The chip on his shoulder is motivation for Christian Craig

Craig Supercross Chip
Feld Entertainment, Inc.
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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.

Then Craig failed an anti-doping drug test and was forced to stay off the bike until Jan. 4, 2020.

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.

“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.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”