Ox Motorsports Honda rider Zach Bell put in most of the work earlier in the season so by the time he reached the eighth and final round of the AMA District 37/Maxxis Big 6 Grand Prix Series and its AMA Big 6 West Coast Grand Prix (WCGP) Series feature races, he was practically assured to taking the title.
After all, he had 29 points over second-in-points Trevor Stewart of the Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) Honda team after the pemultimate Big 6 Grand Prix Series round in Gorman, and with Stewart opting to skip the Big 6 Grand Prix Series finale—the Vikings Grand Prix hosted by the Vikings Motorcycle Club at the Crazy Horse Campground in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, for the first time—Bell basically just needed to start and finish the race to take the title.
Of course, getting a good start and running near the front of the pack almost made him forget that fact. However, when some Big 6 Grand Prix Series visitors—FMF KTM Factory Off-road Racing Team’s Kailub Russell, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Off-road Team’s Thad Duvall —and a few others managed to slip past him, Bell remembered the big pictur.
“Today was just to get it across the finish line,” Bell said. “Obviously, I wanted to race with these guys, but the bigger picture was to finish the season strong [and seal the championship]. I got myself into a good position and I just let those guys go at it.”
Wait—Russell? Duvall? Aren’t those GNCC guys? Yes, they did indeed decide to go up against some of the best in the west. Both—along with new FMF KTM rider Josh Toth and fellow New England native Ben Kelley—had been in Southern California for more than a week for KTM’s team photo shoot (not Duvall, of Course), the 5th Annual Kurt Caselli Memorial Ride Day and for testing their 2018 bikes.
“I came out last weekend for the Kurt Caselli ride and didn’t have anything going on at home so I decided to hang out and do some training and come out and race this Big 6 race,” Duvall explained.
After all, riding in Arizona is a lot more pleasant this time of year compared to back in West Virginia.
The Vikings GP soon became a two-man duel between Duvall and Russell, basically a carry-over of the battles they’ve had all year in the GNCCs. This time, however, Duvall got the upper hand and beat the five-time GNCC champ by 31 seconds in the $2000, 90-minute WCGP at the 2017 Big 6 Grand Prix Series finale.
“It’s kind of cool to finish the season with a win, I guess,” Duvall said. “It was awesome. I really enjoyed it.”
Russell used the race to see where he rates as he prepares to make a bi-coastal assault on both the GNCCs and Big 6 Grand Prix Series next year. He clearly demonstrated he’ll be a factor right away.
“I wasn’t sure [where I’d stand speed-wise compared to the Big 6 regulars] with this track,” Russell said. “I knew Thad would be good—he’s a good sand rider, a good rider in general. I thought Zach would be—I don’t want to say anything bad, but I thought he’d be one of the guys to beat because I’ve seen him ride sand before, but he probably played it safe. He had the championship he’s thinking about.”
Instead, Russell led most of the race. Well, he did until the final laps when he began to experience brake issues which he later attributed to a rock getting stuck between the brake pedal and the engine case.
The first of the Big 6 Grand Prix Series regulars turned out to be defending series champion Eric Yorba, the FMF/Maxxis/RPM Racing KTM rider displaying the number-one plate for the last time this year. However, he didn’t make it easy on himself, crashing on the first lap and having to come from last to end up third, 49 seconds behind Russell.
“These guys are amazing riders,” Yorba said. “I knew if there was one Big 6 where them being from the East Coast wouldn’t make that much of a difference, it would be this race. Say we go to 29 Palms or something like that—then they might be a little out of their element. But here, I knew they were going to be tough, for sure, and they’d be tough to beat.”
And on this day, there was no beating them.
As if to emphasize this, consider that another GNCC regular from back east—Trail Jesters KTM rider Ben Kelley—fell in the first turn of the WCGP Pro II line, picked himself up dead last and stormed back to win the class, finishing an amazing fourth overall with new FMF KTM team member Josh Toth second in class and eighth overall.
Perry Concepts Honda rider Travis Damon was fifth overall, fourth Pro, matching his series-best finish this season from round six. Bell settled for sixth overall, easily earning the number-one plate, followed by JCR Honda-mounted Eythor Reynisson from Iceland (getting in some training ahead of next year’s European MX championships), Toth, Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/ Precision Concepts Kawasaki’s Justin Seeds and Purvines DA8 Racing Yamaha rider Nick Burson.
Bell ended the season with 184 points, Stewart taking second at 155 and Yorba third with 137. But if the Vikings race was any indication, the West Coast crew could have their hands full with the newest rider to commit to Big 6 next year, Russell.
2017 AMA District 37/Maxxis Big 6 Grand Prix Series
2017 AMA Big 6 West Coast Grand Prix (WCGP) Series
Vikings M.C. Big 6 GP
Crazy Horse Campground
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Results: December 9-10, 2017 (Round 8 of 8)
1. Thad Duvall-Hus
2. Kailub Russell-KTM
3. Eric Yorba-KTM
4. Travis Damon-Hon
5. Zach Bell-Hon
WCGP PRO II
1. Ben Kelley-KTM
2. Josh Toth-KTM
3. Clay Hengeveld-Kaw
4. Beau Baron-Hon
5. Mitch Anderson-KTM
For full results, visit www.big6racing.com