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Mike Craig


“Best Laid Plans”

Interview with Mike Craig
Story & Photos by Eddie Graveline
www.motopress.net
 

For more than a decade, Michael “Stingray” Craig has been a fixture on the Supercross and National Motocross circuits. With staying power that rivals Larry Ward, Mike has always been competitive. Though he’s never won a championship, he’s very popular with fans and fellow riders alike. Mike embodies the Southern California “cool” that emanated from guys like Ricky Johnson and Phil Lawrence before him. Being popular isn’t enough for Craig, though, and he’s already making plans for the future. You see, Mike is looking down the barrel at retirement. He’ll probably keep going for a couple more years, but the intelligent move is to look forward to life after racing, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. Mike had himself one busy off-season. All he did was go out and build a brand new race team from the ground up. I caught up with Mike at his hometown Supercross in San Diego to talk about his career, his new team and the season ahead. 

Q: Mike, tell me about your new team. From what I understand, this is something that you were pretty much behind as far as the organization of it.

A: “Yeah. You know, with racing, I feel like my career is, I don’t want to say coming to an end, but I feel like I want to stick around the sport. I don’t want to just be in here for the next couple of years and then leave. I wanted to be here and start a team, so I came in with the biggest dealership around San Diego. It’s Escondido Cycle Center. The owner’s 100% behind it. We sat down and had a meeting about four months ago and he said, ‘go after it, Mike. Go get a rig, do what you want, let’s do it all.’ So I sat down and brought the sponsors like Troy Lee and all of the big hitters in. I sat back and looked at a couple of good guys like Josh Woods who won at the Mini O’s last month and Turbo Reif. They’re not going to win races right now, but they’ll be a crowd favorite. I got Michael Brandes to hopefully do the winning part. I think with the colorful bikes and our new rig, which looks like the bikes, people will come around. I’m really pumped to be able to start this. Three months ago, I was like, ‘oh my god. What did I get myself into’? Two months ago, I’m like, ‘oh my god, there’s no way I’ll have it done’. I told myself to dig deep and get it done, because when January comes around you sit back and see what you’ve got. I sit back with the bikes we’ve got right now and I’m pretty pumped about that.” 

Q: From what I’ve heard, Escondido Cycle Center is really stepping up with a new facility and is going to be one of the big players in Southern California.

A: “With Ron (the owner) and how he is and what he’s done for me, I’d love to see his shop turn into the Chaparral of the San Diego area. A lot of people that live in this area ride. We’re both talking about going into business and opening up a new shop next year, up north of San Diego. This is more of a long-term deal. There are a lot of plans, but this rig and team are going to be around for the next three to five years. I’m just looking to expand and let everybody know what Ron’s about.” 

Q: You and Mike Brandes are well-established riders, but with the inclusion of young guys like Turbo and Josh, it would seem that you guys are planning on being around for a while.

A: “There was no one really to go after. We came in kind of late. I told them I’d keep the budget way down. We got these guys for really cheap. I’m trying to give Turbo a chance and the guy has the biggest heart out there. If he can just mellow out, take a little Ridlin or whatever medication to mellow him out because like right now, he’s on his way home because he forgot his helmet. He went to my house to get it. There’s that type of thing, but I like the part of him that just wants it so much. We went straight to the chiropractor this morning to get adjusted because he went over the bars two days ago, and he can’t wait to get back on the bike. When someone is that hungry for something, it makes me really want to give him a chance.” 

Q: You raced in Canada last summer. I’ve heard mixed reviews from some of the American guys who have gone up there. What’s your take on your season up there and the Canadian racing scene in general?

A: “I was going to do what Jeremy did; Supercross only. I think I needed a break and to sit back and focus on what I want in my life. I saw some stuff on Speedvision that showed a bunch of bitchin' tracks up in Canada and I thought, ‘man, that would be fun’. That’s why you race, because it’s fun and you can make a good living at it. At Anaheim, one of the Blackfoot guys walked up and asked me if I wanted to go to Canada. It kind of rang a bell because I saw those races on tape. So we talked, negotiated money, worked it out and it wasn’t what I thought. Casey Johnson and me were pumped to go. We get to the first race, we’re hauling butt in practice, everything’s going great and then there’s a downpour. Rain, rain, rain and mud. Some of the tracks there seemed like the amateur tracks here. But give it up to Roy and Morgan and a bunch of guys that Americans don’t even know. Those guys haul butt. I give it up to them. They deserved it. Even though I got hurt and missed a bunch of races. Casey broke his collarbone. We were never 100%. I was leading the 125 class and I couldn’t show up for the last race because I was hurt. I’m not saying that they went out and smoked us because they didn’t. But they did ride good and they were there and they won the championship.” 

