Off-roading is back!

The 2015 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country series returns on Sunday for its 41st season and if last year was an indicator, expect bigger crowds and more riders for this spectacle of dirt bike racing.

The 40th season last year brought record attendance as the then defending GNCC Champion Kailub Russell became the first to repeat since David Knight in 2007-08. Russell had little difficulty wrapping up the 2014 championship as his primary competitor Charlie Mullins bowed out early after a crash in practice prior to Round 8 took him out of contention.

Russell grabbed the title in Round 11 and rode a 150 2-stroke in the final two races, coming in second in Round 12 and winning the final race. It was the first time since 2001 a rider won a GNCC overall on a small bore 2-stroke.

Mullins expects to be sidelined to start the new GNCC season until as late as May. Last year, after missing five rounds, he returned for the final two rounds finishing fourth overall in Round 12 and 10th in the XC1 class in Round 13 where he re-broke his wrist. In an interview with CycleNews.com, Mullins said he broke the screw in his right wrist in half hitting a braking bump. Further surgeries followed.

"It's been three months since the surgery and I've been going to therapy quite a bit and doing what I can to get it healed," Mullins said. "The fusion is all healed (the doctor) said it's all-good, it's just working past the scar tissue and getting my range of motion and everything back."

One familiar face gone this year is Paul Whibley, the 2009 and 2012 GNCC Champion, who finished seventh last year and retired shortly after the season ended. But that doesn't mean easy sailing for a third consecutive championship for Russell. Grant Baylor, the two-time defending XC2 Pro Lites Champion, is expected to move to the XC1 class, and Josh Strang, the 2010 GNCC Champion and last year's runner-up returns. Jordan Ashburn is also in the mix as he finished third overall in 2014 including four podiums and Top 10 finishes every round.

The new season features 13 Rounds of action including two new venues. New York gets a second Round thanks to the big crowd turn-out last year at Unadilla. The Seneca Highlands host Round 6 in Odessa, NY. Round 1 returns to the Rodman Plantation for the "Wild Boar" in Palatka, FL. The last time GNCC held an event there was 2003.

MotoSport.com is sponsoring four riders this year starting with Russell and in the XC2 class Brad Bakken and Ryan Blue. Kacy Martinez, the top rider in the women's class last year, is also under the MotoSport banner. Additionally, MotoSport employees Brett Cue (A class) and Rory Sullivan (Pro class) will race in Round 1.

The 2015 GNCC season starts for Pro Bikes at 1 p.m. (EST) on Sunday at the Rodman Plantation, 298 County Road 310 in Palatka, FL. Check out the full weekend schedule and directions to the facility.

2014 GNCC Overall National Championship Standings

  1. Kailub Russell (348) - 2014 GNCC Champion
  2. Josh Strang (241)
  3. Jordan Ashburn (223)
  4. Charlie Mullins (208)
  5. Grant Baylor (202)
  6. Andrew Delong (178)
  7. Paul Whibley (177)
  8. Steward Baylor Jr. (134)
  9. Chris Bach (123)
  10. Ricky Russell (117)

Written By: AndrewT