With 2007 and 2008 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Champion David Knight back in Europe, a bunch of contenders are going for the GNCC crown. FMF/Makita Suzuki’s Josh Strang saw his opportunity to make a mark on the sport by winning this title, so the 21-year-old Australian put in the work, and has emerged with a slim points lead at the halfway mark of the season—despite running out of gas at the season-opener. He took win number four yesterday after a torrid three-hour battle with his teammate Charlie Mullins, and we talked with him after it.
Yeah, I did the Australian off-road stuff for one year. Before that I had just done motocross and ridden in the woods at home, for fun. 2006 was my first year at GNCC-type stuff.
What gave you the idea to even try this, then?
It’s guys like Wattsy and Glenn (Kearney) who came from Australia and made enough money to live, they showed me it could be done, and even motocross guys like Chad Reed. Racing is so small over there, that when you hear about those guys and see what is really achievable, you change your goals.
But I see people do this to Reed all the time. He speaks English well, and after a few years, people really forget he’s not from here. People forget how difficult the transition can be.
Yeah. I was 18 when I moved here. It was hard, the first time I had ever moved out of my parents house, I had moved out of the country! I really have to thank Rodney and Lori Smith, they have been like parents to me, as well as my mechanic Chris and my Team Manager Mike Webb. They helped a lot, but hey, I was 18, and I was ready to move out of my parents house, anyway!
I’ve heard Rodney Smith say this before: Motocross is motocross in any country. But learning GNCC, it’s totally and completely different than off-road racing in other countries.
I’ve been here three years and I’m still amazed when I’m driving down the highway and I see all of these trees. It’s so thick here. Back home, the trees are so far apart that you can see through them like you can in the winter here, when the leaves are gone. Glenn and I were talking about why I have been doing so much better here the last two years, and I guess it’s a bunch of things, for one, the Suzuki RM-Z450 is awesome and it suits me really well. The other thing is that I’ve been able to get used to the conditions.
You came here for two races in 2006, and you got like 4th in the 250 A class. Now you’re winning the whole thing. You learn fast.
I think I enjoy riding in the trees, and that helps, I’m not just doing it because I have to. Back home, we did the sprint stuff where you race against the clock, and I like the racing here, where you have to race other guys. It’s good fun, especially on a day like today where I get to race someone like Charlie for three-hours.
Yeah, and he normally doesn’t go as good early, but after the first two laps he’s strong. So I was kind of worried about giving him that big of a lead early on, but we were able to run him down. And the last three laps, Charlie and I, it was like a motocross because we were pushing so hard. And I think we were doing what, 30-minute lap times, so that was like a 90 minute moto, and I don’t think we were more than five seconds apart the whole time. And we passed each other for the lead a few times, too, on the last lap. When you have someone that close, you pick the pace up a lot.
Do you get tired? Do you get stressed on the last lap?
Nothing against Charlie, but in South Carolina and North Carolina, I was able to put the hammer down and get away late in the race. But I tried to put the hammer down this time and I couldn’t pull away. I could get a small gap, but then I would make a mistake in the rocks and he would catch back up. When it’s like that, and neither of us can get away, you just hope someone makes a big mistake or gets stuck on a hill or in the mud or something.
Do you get tired?
Days like today aren’t that bad, because it was pretty cold out. You’re huffing and puffing after it most of the time, but, we’re not fat, and we don’t sit on the couch eating Doritos every day. We work hard, we probably work as hard as any other athlete in motorcycle racing. Some people don’t even understand why we do it. I enjoy it, but some people, they don’t like it, because we work really hard and the racing is so hard.
I know that was a big goal for you this year, fitness. Whibley had you guys covered in endurance last year, so you put your head down to match him this year.
Whibs, he just does something every day. It would be raining hard one day, and some of us would just be hanging out waiting for the rain to stop, and you could just imagine he was out doing something, riding, on the bicycle, in the gym, whatever. So I knew I had to do that, and the off-season, working with Lori and Rodney, I worked my ass off, and I felt really good coming into the season. To know now that I can match him, that’s great, because he may not be the quickest guy, but you know he’s going to be there at the end.
Halfway through the year and you have the points lead again. The guys who have won this title, they’re legends, like Knight and Juha and Rodney and Barry Hawk, Scott Summers. That’s rare company. Does that sink in yet?
Well when you talk like that it does. But I can’t think like that, I need to just focus on the racing. And you can’t really compare us to those guys, Juha is gone and Knight is gone, so it’s hard to say how we stack up. And then there will be other guys coming up when we’re gone.
Yeah but you’re 21, are you planning on sticking around?
Oh yeah, I plan on sticking around for awhile!
For more info on Josh Strang check out his website at www.joshstrang.com