5 Minutes with... Josh Hill

February 3, 2010 9:00am | by:
San Manuel Yamaha’s Josh Hill has “come of age” if that’s a proper term for it. He’s still a really young guy at 20 years old, but Hill has turned around a career that seemed to be destined for failure only a year ago. Now, Hill is on fire, grabbing three podiums in as many weekends, and he’s looking down the barrel of a championship fight. We caught up with him on Monday to get his take on the weekend and on the season so far as a whole.

Racer X: Your last couple of races, you’ve been really fighting it out for every spot on the track. You’re really trying to hold a position. You’re racing, not just riding. Do you know what I mean?
Josh Hill: Yeah!

Because I saw you put Ryan Dungey high after the finish line at Anaheim II, and I’m not faulting you for it because you were doing what it took to hold the position, and then you had the bumping and banging around with Ryan Villopoto this last week, too. How do you see it? Is it just racing, or do you actually get angry about it?
I don’t get angry about that stuff at all. Villopoto came in underneath me after the finish-line jump, and that’s what started the whole thing. He just came in underneath me, and it was nothing personal at all because we were just racing and I was trying to hold my position. He was going faster than me at that time in the race, but I wasn’t going to just roll over and let him pass me! And honestly, I don’t know if Villopoto’s in that great of shape. He beat me, but I was catching him at the end until I stalled my bike in the last couple of laps. I was trying to keep him close as long as I could so that I could wear him out. It was just racing. I’m just trying to race as hard as I can and I’m trying to win. I’m trying to be on the podium at every single race.

I wrote a caption on Jason Weigandt’s race report under a photo of Villopoto stuffing you in a turn that said, “Imagine if these guys were their teammates,” because all hell would’ve broken loose if it were Reed and Stewart, but when it’s Villopoto and Hill, no one seems to mind. It seems like it’s racing either way, doesn’t it?
We’ve hit each other harder on 80s than we did that night! It’s not a big deal.

Yeah, I forgot about the fact that you guys raced against each other locally, not just at the amateur nationals or something like that.
Yeah, at any local race at like Washougal or Albany, we were always battling. We both used to get worked up about it. We’d come off the track all pissed all the time. That was just how I grew up racing. I grew up racing with him like that, and with Justin Keeney like that... That’s just how it is. I don’t get worked up about it at all. When he came in and stopped in the corner after the triple, I was kind of laughing because he was stopping, and I was thinking, “Dude, you should try and get away from me and try to catch [Ryan] Dungey!” He was wasting a lot of time. But it’s true that I couldn’t dive back underneath him, so at that point he was taking control of the position. It was just good racing. I don’t care. Hopefully he’s not too bummed about it, because I’m not bummed about it.

No, he didn’t seem bummed about it at all, actually.
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think either of us are. We were just racing.

I’ve been harping on this since Phoenix because of the crap that went down there, but to me that’s what’s so exciting about racing. Racing is awesome because guys might run into one another if they’re in each other’s way or things like that. There are things going on other than guys jumping jumps and riding around a track, and that’s what’s so cool about it.
Yeah, I could hear the crowd getting into it when me and Ryan were battling like that, and shoot, that got me pumped up. That made me want to keep doing it! I was bummed when he passed me and I couldn’t get him back. I felt like I let the crowd down. They were getting into it. We’re just racing. I’m trying to do the best I can, and he’s trying to do the best he could, and he was just faster than me in San Francisco. He was trying to get by me, and I was trying to make sure he couldn’t get by me. But he got by me... (Laughs)

But I think the fans like it, and I think the overall theme is that Josh Hill isn’t taking any crap. You’re going to go out there and race as hard as you can, even if it’s against your teammate. I’m sure you wouldn’t take James Stewart out, but you race him hard, and the same goes for everyone else.
For sure. I’m just trying to win races. And if I leave myself open to get stuffed and taken over a berm, I’m not going to be bummed. That’s what you do. If you leave the door open, I expect to get bumped out of the corner, and I’m going to do the same thing to whoever it is. I’m just here to race. I’m not here to try to start any drama or any problems, because the last thing I want to do is make a bunch of enemies, but if I see a hole, I’m going to dive for it. I don’t want to come off sounding dirty, but...

