“I know the team over there pretty well and we’ve talked over the years and we’ve never just got a deal done,” reflected Christian Craig on how he found himself signing with the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha race team for 2021. “I’ve always been on Honda. I got the call from the team owner, Bobby Regan, and the next thing you know, I was signing a contract.”
Truth be told, in many ways what may have ultimately sealed the deal for the 29 year-old racer originally from El Cajon, California to ride a Yamaha YZ250F for the Star Yamaha outfit in 2021 was his performance on a No. 62 GEICO/Honda 450F during the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Dispatched to the premier class by his sponsors, Craig excelled and wound up sixth in points after the nine-race Trans-American series.
“It’s kind of like a fresh start for me,” he said while taking a breather from a lengthy Yamaha test session in Southern California this week. “I’ve been on Honda for 10 years, and my whole pro career. I have nothing against them and I loved every bit of it, but I think starting fresh gives you new perspective and gives you new drive, and then obviously I’ll be a part of a whole new team that is dominating the 250 class right now, and there is no doubt about how fast that bike is.
“I know lining up that I’ll be confident in my bike, my trainer and just everything. I feel like I’m kind of at the later stage of my career, but I still have that fire underneath me and I still feel like I’m learning and growing and getting faster and getting better each year. I want to get that title on the 250 before I move up to the 450 class, so I really want to get that sooner or later.
“You know, I had a good 450 outdoor series with Honda. I finished with a moto podium and almost an overall podium, which was one of my best results ever. That was my third time riding for factory HRC and filling in for one of their riders, so I felt comfortable going underneath that tent and being on that bike. It was a good summer. I started with my trainer early on and we just worked, and you could just see in looking at my results from round one to the last round and how much the results improved and how steady I was. I was always fighting for position, and I would say there was one race where I didn’t show up at mentally prepared, but all the others I was here and fighting for position and I ended up with good results. It was my best summer and my best outdoor finishes, and I want that all to carry into next year. I’m still searching for that 250cc championship and I feel like it’s coming.”
A professional racer who has been at it since 2009, professional motocross and supercross has been, at times, extremely turbulent for Craig. Bouncing back from a badly broken back in 2009 that forced him to pause his racing career for nearly two years, Craig then found himself in the middle of a FIM doping investigation that went on for 10 months before it was determined that Craig was innocent. Factor in injuries, off-song results and shaken confidence, Craig has certainly found himself questioning himself from time to time.
“I would say that was the biggest thing,” he said. “Riders can doubt themselves. Especially me. It’s so easy to doubt yourself. I can go out and be one of the fastest guys at the practice track and then it can be hard for me to match that on race day. I think once I get that all lined up, that’ll show my full potential at the races.”
Everyone who follows this sport knows that the mental and psychological strength required of a rider to excel and perform at his highest level is tantamount to success. “It’s huge,” agreed Craig. “A lot of people don’t think about it. They hire the best trainer that can train off the bike and hire the best riding coach and that’s great, but they leave out how much goes through your head on race day, and how much negativity and positivity and everything else you just have to control. It’s super-hard to stay level headed, especially on race day. To bring home that win, there is a lot of work that goes into it, especially on the starting line when you’re just sitting there. There are so many thoughts going through your head and you want to try and fill all of that with positive thoughts, as it will lead to good results.”
Craig is an excellent 250cc rider and slammed this point home in 2016, when he placed a hard fighting third overall in the 250SX West classification. Viewed by many as a natural born big bike racer, Craig has bounced back and forth between the two divisions, but with the move to Yamaha, believes firmly on the current career trajectory ahead of him.
“It was what I wanted,” he said. “I want to get out of this 250 class pretty soon, but I do want to win, so I feel like this is the right change for me and the team believes in me and they obviously wanted to sign me pretty quickly and we did that in June. It was all quiet and I had a good run with Honda, but it was time to move on and try something new.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s awesome. Transitioning into the new team and everything was real good. I’m trying to stay humble with it. I’m not getting too high or getting too low. I’m just enjoying each day and not expecting so much out of myself, but knowing where I belong and I think that’s the biggest thing, just a mentality change that I’m coming in with next year. I’m just happy to be where I’m at right now, and I feel like I’m more prepared than ever, and I have a good crew that I’m with and a good trainer and mental coach and everything is just falling into place.”
And the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha 250F he’s been putting time on in recent weeks?
“I’ve been on the bike for about a month now,” he said. “I rode outdoor for about a week, and then we started riding supercross, so I felt comfortable on the bike right away. Obviously, it felt weird after being on a Honda for so long. It was just looking at something different and that took some time to get used to, but everything is going smoothly and I’m just slowly building and getting ready for next year. Whatever the team says and wants me to do come the start of the season, I’m in for. I’m just looking to build and to be prepared for everything.”
A racer and competitor who has been around the sport his entire life – Craig’s father Michael was a former factory rider for Yamaha and won the Tampa Supercross in 1994 – it took Craig a few beats to answer what would truly make him happy at the conclusion of his first year with Yamaha
“To hold that number one plate up at the last round of supercross would make me happy, but for real, it would be just consistency and showing up at every race and just giving it my best,” replied Craig. “I think that if I do that, then I think there will be no doubt that I should be holding that number one plate up in the air.”