school' Pro proves that point (though reluctantly).
The Bomber - Patrick Alcisto has Intense Bomber stitched into his DNA. Bright fluro orange M9 with a kit to match. He's pinned out in the open slope just before the entrance of the first woods section at the top of the course.
Home Field Advantage - Clancy Loorham, and the 'home' team Beech Mountain Gravity, definitely had an edge as this is their home away from home. He and his four team-mates pounded lap after lap after lap on Saturday practice, each time pinned and shredding like it was their first.
Crash Boom Bang - Josh McFadin entered the second section of the woods nice and clean (as pictured), but that was not to be. Just a few feet further and over top some of the legendary slick roots of Beech Mountain, it all slipped out and he went down. It didn't seem to be too bad, as he shook it off, was right back up, and on his way.
Green For Orange - Matt Clements choice of jersey has changed? In the past he's been good for wearing the green and gold of the Lees McRae Bobcats. Gone is the green and gold and it's been traded in for some grey and orange via Royal Racing gear and Loco Gravity Racing. Graduated maybe?
I Think He's Fan - Not sure what's behind Brad Newby's choice of riding gear, specifically his 'The Misfits' race tee, but it seems to be a constant in his choice of riding wardrobe. Brad at a DH race = Brad displaying that signature skull. Punk Rock Rules!
Not the Garden - Leading up to the weekend the rumor was that all categories, all riders would be on the Pro Course and it's infamous 'Rock Garden', but it was not to be. It would be a split of the AM course (upper) and Pro Course (lower). Pictured is the connector/intersection into the Pro Course from the AM course, just downstream of all the Pro rocky misery.
The Coach - Though he wouldn't put down a race time at the end of the weekend, Christopher Herndon was out (on the 'black bike') chasing those that wanted to be chased, offering his services, and helping tuning those lines. He's still got style and always will. Always a pleasure to see Christopher out there, number plate or not.
Just Have Fun Dude - Best of Luck to this young man! Josh Rogers leaves in just a few days (from the time this report will be published) to represent the Stars and Stripes at Worlds in Vallnord, Andorra. As always, just have fun Josh and everything else will fall into place. Great to see him living his dream and representing the Carolinas. Have fun dude!
The End of Day - That's it for Saturday Fun Day and pounding down the practice laps. What's next for the GROM Racing squad? What else, watch Val di Sole (the replay). We were told, "SHUT UP! No spoilers! I don't want to know who won. I just want to watch."
DINNER! - While the young GROMs recapped the WC, the mom and dad GROMs had kitchen duty. Forty five minutes or so later, it was time for us all to fill up on the fixin's. Thanks moms and dads! It was mmm mmm good!
The Aftermath - After four hungry kids, eight hungry parents, and two guests, this is all that is left. Gone is the tray of garlic bread and only a few squares of lasagne remain.
It's a New Day - Saturday ticked on by with not a single drop of precipitation. What would Sunday have in store for us? The forecast called for a 60% chance of rain starting at 2:00pm with race runs scheduled to start at 1:00pm. Early in the three hour practice session, Will Murray only saw clouds at the top of the course. A few hours later, Will would put down a run good enough for 2nd Cat 1 30-39. Note that his time of 02:45.082 would have put him 5th in Pro Men. He might be 'old', but he's still got it.
Part II, Into the Black - We had 'Into the White' with Greg Nelson, now it's Into the Black with Greg Nelson. A very fast section across the slope into the second section of woods on the upper course. Greg would go 7th in Pro Men.
More and More Black - We can't get Chuck Pitts to come out of the color closet. It's always all black, all the time. Chuck would secure the gold in Cat 1 30-39 and his time of 02:40.449 would have placed him 4th in Pro Men. Chuck too, still has it and he's not showing any signs of slowing down. Some even have told me he's gotten faster in his old age and stepping down from the Pro Men category.
The Blue Ridge Boys - Ryan Claeys' time of 02:56.430 was good enough for the fastest time of the day and the gold in Cat 2 30-39. Always great to see a handful of the Blue Ridge Gravity crew from the Virginia area at each of the Southeast based events.
Fellow GVLian - Andrew Marpes, a fellow Greenville SCers, split the field of eight with a 4th in Cat 3 15-18.
Which Way Do I Go? - The best part of the course, at least in my opinion, is out of the first section of woods. If you choose to go right, you'll suffer a bit of a time plenty with a right, left, right. The left line (shown) is the harder line, yet obviously the quickest, up on over a pointed rock.