Q: I’ve talked a lot with people in the motocross industry in Canada and I know that as a country, Canada is a decade or so behind the U.S. in terms of its National series. American riders who have gone there say it’s kind of like going back through a time warp. They probably have fewer riders in the entire country than Southern California has alone, but they’re moving up. Does it seem like they’re doing the right things to become a legitimate motocross entity?

A: “Yeah, I think that Blackfoot Honda, Morgan Racing and Richmond Kawasaki are trying to make it big. They’re getting their rigs and they’re getting really professional about everything. From their standpoint, they’re trying. I don’t know exactly where it’s going. With Morgan and Roy, there were a couple of races where I felt like I was really hauling butt and they were right there. I don’t know if it was just their home turf and they had something to prove, but they gave that extra effort. They let it hang out and they rode incredibly. It was mostly Morgan. Morgan is the type of guy that, we’re lucky he’s doing Snowcross right now, because if he put his heart into it and he wanted to do Supercross, he’d be right there. He’s definitely the most talented rider I’ve known out of Canada.”

Q: Blair Morgan caught a lot of people off guard when he went to the U.S. Open last October and completely dominated the 4-stroke class. Knowing him as well as you do, did that come as a surprise to you?

A: “I didn’t go there, but if you could have bet, I would have put all of my money on him. I know what kind of starts he gets; I know how he rides, how strong he is and how smart he is. He’s not going to go there half-assed. He’s not going to go there unprepared. That’s not Morgan. Morgan’s going there—for whatever he’s there to do—to win.”

 Q: Getting back to you and your career, you mentioned earlier that you’re not one of the young guys anymore. Do you still have goals that you want to accomplish on the track before you retire?

A: “Yeah, this year I set goals. Last weekend (Round 1, where he didn’t make the main) definitely didn’t show it. I’m not being stupid, but I think it’s in your heart and how bad you want it. I definitely want it. I want to go out with a bang, but I’m being smart about it and looking at other riders to bring in for this team. That’s what I want to go after because I know what it feels like. Sitting here watching Turbo and Brandes, I don’t think I’ve ever cheered for somebody like that. It felt like it was my kid or myself. The feeling is going to be there and I’m kind of pumped to feel that way about it all.” 

Q: Are there any other sponsors beside Escondido Cycle Center that have been instrumental in putting this team together that you want to thank?

A: “Yeah, my insurance guy insured every rider on this team. We’re setting these kids up so that if they have an injury, they’re still getting paid every week. We’re not playing these factory type stories where, if you’re hurt, you’re cut. We’re looking after their best interests and giving them the best chance possible. My insurance guy, James Hart is looking to come into this sport. He’s insuring a bunch of guys right now. He helped build the team with me and Ron.” 

Q: There is obviously a difference in the equipment that the factory teams are running and what you guys have. How competitive do you feel your bikes are?

A: “Our bikes are good. I ride all week with Roncada, Pastrana, McGrath. I run right with them if not faster. I know that equipment does pay off when the whoops start getting really huge or the jumps are G-ed out really bad. The way the bikes are nowadays, they’re all so close and I’m really happy with my Suzuki's right now. The Escondido bikes are working really well.”

Q: Did the absence of Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael on the podium at the beginning of the season surprise you?

A: “I’m kind of glad to see something beside the Ricky and McGrath show. There are other guys out there beside Ricky and McGrath. It doesn’t come as a surprise in this sport. I’ve always wondered how they kept their rolls going for so long. You know, when I win a race, the next week I’ll cartwheel. They’re mentally strong, but this sport’s way too risky to be able to keep something going like they are. And there are a lot of guys that are hungry. I’m looking to get in the mains, that’s the first step for me. Round 1 was the first time I’ve ever missed a main. I had a week that, I can’t even explain the way I felt. I felt horrible and I don’t want that feeling again.” 

Q: Mike, I really appreciate you taking a few minutes out from getting your team set up. It’s really great to see what you’re doing here and I wish you the best of luck.

A: “I appreciate that. Thanks a lot.”

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