After getting pushed around on the Supercross track last year and written off by some of the media, the chip on his shoulder is motivation for Christian Craig.
Craig banged bars with RJ Hampshire with only a two laps remaining in the Heat 2 of Round 1 of the Monster Energy Supercross season. He extended his lead to a little more than 1.5 seconds and won, providing him a great gate pick.
In his heat, Craig had led the first two laps and then gave up the top spot to Hampshire for five trips around the track.
In the 250 East Main, Craig rode like a rider with something to prove. He grabbed the lead on Lap 1 and never looked back. He had a one-second lead on Lap 2. By Lap 12 he extended his convincing advantage to 6.8 seconds and then settled into a comfortable pace. At the end of the 20-lap Main, he beat Austin Forkner by a little more than 5 seconds.
Craig pulled to the inside of the track and rested his head on his arms – relief radiated as he threw both arms into the air. Then he gathered his emotions after scoring his first win in five years and climbed the podium.
“If only people knew what I’ve been through in the past two years,” Craig said from the top rung. “This is the most weight I’ve lifted off my shoulders I’ve ever had. I never gave up. I’ve been down to the lowest of lows – to the bottom – and I still kept going.”
In a career filled with peaks and valleys, the lows have lately taken center stage.
After spending four years in the 250 class, Craig had a successful debut in 450s in March, 2018. His first race on the bigger bikes in a field with bigger names netted a top-five at Atlanta. And while he failed to podium that year, he came within one spot of doing so with a fourth on three occasions.
Returning after his lengthy suspension last year, Craig also got off to a strong start. He finished third at Anaheim 1, but struggled for the remainder of the season.
A feeling unlike any other. Grateful. pic.twitter.com/W9aPbTsYLl
— Christian Craig (@_christiancraig) January 17, 2021
“The whole day was good, but I’ve had some of these days,” Craig said in Houston 1’s press conference. “Everyone knows my story. I can qualify good, I can win heat races, but then something happens in the main: I make a mistake, I get a bad start, I tip over – just something that I can’t control sometime.
“But it’s kind of like I had this chip on my shoulder today.
“And I still do. I haven’t got rid of it. It’s something I need to prove to myself.”
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Craig hopes the proof comes quickly. Last year after standing on the podium in the opening round of the 250 West season, he failed to crack the top five again.
Riding in the 250 class again over the past two years, Craig is still reestablishing his presence on the track.
“Last year I got pushed around a lot, and I’m older in the class so that shouldn’t be happening,” Craig said. “I should be taking advantage of these young kids who are making mistakes or be smarter than them.
“I did it in the heat race and made an aggressive pass. Didn’t mean to hit RJ, but there were only two laps left and I had to get through for that heat win.”
Older, more experienced and perhaps with greater motivation than the other riders in the Supercross field due to the chip on his shoulder, Craig has an opportunity to capitalize on his momentum with three consecutive rounds at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Craig and the remainder of the Supercross stars will race Tuesday, Jan 19 and again on Saturday, Jan. 23. The track configurations will be different, but the dirt will be the same – with the same characteristics in terms of how it breaks down and its tackiness.
“I could call a lot of people out, but I just use that as motivation,” Craig said. “I hear on podcasts; I hear little chirps here and there. I used to bug me back in the day, but now I use it as motivation to prove them wrong.”
And Craig knows the best way to call them out, is to win another round in the coming week.