Monday Conversation: Josh Hill

Josh Hill has a new ride (on the same brand he’s been on since he moved to 80s), a new attitude, and a new outlook. He was also racing this past weekend in Madrid. We talked to him just after he landed back home at LAX about his new opportunity, the detractors, and what he expects from himself this year.

Racer X: What have you been up to the last few weeks?
Josh Hill: Just riding and training. I’ve been putting in a bunch of laps, and we haven’t even started testing yet. I’ve just got an ’09 bike and I’ve been on a real structured program to get fast and get into shape.

I saw you at the U.S. Open, and you looked like you were already in a lot better shape than when I last saw you at the races, and that was before you even landed on the L&M Yamaha team. How has all of that been working?
Last year, I was hurt so much that it was tough to really do anything. I had back problems, and everyone was saying, “You can’t work out, you can’t do anything, you just have to rest.” I tried to race on the weekends after hardly doing anything all week, and that didn’t go well, and I would go weeks where I didn’t do much because of my back, and then I would train really hard for a week or so, and then it would just backfire and get even worse. I couldn’t do anything last year. I just got really out of shape because of it, and I was probably 10 pounds heavier than I was in ’08 supercross. It wasn’t good. So, when I decided I couldn’t race anymore [for the season], I spent all my time getting on the best nutrition program I could, and getting on the best workout program I could, and I got my body in the best shape I could. They were saying that it would help my back if I lost weight and built my core, and the guy I went to in order to rehab my back, that’s all we did. We didn’t do too much work on the back itself, it was two hours of gnarly workouts and stretches, which really jumpstarted me getting into shape, too.

What were you doing this weekend?
[Jimmy] Button signed up a few European races for me, like I did Perris [Bercy], I did Madrid this weekend, and I’m going to do Geneva on December 5th. But like I said, this weekend was Madrid, and it was cool. I went there for a one-day race, and [Marvin] Musquin was there, Jonathan Barragan was there, Manuel Rivas was there – and he was over here for a little while, but he’s fast over there on those tracks. It went okay. I won a main, I won all of the face-to-face races, and I got second behind Musquin in the first one, and in the third race, I got a really bad start, and I was catching up and closing the gap and felt like I was definitely the best rider there, but they threw the white flag on us way early. It’s like a 35-second laptime, and they cut it to nine or 10 laps when it was supposed to be 15. I don’t know why. All I needed was second place and I would’ve won the overall, but I didn’t have enough time to catch Barragan and I ended up getting second overall.

The tracks are quite a bit different over there, for sure. They’re tight, but they’re also not very technical.
It wasn’t technical at all. It was a fun track, but they have an amateur supercross series, and it wouldn’t be safe for them to ride a full-on supercross track because they’re on 80s and stuff like that. But the track was pretty fun. I’m actually happy it wasn’t too gnarly, because I didn’t have a full-blown bike over there, we just took some suspension and stuff, and we thought it was just going to be a stock bike, but it was like somebody’s old practice bike, and somebody worked on the motor, and I think it was set up for outdoors because it didn’t really work perfect for that type of track. But I got through it and was safe and won some races, and it was cool. In the face-to-face battles, it was me and Musquin, and me and Barragan had some great battles, too. Those guys were going for blood. I ended up winning all of them, but I think I stuffed Barragan and he stalled his bike, and the Spanish crowd wasn’t too stoked on that.

As an American at some of those, you have a bit of a target on your back anyway, since you’re supposed to be good at supercross and are probably sort of expected to win, so if you take out one of their guys, that’s not going to help you!

It was fun, though, but yeah after that one race, I was riding out, and they were all booing and flipping me off. It was pretty funny!

So, you rode an ’09, and you’ve been riding them here, but you’ve ridden the 2010, too, right?
Yeah, it was an ’09, but I have mostly been riding one of those here, too. I’m going to start testing the 2010 on Tuesday, I think. I rode James’ 2010 test bike one day before I went to Bercy, and then I raced a stock bike there with just forks and a pipe, and that’s it. I haven’t really ridden one much, and at Bercy, that was literally the fourth, fifth and sixth day that I had even ridden since I had gotten hurt.

How weird is it to switch back and forth from the 2010?
It’s not that weird. The 2009 works really well. What’s weird is showing up at races in Europe and not knowing what I’m going to have for a bike and trying to make that work. At Bercy, I think I was on Moto Verte’s 2010 test bike – like the magazine bike – and it had some hours on it. And the bike we had this weekend, I don’t know where it came from, but it got me through the weekend, and it was all right!

There was some controversy about L&M hiring you, and I had one of the guys at Motocross Action calling me out on their website for saying how much of a good idea it was for Larry Brooks to hire you. It seems like there are two camps about you: First, people who think you need another shot, and second, the people who think that one shot is enough for anyone. What do you think about all of this?
I guess, luckily, not too many people read Motocross Action! But I guess I can see where people think I don’t deserve a ride because I screwed off, and I was thinking that myself! I mean, I was pretty focused in ’08. Everybody likes to say how Jason Lawrence ruined Josh Hill or whatever, but what they forget is that in the ’07 off-season and in ’08, that’s who I was hanging out with, and that’s who I was training with every day, and he won a supercross championship, and I won a race and got a lot of podiums. Obviously, he had some problems after that... I think in the ’08 outdoors, I screwed off and got into some trouble, but in ’09, I was very motivated to turn it around and make sure everybody knows how serious I am, but I was just hurt all year long. I wasn’t screwing off much this year! I wanted to have a good year, but I physically couldn’t do it. I’m just really happy and I feel really blessed that Larry noticed that maybe I had some potential and gave me another chance. I couldn’t be happier. I just want to use this opportunity to the fullest.

Larry said that you came in quite a few times and had a lot of conversations with him, and you really had to convince him that you were ready and able to do this, isn’t that right?
Yeah, he had me sweatin’ it, bigtime. I’d been in there like four times. I was in and out of there so many times. I talked with Larry a bunch, talked to him on the phone, and then even after the U.S. Open, everybody was like, “Windham’s got the ride,” or, “Ferry’s got the ride.” I was just like, “I hope I have a ride next year!” I kind of put all my eggs in that basket! But luckily I got it. Even coming up to that point, I wanted to be as ready as I could by the time I got on the bike, because this is my year. If I don’t go out and prove that I can be a top guy, there’s no point in me going out and doing another year after this.

That’s a scary thing when you’re 20 years old, isn’t it? You’re not even legally allowed to drink in most states in this country and you’re already staring down the barrel of the idea that if you don’t perform, your career is over!
Yeah, that’s true, but it’s time to stop being a kid. It’s time to grow up, be more responsible, take care of things, and I feel like if I put in my work for these three months coming into the season, even if I choke and don’t ride to my full potential, I’ll still do pretty good. Even right now, I haven’t felt this confident on a bike ever. I’ve never done this many laps or been in this kind of shape. The race shop is about two miles from my house, and Larry’s house is probably five miles down the road from mine, so he’s running a pretty tight ship, I guess you could say.

Well, obviously you’re motivated, but it’s hard to stay motivated every single day, so I would imagine your proximity to Larry and the shop will help you in the long run.
Honestly, every day we’ve been going out to the track, it has been motivating. I feel like I have so much more positivity around me this year, just with the team, with myself, and knowing that I’m doing the right things. I’ve got a real clean conscience when I go out to the track. I know that I’ve done everything, and I know that I haven’t screwed off. I’m in shape and I’m ready to go.

Well, congratulations on the ride, and congrats on almost winning in Madrid!
[Laughs] Thanks!