In the USA, all of the professional riders face a grueling schedule. The 450f riders specifically partake in twenty-nine races, including both the Monster Energy AMA Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross rounds. The 250f guys have a reduced calendar, but they still have twenty races, which doesn’t include the off-season events like the Monster Energy Cup.
So, with all of that racing, and travelling, it isn’t surprising that some riders begin to question their decision to chase their dream as a professional rider in the sport that they adore. In the past we have seen a few guys hang up their boots early on in their career. But, it is quite rare to see a few young riders walk away from professional racing within a month; it proves that it really is tough out there at the moment.
Christian Craig was the first rider to announce his immediate retirement from the sport – the former Troy Lee Designs Lucas Oil Honda rider hasn’t been a professional for too long, hence why it came as a huge shock. I have always been a fan of Christian, as his style is amazing; he always looks smooth and fluid when riding. However injuries hindered him during his career, which stopped him from achieving the finishes that we know he is capable of. Ultimately the injuries forced him to make the difficult decision to give up on his dreams, as he explained in this statement:
“Since my last wrist injury in May I’ve been contemplating whether or not this is worth it. Motocross is all I’ve known, all I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. But what you don’t know until you’ve grown up a little bit is how hard it is on your body and mind. Your body can break over and over and you can keep trying to go out there and win but your mind is something that can’t be fixed with a surgery. I have two options, I can stick this motocross thing out and worry about getting injured or I can get a head start on the rest of my life. I know option one sounds like a lot more fun but after the countless doctors appointments, therapy, and surgeries, that’s not the best answer for me.”
Originally, Christian was supposed to join the professional ranks full-time in 2010. However, he broke his back while testing for Anaheim 1, which postponed his debut by more than a year. It seems as though a lot of people have forgotten just how serious his back injury was – Craig had to learn how to walk again! So, it really was quite remarkable that he got back on the bike at all, let alone returned to racing at the highest level. But, when he did return, he certainly proved that he had the speed, and talent required to succeed at the highest level.
Although great results never materialised, Craig ran upfront quite often. However, following just two Monster Energy AMA Supercross rounds in 2011 (his rookie campaign), Christian tore the patella tendon in his knee, which again forced him to the sidelines. In his career, he rarely completed a full series without succumbing to an injury, which is really unfortunate. Christian enjoyed some of his greatest success on a 450f outdoors – he was certainly one of the taller guys, so he jumped up to the bigger bike for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series each year. Overall, his best finish outdoors was a seventh, whilst his best finish in a 250SX main event was a fifth, which he achieved in the last main that he contested (Salt Lake City) earlier this year.
You could argue that he did not fulfill his potential, as he was certainly capable of podium finishes indoors and out. However, he never really got the chance, as his injuries held him back. So, what is next for Christian Craig? Well, he is currently working for his fiancée’s dad out in Minnesota – the company builds houses. So, it is quite different to what he has dealt with in his life up until this point, but the adjustment has been seamless thus far, it seems.
I was just as shocked to see Ryan Sipes hang up his boots. However, it was less surprising, as he has been a professional rider for much longer than Craig. Ryan is twenty-nine years old, so he certainly could have kept racing at the highest level for a couple more years. Sipes achieved a reasonable amount of success in his career, as he has a handful of 250SX main event wins to his name. However, he too has been forced to the sidelines many times, because of injury, which has ultimately hindered him.
In his career, which has spanned over eight years, Ryan has never completed a full season on a 450f. Now, there are varying reasons for this, but most years it came down to the fact that he could make more money on the smaller bike, which is fair enough. When Ryan completed events on a 450f, it was clear that he had the speed to contend. In 2010, Ryan finished eighth in the 450MX class in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series, aboard a MotoConcepts Yamaha. Of course, most recently, he had some impressive rides outdoors this year on the big bike, also.
Interestingly, the plan was for Ryan Sipes to jump up to the 450f full-time in 2014. It looked like the Rockstar Energy Racing team would have him ride alongside Millsaps in the premier division. However, when it became apparent that this would no longer be an option, there really were not too many lucrative deals remaining. I am certain that this was a determining factor when he made the decision to walk away.
If you look back on Sipes’ career, it looks like he had a successful one. Undoubtedly, the highlight was his first 250SX main event win at Indianapolis in 2011, as he had been working towards that goal for a very long time. Ryan then went and followed that up with a win at the East/West Shootout later that year. Interestingly, he may make a few wildcard appearances at events in the future, and he is also looking into GNCC racing, as he put it in his retirement letter: “once a racer, always a racer.” I’m sure that applies to every rider out on-track each weekend.
If there is one positive that comes from these early retirements, it is that both riders can walk away from the sport on their own terms, rather than being forced out because they are no longer competitive, or have sustained career-ending injuries. Now, both riders can wipe the slate clean, and begin on a new path. But, I am sure of one thing: you will see the names Christian Craig and Ryan Sipes pop up quite frequently, in some form or another.
Words by Lewis Phillips