GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Craig Delong

Tuesday Toolbox: Craig Delong

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 | 2:00 PM
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 | 2:00 PM

Twenty-one-year-old Craig Delong was this year’s representative from the GNCC Nation sent to compete at the final round of the JNCC (Japan National Cross Country) series. This exchange has been going on for thirteen years now, with notable names like Josh Strang, Ricky Russell and Trevor Bollinger traveling to Japan in the past. Delong hails from Morganton, Pennsylvania, and finished third this year in a stacked XC2 class. This year, JNCC pro racer Ren Ishidoya competed in XC1 at Snowshoe, along with a top women’s racer, Mai Ishimoto. Despite a slow start and unfamiliar terrain at the JNCC in Omachi City, Japan, he was still able to place second against Japan’s best!

Craig Delong earned second at the Tomahawk GNCC in Odessa, New York this past season.
Craig Delong earned second at the Tomahawk GNCC in Odessa, New York this past season. Ken Hill Why don’t we start off with you telling us a bit about how your season went last year?

Craig Delong: This year was pretty good! I mean, it’s not exactly what I wanted – I struggled a little in the beginning with fitness and riding issues. I was getting sick halfway through the races and it took me awhile to figure out why. Once I did figure things out, it went much better, but Ben [Kelly] and Josh [Toth] are like on a completely different level, and it’s hard to really compete with that. They rode really well all year and definitely kept me pushing, trying to get up to that level myself. I’m happy with this year, but it also gave me some motivation for next year.

Speaking of that, what are your plans for next season?

Next season I will be on a Husqvarna with Coastal Racing, competing in XC2 again. My goal next year is to win races. Everyone talks about wanting to win championships as their goal for next season, but in order to win a championship you do have to win races and be consistent. So, my goals are to start winning races and to be consistent.

So, when did you find out that you had been picked to represent the GNCC Nation at the final round of the JNCC series in Japan?

I was driving out from Morgantown to the Coastal racing shop and I got a text message from [Jared] Bolton asking me if I would be interested in going to Japan for the JNCC. Of course, I said yes, I would be honored to! I’ve always wanted to race my bike overseas…

Delong jumped out to the early lead at the Camp Coker GNCC, earning himself a holeshot award in 2018. 
Delong jumped out to the early lead at the Camp Coker GNCC, earning himself a holeshot award in 2018.  Ken Hill

In that case, had you ever thought about trying to make the ISDE team?

I have considered it, but I never really wanted to go as a club rider, I always wanted to be on the Junior team. But I’d love to do Six Days someday.

I understand – anyway, back to the JNCC…

Yeah, like I was saying I was really honored that I was asked to go. I appreciate it, and if I ever got the opportunity to do it again, I’d jump at the chance.

What were the hardest things for you to adjust to once you got over there?

The biggest thing was just the time difference. Because I think they are like 13 hours ahead of what we were in the states. I think we left on a Thursday morning and didn’t land in Tokyo until midafternoon on Friday. By the time we made it to hotel and were able to fall asleep we had been up like 30 hours or something. Definitely a long day! My sleeping schedule was really screwed up too. I’d be exhausted by nine then wide-awake at 3am. That was the biggest thing too. The food wasn’t an issue, it actually wasn’t that terribly different from here. The language barrier wasn’t a huge issue either because we had a translator who was with us the whole time. That helped a lot. Aside from the time difference everything was a blast. It was cool seeing how different everything was, like the cars and the roads were all so small, and it was a completely different atmosphere.

Delong earned second place at the JNCC race held at the Jigatake Ski Resort in Omachi City, Japan.
Delong earned second place at the JNCC race held at the Jigatake Ski Resort in Omachi City, Japan. Ken Hill

Then what was the terrain like where you were racing? I saw the article GNCC posted said this race is held at a ski resort, so was it anything like Snowshoe?

