Between the  Motos: Christian Craig

Between the Motos Christian Craig

September 11, 2013 12:15pm
Christian Craig had the pedigree of a professional racer. His father, Mike “Stingray” Craig, was a factory Yamaha rider and winner of the 1994 Tampa Supercross. Following a successful amateur career, Christian filled in for JGR Yamaha in 2009 for the last four nationals in the 450 Class. That off-season, Craig’s career would change forever. After signing with Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda, he crashed hard while testing for the 2010 250SX West Region series, breaking and displacing his L2 and L3 vertebrae and fracturing his L5. Many thought his career was over, but Craig returned in 2011, still will TLD Honda. Injuries followed him, though, his latest coming at the Las Vegas SX finale. With that, the 22-year-old decided it was time to leave professional racing behind.

Racer X: Last week, unexpectedly, you announced your retirement from professional racing. Can you talk about what led up to the decision?
Christian Craig: It all started probably when I broke my wrist in May at Vegas Supercross. I was on the sidelines, and after that one it took a toll on me. It’s been injury after injury, and I haven’t got a break. It’s been, like, five years in a row with injuries, and I’ve missed so many races. Sitting at home with a cast got me thinking about outside of motocross. My fiancée’s dad talked to me and I came out here to Minnesota and he showed me what I could do, so it was up to me if I wanted to stay racing and hopefully not get hurt or come out here and really start my life. This is what I was going to do even if I raced five more years, so why not start it now?

How tough of a decision was it?
It was tough. One day I would be like, “All right, we are doing it. We are going to move.” Then the next day I would go ride and be like, “I’m not doing it—I want to keep racing.” It was like that probably for a couple of weeks and my fiancée’s dad told me, “Whenever you’re ready. If you have to race, you’ll keep racing. If not, we’re here.” I went back to California last week and sat there and was like, Do I really want to do this? Do I want to live in an apartment and live month-to-month and hopefully get a ride? I made the decision last-minute last week and we got on the road the next day and left.

Craig made the tough decision to retire from professional racing last week.
Simon Cudby photo

So it was a pretty quick decision?
Yeah, it was. But I wanted to leave right away instead of sitting there and being like, “Ah, I don’t want to do it.”

As we saw with Kevin Windham this year, guys later in their careers struggle with this decision, and you’ve only been a professional for five years. Did you ever picture yourself retiring this early?
No, not at all. When a kid is little, all they think about is, “Oh, I’m going to be pro and retire off that at age 30 and where going to live the life.” That’s what everyone think when they are little. But the reality is that’s when it’s like, “Man, can I even do this? Do I have the money? Can I even go racing when I don’t have a ride?”... Whenever I lost my ride with Troy Lee [Designs Honda], or when they told me I wasn’t going to be riding with them next year, I was like, do I even try and go search for a ride? Do I try and be a fill-in rider? I went and searched for rides anyways just to see, but everyone I talked to said they were full but they would keep me in mind. Nothing was for sure and it was tough. I didn’t want to go out there and be a privateer and barley squeak by, so I decided to start on my career while I’m still young.

Did not having a ride play a big part in the decision?
Yeah, it did. I think not getting a ride is what really made me think, Either I need to go and get a real job or just push it harder than ever. Which I have been. Each year I was giving it my all and thought it would be my year and all my hard work would pay off. But then I would be back on the ground. It’s just so tough after five years of injuries just nonstop. It just takes so much out of you. It messes you up mentally and physically.

I think some tend to forget the mental side when a rider is injured. They have to sit on a couch for months, which really affects people. You have gone through that a lot in your career. Did you just grow tired of it, to a certain extent?
Yeah, I think the back injury was the biggest. It wasn’t even my fault. In 2009 when I broke my back it was the bike’s fault, and it’s like, you can’t even trust the bike. You have to be so mentally strong to be a front-runner and winning races. When you go through those injuries and surgeries and are sitting in the hospital, it’s tough. You start to think, Do you want to do this anymore? Is it worth it? Back then I would go through a twelve-hour surgery on my back to get back on my bike. Now I think, am I even going to be able to walk when I’m older? So I need to take care of myself, because I’m going to start falling apart soon [laughs].

Numerous injuries throughout his career caused Craig to retire early.
Andrew Fredrickson photo

During that time during your back injury, did the word retirement creep in even then?
No, I think I was too young for that. Maybe when I first did it, and was sitting in the hospital bed and was paralyzed a little bit, I was like, Wow, this can really happen. I was sitting there and wondering if I was ever going to walk again. That only last for a week or so and when I got back on my feet I was like, I’m going to ride again. You’re young and all you think about is dirt bikes and all you want to do is race. If that would have happened later in my career, I think that would have ended it for sure.

Did you ask your dad for any advice with the decision?
Yeah, I think after my back injury and almost not walking again, he was like, “It’s up to you.” But you know I would be happier if you didn’t race. I don’t want to see you in a wheelchair or hurt. That kind of scared him. I think after that he was like if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it, but I’m not gonna force you.

The decision will probably sink in a little more as Anaheim gets closer. When the gate drops for A1, how tough will it be watching, for the first time in a long time, as a fan?
It’s going to suck. I’ll probably end up going so that I can wean myself off of it [laughs]. I don’t want to stay away from it. I want to keep going to some races and just be a fan. I think I can be fine with that. I still want a bike in my garage and go ride on the weekends, and maybe even race some nationals. I’m going to keep riding; I just can’t do it like this anymore.

Looking back, do you have any regrets in your career?
No, not really. I’m just kind of pissed at myself for getting hurt so much. I think if my back injury wouldn’t have happened I would be in a totally different place. In the amateurs right before I went pro and that happened, I was battling with Barcia, Tomac, and whoever, and sometimes beating them. I had to take a whole year off while they were still racing and building and getting faster. So I think the back thing is what ruined me. I’ve been building ever since. Each year I’m building, when everyone else has a base and are only getting faster, while I’m still building up to where I was a while ago. I think my only regret was being hurt so much.

Craig spent nearly his entire career with Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda.
Simon Cudby photo

What are your plans moving forward?
I’m working for my fiancée’s dad. He owns a home company that builds homes. Right now I’m just learning. It’s going to be a year or two before I know everything in this business. All I’ve ever known is motocross. I’m living in Minnesota with them right now, and hopefully get a house and make some good money and later on down the road hopefully I’ll be able to retire and everything will be good.

How different is it living in SoCal getting ready for the season and living in Minnesota and working 9-5?
It’s a big change. Usually I’m riding every day or training, and now I’m up at 6:30 and going to work. It’s a whole different world over here. I’m still getting use to it. It’s fun, though.

Do you ever see yourself getting back in the sport with a riding school or something along those lines?
I don’t see myself doing schools. I think I’ll probably stay away from that stuff and do my regular job and just go to some races or watch them on TV.