GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Craig DeLong

Tuesday Toolbox: Craig DeLong

Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | 4:50 PM
Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | 4:50 PM First of all, congratulations on winning the National Championship! It’s been a couple days now, has it begun to sink in?

Craig DeLong: Thank you, Mikey! Winning the XC1 Championship has truly been an incredible experience. While it's been a couple of days, I don't think the full impact of the achievement has completely sunk in yet. We dedicated so much effort and commitment to reaching this goal, and now that we've accomplished it, it's still quite surreal. Seeing the support from fans, friends, and the entire community, it's definitely starting to feel real and I’m incredibly grateful for all the support and encouragement I've received. 

Craig DeLong and the team after winning the 2023 GNCC National Championship.
Craig DeLong and the team after winning the 2023 GNCC National Championship. Mack Faint

Let’s talk about Sunday. If Stew won, you needed, I believe, 13th O/A or better to clinch the championship. The battle out front was INSANE. At times 5-8 XC1 Pros within a second or less of one another. You grabbed the holeshot and led early, but as things heated up you seemed to distance yourself from the battle and settle into your own pace. From my very amateur perspective that seemed to be a very wise decision. As chaotic as this season has been who knows what could happen battling with those guys bar to bar. Was that the strategy on Sunday?

That wasn’t the plan, I knew I needed to ride my own race, but I wanted to win to prove I truly earned the championship. I wanted to be comfortable on the bike & with the track being so fast I knew it wasn’t worth something crazy happening just to stay out front & I had a few close calls early on.

2023 will undoubtedly go down as one of the most historic and unique years we’ve ever had. Seven different winners in the first seven rounds of racing. Eight winners in twelve total rounds of racing. You stand out as the only rider with more than two wins, at three. But just as important, you came away from every race with points. Not something your competitors could say this year. Wins are the obvious goal, everyone wants them. But how important was it to your championship run to consistently gain points throughout the year?

This season was crazy. Josh Strang & I are the only two guys to walk away from this season with points at every round I believe. It was very important and ultimately what put me in a position to win this championship. Of course I want to win but scoring points at every race is huge in any championship, especially this one. Obviously, we all look back and see missed opportunities with points left on the table but that’s what makes racing interesting! 

DeLong earning his first win in 2023 at round 3, The General GNCC.
DeLong earning his first win in 2023 at round 3, The General GNCC. Ken Hill

The Mountaineer, after summer break, felt very pivotal in the championship run. Between you, Stew, and Ben, it felt like whoever won that race had a major advantage heading into the last two rounds. Stew was able to edge you out for the win and you admittedly had a shot at making a pass but were reluctant. While there might have been some regret, I LOVED the fire it lit under you after the race. It’s like something awoke inside you. I think that’s when the “Diesel” found that “dawg” in em! You came out at the Buckwheat 100 with a very convincing win and more importantly a large points lead heading into Ironman. What were those couple of weeks like between the Mountaineer and the Buckwheat 100? How did you prepare and refocus?

I knew I had the opportunity to make the pass on Stew but held back & I had to realize the extent of hesitating had affected the outcome. I learned from that race & refocused on the long-term goal which was winning the championship. I made a change mentally during summer break that helped me in the last 3 rounds, I knew being upfront in the mix and winning races was the only place I needed to be. I didn’t do anything different to prepare after the Mountaineer I just stayed motivated & knew I needed to beat Stew if I had any shot at the championship.

Your career on paper looks like it’s been slow and steady to the top. But the reality is, you were called up by the factory Rockstar Energy Husqvarna maybe a little earlier than expected. You’ve answered to the high-pressure environment very well. An XC2 Championship, and now an XC1 Championship. What has the process been like for you?

Slow and steady Haha. When I was back on Coastal, they used to call me the tortoise, so that may be fitting. I was called up earlier than expected but looking back it was exactly the push I needed. That move pushed me to strive for progression every single day, not only in terms of my performance but also mentally. It was tough at first, but I am learning to adapt & it’s been really rewarding. Winning XC2 taught me a lot about how valuable being consistent is & since then that’s what I am still striving for. As I get older, I think the pressure is good and makes you execute to be on point and the factory team is that. You have a team of guys flying across the country for you to win and it can be really tough on your mind when things aren’t going well.

DeLong at Camp Coker battling for the win, would finish second on the day.
DeLong at Camp Coker battling for the win, would finish second on the day. Ken Hill

Your brother Andrew was at the last few rounds of the season. What’s it like having him at the track with you? He was beaming with pride all day Sunday, even capturing a class win of his own.

It’s awesome when he’s able to come. I miss having him around and being able to train with him daily, but we don’t see each other as much as we used to. Behind the scenes, he’s a huge part of my success this year but also getting me to where I’m at. 

What’s the offseason looking like for you? What do you have lined up prior to Big Buck in 2024?

I’m going to be back at Ranch Russell training with the guys & Kailub come January 1st. 

We talked about Andrew, but your parents and of course Kaitlyn are there every race for you. What’s it like having your family there every weekend to support you?

Kaitlyn & I have a routine we stick to on race weekends - it makes things easy, we found what works & it’s really enjoyable. It’s great to have family there with me.

Cheat meal… I gotta know. Now that I’m not chubby and I’ve been training myself I appreciate these now. Whereas before all my meals were cheat meals. Haha! So, what’s your go-to cheat meal?

Cheat meal? Can’t beat a pack of Skittles & a few Miller Lites! 

DeLong would also earn wins at the Mason-Dixon and Buckwheat 100 GNCC events.
DeLong would also earn wins at the Mason-Dixon and Buckwheat 100 GNCC events. Ken Hill

Fun plans for the offseason? What’s on the schedule outside of racing?

Right now, I’m getting ready to leave for the last round of the NEPG in Alabama. Once I get back from there, I’m going to do some trail riding & spend time with my buddies from Eastern PA. Then I’ll head out to California for our yearly photoshoot with the team, have Christmas at home & get back to Ranch Russell in Florida for the winter. 

Who are the sponsors and people you’d like to thank?

I have to thank the entire Rockstar Energy Factory Husqvarna team, especially my mechanic Jason Potter & team manager Anthony DiBasilio. Those guys are great. Leon Hanson has been doing my suspension for almost 5 years now & he has been a big part of my success. All of our team sponsors, Kari Resources, EKS goggles, my friends & family – I can’t do it without them.

DeLong splashing through the mud at round 10, The Mountaineer.
DeLong splashing through the mud at round 10, The Mountaineer. Ken Hill