It's easy for armchair racers to claim that Brandon Ballance has been riding the coattails of his six-time GNCC championship-winning brother Bill Ballance for the past several years. But nothing could be further from the truth as Brandon has earned his stature via hard work and perseverance. Although true talent may run through the veins of the Ballance family, Brandon has earned his own sponsorships and competes on a machine set up for his particular needs. Just because both Ballance brothers race Yamaha YFZ450s doesn't mean their machines are identical-Brandon and Bill are not twins, nor are their YFZs. I had been eager to throw a leg over this sparkly blue work of art to see for myself just how different it was. Fortunately for me, Brandon hesitantly gave me the go-ahead.
We set off on a short hour-and-a-half adventure ending in Washington, Georgia, for round two of the GNCC series. Trees, trees and then more trees mixed in with a little red clay-that's what the Georgia track is all about. No worries. It's my home track, and I know this terrain better than any other in the country. Pounding out miles through the windy yet open country roads while trying to find my way to the track, I decided to ring up Brandon one last time to assure myself that the plan was still in motion. With the staticky crackling of my cell phone and the lack of reception on this Deep South excursion, I was able to make out "It's all good," from the other end of the line! Even though the call was dropped, that was all I needed to know.
A luminous collage of colorful, gleaming tents and bright, shiny race quads lining pit row greeted me as I pulled in. My heart began pounding from the anxiety and excitement of competing on a Ballance-prepped race quad. This was no practice quad; this was the actual racer that pulled off a third-place overall finish the previous week at round one of the GNCC series in DeLeon Springs, Florida. "I think this machine is better dialed-in than the one that I'll be riding this weekend," Brandon said when I arrived. It was unbelievable that he would sacrifice his best-prepped race machine for me, and I really appreciated his willingness to loan out the quad for a grueling day of competition. As we walked away, I heard the voice of Brandon say, "Oh yeah, you'll be pitting with us today. Get your gear together and get with our crew on what you'll need." Wow! How cool is that? Not only will I be racing a Ballance quad, but I'll be pitting from the very same factory Yamaha pit that accommodates him and his brother Bill, as well as women's champion Traci Cecco. This day was already going well, and the race hadn't even started.
Finally, the time had arrived, and I began mentally preparing for the battle. I lined up next to a whopping 44 other competitors in the Four-Stroke A Class, where I struggled to locate a decent starting position on the line. While awaiting the prerace ceremonies, Brandon offered this advice: "Since your class is so jam-packed, you would benefit greatly from a good start so that you won't be held up behind the traffic." Unfortunately, a small glitch prevented me from that start I needed, and I ended up being the last rider off the line. I can't blame the quad-I just didn't have enough time on it to practice speedy starts. Before I knew it, I had unexpectedly caught up to the back traffic. The GT Thunder YFZ motor paired with HMF's Ballance Series pipe offered up incredible power to make those much-needed passes on the first lap. It seemed to have a nice jolting power right off the bottom, but what I was most impressed with was its ability to pull even after you thought the power was about to drop off. I know the YFZ very well, and this motor just kept pulling like nothing I had ever felt before. After tracking down and passing 12 riders before the end of the first lap, my confidence was really boosted by this machine's superior abilities.
Aside from that horrific start, the race seemed to be going my way. Each lap I was picking off handfuls of racers in my class. I believe these passes were in part due to a finely tuned suspension system that Brandon had spent countless hours refining. The Houser Slycast front A-arms are 1 inch wider than stock, allowing for a drastic improvement in stability of the quad at high speeds. Also, Elka's Elite shock setup had a flawless feel as this machine stayed planted, so that I could tackle this course effectively without wasted time and energy trying to keep it in control. For once, I finally felt as if I were riding the quad rather than it riding me. I felt I was in complete control of every turn, straightaway, whoop and jump. On lap three, I rolled into the pits for fuel and to switch out my goggles. Without hesitation, three mechanics from the crew jumped, ready to take care of all my needs. One of them gassed up the YFZ with a quick-fill can, another switched out my goggles and the third made a quick inspection sweep on the condition of the quad. No kidding, this detailed pit did not take more than five seconds, and I was back in action ready to tackle my last lap.