Josh Hill is from the new school of American motocross. Prodigiously talented and tapped as a future superstar while still riding 65cc and 85cc minibikes, the 19-year-old Team Yamaha rider has made some good on his “one in 100,000” potential, winning an AMA Supercross in the premier class just last year. However, the congenial kid from Yoncalla, Oregon has also had a glimpse at the dark side of obtaining so much, so quickly in the sport—a fast times sort of lifestyle leading him into some high jinks adventures over the summer. But at 19, it’s live-and-learn time in this young man’s life and Hill certainly appears to have put the drama behind him and taken a big boot step forward in stringing together the numerous variables involved in becoming a champion. Below only the names of Stewart and Reed on the odds tote board in the MGM Grand Hotel sports book for this weekend’s U.S. Open, Hill is a favorite to be on the box in the 10th anniversary edition of what has become a classic event.
Racer X: Josh, what are you up to today?
Josh Hill: Today, we just went out to the test track. I had my new race bike — the bike I’ll be racing at the U.S. Open. We made sure it was all-good and just did some slight tweaks to it and did some motos.
Yeah, it was a 2009 bike.
How did the bike feel? Is the bike a lot different than the 2008 bike?
No, not right now. Not too much, really. Some of the new parts like the new swingarm and other stuff are different, but basically the bike is pretty similar. I think they have it handling pretty good already. I really didn’t have any problems with it, so it’s kind of nice just being on a familiar bike again. I’ve been out at the supercross track for the last three weeks solid and riding about four times a week, I’d say.
Do you like testing and developing a bike?
To be honest, I like doing testing, but I’d rather just being doing laps and doing my own thing. I mean you have to do testing—it’s a part of it—but I don’t enjoy going out to the track every day and testing. I just like going out and being able to make myself better because I think that’s the main problem! [Laughs]
How do you feel about your riding right now?
I feel really fast. I feel like my speed is really good. I just need to work on being really consistent and being able to run my fastest pace for the whole 20 laps. That’s the biggest thing I’m working on. I can do 20 laps good, but I mean riding with James Stewart, there’s no way I can do 20 laps at his pace. Maybe not even five laps at his pace!
So you’ve already been able to ride with James a little bit?
Yeah, I’ve been able to ride with him a little bit. I don’t think he’s been on the bike too long and he’s already killing it.
How do you guys get along? Have you been able to talk at all?
You know, I have not been able too talk to him too much because I’ve been doing my own deal and he’s been doing his own deal. I think he seems like a guy who kind of keeps to himself. To be honest, I’m still kind of star struck a bit and I don’t really want to bug him [laughs]. So that’s how the relationship has gone so far.
The U.S. Open starts this Friday, and if you look at the odds currently posted on the tote board in the MGM Grand, only James and Chad are listed above you. How do you feel about the race this weekend? Are you excited about it?
I’m definitely pumped for it. You know I seem to do pretty good at these one-off events. Well, I guess I didn’t do very good at X Games, but I was doing good at X Games (Hill crashed spectacularly in the main event and placed tenth). For me, this race is good because I don’t feel any pressure at all right now. None whatsoever. I just want to go out and do well. It’ll be easy because I can just put it all on the line. If I fall and something happens, oh well. I’m out a few bucks. It’s not like last year where coming into Anaheim I felt ready, but went out and rode so tight. I was just trying to be safe and I rode horrible. So, I’m excited about this weekend.
With both Reed and Stewart being somewhat new to their bikes, do you think that’ll help your cause in Las Vegas?
I think that Chad is already petty familiar with his bike. Every time I’ve been out to the track, I’ve looked up the hill [at the Suzuki test track] and Chad’s up there too. The only time I didn’t see him was when he was gone at the des Nations. So I’m pretty sure he’s going to be full-wing into the season. I think he’s got a jumpstart on us. While we’re all regrouping from the outdoors, he’s been putting in laps. I think he’s going to be tough, for sure. You know, going into this race, I can tell you right now — and I’m sure this isn’t going to surprise anybody — I cannot run the pace of James for a full 20 laps yet. So every time I ride I’m going to work on being able to keep as close a pace to him for as long as I can.
You talk about going the pace, but you placed second twice and won a race in the 2008 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. In the back of your mind, you have to feel pretty confident in your abilities…
In my mind right now, I’m going into the U.S. Open with the mindset that I don’t want anybody to beat me but James and Reed. Right now I’m going to say that it’s gong to take some problems on James’ side to win. I don’t know how Reed is riding right now, but James is ripping already. I feel really good and I felt like I was pretty gnarly until I got to ride with James the last couple of days [laughs].
So, presumably, being on the same brand, James very well may be able to help you raise your game…
That’s my goal for the season. I just want to watch him ride and learn as much from him as I can. You know I’d probably be pretty confident going into the race if I hadn’t seen him ride this last couple of days! I’m still really confident, just maybe not as confident about being in a straight up battle with him. I don’t think I have anything for him yet.
How have you been doing? You ended up in a little bit of hot water in Texas last June. Have you been able to get all that put behind you?
Yeah, I do. It was about me just not being focused. It was about not being too focused and goofing around at the races. It was a bad thing at the time, but I think it was probably one of the best things for me. I don’t know what Yamaha was feeling, but I was feeling that I might lose my ride over that. I think that maybe if I wouldn’t have done as good as I did in supercross, maybe I would have. I kind of felt some job insecurity there and figured I should probably pull my head out.
Yeah, other than just riding and everything, I’ve been trying to get into my own program. That’s my biggest thing. When I’m in my own program, and I’ve had times when I’ve been on real strong programs, I keep the consistency. I need to keep the consistency of those strong programs all year round. I think this year was good for me. I had a lot of fun this year. I had some success and had a lot of fun and I had some tough times to make me realize that there’s time for fun and time to goof off, but you need to have more time in the point in my life for work.
So what’s the master plan for 2009?
Top thee in the series and top five every weekend. I figure that if I’m in the top five every weekend, and put myself in the position from the get-go of every race to be in the top five, then I’m going to end up being on the box. And if I can be on the box every weekend, I’m going to be close to the front of whatever else is going on. I don’t want to say at this point in my training program that I’m going to come out and set the world on fire, but believe me, that’s what I want to do.