I wouldn’t say it was similar to Snowshoe. Snowshoe is usually pretty muddy in spots. Where we were at there was no mud at all. No low areas either, really. Then the rocks were different too. They were like these big cobblestones, and when you’d hit them they would roll away. I’d never seen or ridden rocks like that in my life, so I was definitely caught a little off guard. I’ll admit it, I didn’t really do enough homework on the area and the race before I went over, and made myself look kind of silly at first. I struggled with setup and was behind early in the race, meaning that I had to charge beck though the pack, which was really not how I was hoping the race would go... Anyway, back to your question, the terrain was just totally different than what we see over here. There was a little topsoil sitting on top of super slippery rock, with other cobblestone rocks moving around.

Despite your unfamiliarity with the terrain and that slow start you mentioned, you still pulled off a second place finish though! Can you tell us a little more about the race?

Yeah! I ended up with a dead last start and had to fight the dust. On the front line there were like 30 of us too, so it was basically a free-for-all. People were going everywhere, I went down five or six times that first lap – I haven’t had a lap like that in years! I struggled to find a groove after that and kept stopping to try to make adjustments to the bike. After the changes I felt better and started reeling them in. I cut a six-minute gap down to one minute by the end of the race.

Besides the terrain itself, were there any differences in how a JNCC track is set up as opposed to a JNCC track?

The tracks are a lot different! It’s kind of similar to a Six Days or Sprint Enduro test, where there is ribbon on both sides of the track, all the way around. So, there’s no 20 foot rule or anything, you have to stay within the ribbon at all times. The track is really wide too, the narrowest it got at any point was still like 30 feet wide. But it wasn’t super-fast quad trail or anything, it was mostly single track. Basically, they just have ribbon strung up through the woods, so there were all these different single track lines going through this wide section of woods. That was another thing that really took some getting used to. Most of the lines I had picked while out walking were definitely not the lines everyone else were taking, so I was losing a bit of time. I mean, I’ve done sprint enduros, but the widest those get are 15 feet so it’s pretty much just one main line. There, on the other hand, you’d have at least two or three at a minimum. You could go pretty much anywhere as long as you stayed in that ribbon.

That does sounds like a really cool format – very different than what we do here! What was your impression of the people and your fellow riders that you met in Japan?

The people over there were so welcoming and nice! I guess you could say they rolled out the red carpet for us. Everyone was smiling and seemed happy to see us. It was difficult to really communicate much, but they did the best they could to make us feel welcome. It seems like the racers are like a family too, kind of the way it is over here with the GNCC riders.

What was your favorite moment from the trip?

It’s really hard to pick ….. I would probably say on Monday, when we went sightseeing and spent the night in Tokyo, that was really cool. We ate a traditional dinner there and spent the next day seeing the sights. We saw the famous intersection, you know, the one from the Fast and Furious movie [Shibuya Crossing] as well as the Eiffel Tower replica and all sorts of other cool stuff. The riding was great, but really the best part was getting to experience a different culture.

Do you think this exchange program is a tradition worth continuing?

Yes! For sure it is. If I get the opportunity again I wouldn’t hesitate. Whoever gets picked next year, I would definitely encourage them to go. It is an opportunity you don’t want to miss out on!

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me! Now, who would you like to thank?

First, I want to thank GNCC and Husqvarna for giving me the chance to do this! I want to give a special thank you to Scott Keiger, Tyler King and Barry Hawk. Then I need to thank my mom, my dad, my brother, Angelina and my girlfriend, Kaity. And of course, thanks to all of my sponsors: Coastal Racing, Husqvarna Motorcycles USA, Moose racing, Maxxis Tires, Alpinestars, EKS Brand Goggles, Bell Helmets, G2 Ergonomics, Hammer Nutrition , XC Gear, Acerbis, Hinson Racing, FMF, VP fuels, TM Designs, Seat Concepts, Renthal, Nitro Mousse, IMS and Motorex.