I don’t think it is dirty. I just think maybe some of our newer fans don’t understand the history and the dynamic behind our sport.
For sure. I think that stuff’s awesome. I think stuffing and banging bars in corners, if I’m up in the stands watching the Lites heat races and the Lites mains, that’s what I’m hoping is going on. I’m hoping that all those guys are banging bars and trying to clean each other out, and trying to get another position, and when I come home and watch it on TV, that’s what I want to see. I’m not there to watch everybody ride five bikelengths behind each other and race like that because that’s boring!

Sounds right to me!
Dude, I grew up watching [Jeff] Matiasevich and Larry Ward and [Damon] Bradshaw and all those guys, and they didn’t care! They were a lot worse. They hit each other coming out of corners. Those guys were awesome. That’s what I grew up watching, and that’s what was exciting to me. I used to watch the races over and over again to see the guys getting taken out, because when I was a kid, like four years old, I thought that was what was cool. That was the cool part. It’s just racing. I think everybody’s getting too sensitive. As long as we’re not swerving over on each other in the air and doing dumb stuff like that, I think it’s awesome.

Yeah, well, stuffing a guy in a turn is rarely going to injure anybody. You might fall over, but it’s rare that you’ll get hurt.
Yeah, you’d have to hit somebody just right and make them land just wrong in order for that to happen. I was just blocking Ryan. He was trying to run it up on me. He was doing what he should’ve been doing, and I was doing what I should’ve been doing. It was just racing.

So, what has been the key to your actual speed the last few weeks? What has changed for you that has actually lit this fire under you?
My bike’s awesome, and I have so much confidence in it that it’s crazy. But I don’t feel like I’ve ridden to my potential yet this season. Not even close. I was bummed after the last two weekends because I felt like I should’ve won both of those races. I got tired at Anaheim II, and at San Francisco, I couldn’t get into a groove. I felt better toward the end of the race than I did the whole race, and that’s when I started making up ground on Ryan again. I’ve ridden tight at every race so far, so once I can get it through my head that I belong up there and start riding comfortably, I’m going to start winning races, I think.

The other thing that’s fresh about you right now is that you’re in the championship hunt, and I don’t remember another time in your career where, after four races, you were in the championship hunt. Something always goes wrong.
I’ve always struggled at Anaheim I for some reason. I hurt my hand the first time I went there, and then in ’08 I fell in the first turn and had some problems with the clutch, and then last year I wasn’t even there. I was hurt and I hit my head the week before and shouldn’t have even been racing. So this year, I thought I was going to do it again. I went to the LCQ, and in the main, I started from the very outside and ended up coming in sixth, and I’ve been on the podium every weekend since. I feel like that’s where I belong, and I don’t feel like I’ve peaked. Today, I was out at the test track, and I feel like I’m just getting more and more speed. Actually, I know I’m getting more and more speed because I went a second a lap faster today than I’ve ever ridden, and the track wasn’t even that good. I feel like I’ve got a lot more potential to show, and I feel like I can win races. I feel like I’m going to be in the championship hunt, and that’s where I want to be.

It’s cool that you seem to be transitioning into being a title threat; a guy you have to deal with every week, instead of a guy you just have to deal with when he’s “on”. The more guys like you, the better for everyone.
I’m stoked. I only struggle with starts, too. I don’t even think I got a good start this weekend. I think I started with a sixth- or seventh-place start, but I was just so aggressive on the first lap – in the first three corners, I passed three people – and that has been the biggest key for me; getting good starts. I always felt fast, but my starts were so crappy that I would just struggle with the guys in the back of the pack, and by the time I got into a good position in the top 10 or the top five, the rest of the guys were so far gone that I couldn’t go any farther. That’s been the biggest thing. My starts have gotten a little bit better, and I’m more aggressive on the first lap, and I’ve made better choices, too. I just want to keep getting better. I seriously feel that I have a lot more to show on the weekends. I’ve been pissed the last few weekends at how I’ve ridden – actually, the last three weekends – but I’ve been on the podium. So I feel like if I can just go out there and put the 20 laps together like I know I can, I know I can win. If I ride my race, I know I can do it.