The Nature Boy - This is a different angle of the same location as the above pic. Bergen Khare of Beech Mountain Gravity gets the nomination for this photog's pick of the favorite image from the weekend. Bergen would make his team-mates proud with the top spot in Cat 2 15-18. WOOOOOOOO! (in my best Shrimper voice, or would that be Ric Flair, the REAL Nature Boy?)
The Hatfields and McCoys? Not in the slightest - Of course there's competition on race day, but they are entirely inseparable off course. It's nothing but complete and utter friendship between GROM Racing and Beech Mountain Gravity. Michael Kane, GROM Racing, pictured just downstream of rock garden took the silver in Junior Men.
Sam Houston finished 8th in Junior Men.
Head Down Elbows Out - Josh Smith pinned and tucked, good enough for 5th in Cat 1 19-29. Note to riders, want photos, then follow Josh's lead and emulate this image in the future.
Not So Fast - The resort decided to slow riders down a bit coming into the Hip Jump with the addition of a new series of rights and lefts. Reaction was mixed with an air to the negative side as you couldn't get the height and distance over the hip as in past races. Leith McLeod is able to muster up a bit of boost over the hip and finished 2nd in Cat 2 30-39.
They Grow Up Too Fast - I can remember the first time I saw Ben Ritcher, which was likely also his first taste of competition. 2011 at Clemson DH, and Dad had to push his bike up the course because little Ben didn't want to. Fast forward to today (pictured). When did we miss him growing up? No fear, plenty of speed, and boosting two-times higher than 90% of the field. Tack on another gold in Juniors 9-14 Cat 3 for Ben.
Super Bon Bon - This is the first time we've meet Ian Bongard, we all should keep an eye on his kid. Oozing with style and lots of speed. Give it a year or two and some experience once he moves into Junior, there's no doubt he'll be a force to reckon with. The Cat 2 15-18 was a stacked category made up of 90% GROM Racing (Ian's team) and Beech Mountain Gravity. He had to settle for a 4th, just out of the medals. Still not a bad result.
It's Not Beech If…- The rain showed it's face earlier than expected starting about 11:00am when the forecast said it would show at 1:00pm. It went like this, it would rain for 20 minutes, then the sun would come out for 45 minutes, and the do loop would start. Once race runs started, I think we experienced four separate showers. In any case, the track ended up being wet for race runs. Jimmy Awad (pictured) had to put down his run in one of the heaviest showers. He wasn't deterred, good enough for the top spot and gold in Cat 1 19-29.
The Ride Along - Ride along with GROM Racing's Phillip Steele on his race run. Phillip's another young gun moving his way up the categories and age groups, meanwhile raising lots of factory outfit eyebrows. Keep an eye on this young man too.
Low Numbers - With a minimal turnout for the Ladies, the organizers combined the Women's Categories into an open class. Though not in Pro Women (due to age limits, she's in Cat 1), Scout Clark, GROM Racing, posted the fastest time of the day with a 03:09.439 over Pro Caroline Westray and Hailey Sarausky. Open Women (Pro and 19+ Cat1-3): 1. Scout Clark, GROM Racing, 03:09.439 (Cat 1), 2. Caroline Westray, Liv Giant/Spoked, 03:10.197 (Pro), 3. Hailey Sarausky, Loco Gravity Racing, 03:30.945 (Pro).
A Toss Up - Going into the weekend, and of course there's always a possibility for a wildcard, it was safe bet that the top three would likely be Max Morgan, Kyle Grau, and Phil Kmetz. The question would be the finishing order. As the rain came down, Max Morgan (pictured) was just 1.802 off the pace with a 02:33.885 and took the silver.
Phil the Thrill! - Phil Kmetz's tag line continues and he made it count when he needed to. King of the Mountain for the day with a 02:32.083. Note: The image is from race day morning practice before the rain moved in. Pro Men: 1. Phil Kmetz, Danny's Cycles Racing, 02:32.083, 2. Max Morgan, Billy Goat Bikes, 02:33.885, 3. Kyle Grau, Santa Cruz, 02:39.471.
Thanks to Talia Freeman, every one of the Beech Mountain crew, staff, and volunteers.
What's coming up next? Head on up to the West Virginia Allegheny Mountains for the final round and series championships at @snowshoebikepark-official / Snowshoe Bike Park on September 26th and 27th. Look for a race promo in the next week.