Monday Conversation: Josh Hill

Monday Conversation: Josh Hill

October 26, 2015 11:00am

Josh Hill didn’t know the Daytona Supercross would be his last race. Riding for River Yamaha, a huge crash in practice had left him motionless on the track. However, Hill, the winner of the 2008 Minneapolis 250 SX, had come back from massive injuries before, including an infamous failed backflip that very nearly cost him his career in 2010. This time something seemed different. The news on his recovery never came in, almost as if he wasn’t even intending to get back in the game.

He wasn’t.

Hill finally decided it was time to hang up the boots. Luckily for him, he soon found a job at Monster Energy, making for a quick transition into regular life. Here’s Josh to explain it all.

Racer X: You are not preparing to go racing in 2016. What are you up to now? What’s your career in this off-season?
Josh Hill: Now I’m waking up every morning, working nine to five, going into the Monster Energy headquarters, and trying to make sure everything’s handled for the two-wheel side, motocross, supercross, and freestyle motocross. 

So give us an idea of this job. You’re not just going to the races hanging out, but you’re an actual desk guy at the office nine to five? How did this come about?
I was just talking to Dave Gowland at the Las Vegas Supercross. I was already hurt from my crash at Daytona. And he was asking me what I was doing next year. I told him I was thinking about going to school and trying to get a degree in marketing. He was kind of picking my brain a little bit, and I just thought it was a casual conversation. And then a couple of weeks later he asked me to come in and had kind of laid out what they had going on—Ash Hodges was kind of getting promoted to a media role where he’s just going to do videos. I think he’s the media content creator; that’s his now. And they needed someone to fill the two-wheel position [that he had been doing]. I was available and it seemed like a great opportunity. Monster’s been a company that I’ve ridden for forever, and they’ve just always treated me so well. One of my favorite sponsors, for sure, my whole career. So it just seemed like a good fit. 

So this is actually a position they’ve already had and you’re just taking it over?
Yeah, exactly. A lot of people know some of the things Ash did in this role, so everybody’s like, "Oh, you’re the new Dirt Shark." That’s not the case at all. I’m not going to do any videos [like Hodges did with the Dirt Shark videos]. At least at this point I won’t be making any videos and that type of thing. I’m just focused on making sure all the riders have their contracts together, they’re happy, they have plenty of Monster Energy, and their logo placement’s tracked. That’s pretty much what I do. Another thing right now is me and Aaron Nixon are taking Axell Hodges, Austin Forkner, and some other kids, we’re going up to Woodward right now to just kind of as a thank you for all the hard work they put in this year. Take them to have some fun now that we’re in the off-season. Just things like that. 

"I love racing and I love riding, but I didn’t want to have to rely on that for the rest of my life. I wanted to have something else." photo: Cudby

Obviously your experience is different. You didn’t end up going back to school and getting the marketing degree. How hard of a change is it to be like a nine-to-five guy? Since you’re really just dealing with riders, is it somewhat similar? Or does it seem totally weird to be doing what you’re doing?
No, it doesn’t seem that weird. The first couple weeks in the office I was just kind of trying to figure out what I had to do. This is definitely my first time spending every day in a corporate environment. But now I really enjoy it. I’m working with a group of people that I really enjoy, not just the riders, but the people in the office are people that I’ve dealt with for a long time. I’m excited to get up for work every day and go in there. I feel like I’m learning a lot and I’m surrounded by great people. 

It’s a really great story. Obviously, with motocross you have to sacrifice so much to be a racer at your level, and then when it comes to an end, it’s “What am I going to do to make a living?” It’s pretty encouraging to know that you were able to land on your feet, and pretty quick.
Yeah, I just really was blessed with this opportunity. I really thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was. I thought I was going to have to go back to school. I wanted to go back to school. I love racing and I love riding, but I didn’t want to have to rely on that for the rest of my life. I wanted to have something else. Going to the track and training kids and doing that kind of stuff, it’s hard work, and it’s not that glorifying either at times. So I really wanted to get something solid. I really lucked out getting this deal, just with the timing and everything. It seemed like the end of the world when I got hurt at Daytona, but it might have ended up being a blessing in the end. 

"I was the type of person that if I won, or if I got sixth, I was still pretty happy. It wasn’t like losing was ever the end of the world to me."

Take us through that whole process from the Daytona crash. What made you first decide that you didn’t want to ramp it back up? We’ve seen you come back from injury, unfortunately, a lot. What made this time different?
I think you can still kind of hear it in my voice. I collapsed both lungs, broke five ribs, and redid my collarbone. Right when it happened I wasn’t thinking about quitting at all. I was like, okay, I’ll wait until I get back on the bike. But I had some downtime and I really had to think about where I was at and think about, can I still win? Because, really, if you aren’t out there winning or on the podium at least a handful of times every year, it’s not the most profitable business to be in. It’s a struggle, really. You can make enough to pay your bills, but when you add the risk factor into it, the risk versus reward isn’t that good unless you’re on top. And I didn’t know if I could be back on top. So I was pretty happy to step away. I felt like I succeeded pretty well. I’ve had some really good highs and some really low lows. At the end of the day, I feel like I enjoyed my career and the run I had more than most people that were doing it. I was pretty content walking away. 

You turned pro late in 2006, so you had about ten years in. Do you have any regrets looking back at it?
It’s just like anything: you could always have trained a little bit harder; you could have always won one more race or done a little bit better at this. I try not to even think about that. I’ve had some good times. I was the type of person that if I won, or if I got sixth, I was still pretty happy. It wasn’t like losing was ever the end of the world to me. So I’ve had a great time, met some amazing people. I feel like I can just look back on what I’ve done and the road I’ve taken and smile.

Well, I get this vibe from you and your brother that you seem like you’re just big fans of it. You didn’t just race because you were good at it or it was a way to make money or be cool; it seems like even if you weren’t a professional rider that you would just be a fan and you’d ride anyway and you would follow the races anyway.
It’s funny, even when I was little, people would always ask me, "You want to go pro?" I’d say, "No, I just want to do some races and do the jumps every day. I just want to be a novice that jumps everything." That’s what I’d tell my parents. I just rode because I loved it. I raced because that’s how I kept riding. Racing, I would get sponsors and then my parents would keep taking me to the races. I just loved riding. When I was like 5 or 6 years old and Terrafirma and Crusty [video series] and all that stuff started coming out, I couldn’t believe that was real. I loved it. That’s all I wanted to do was ride dirt bikes.

So now with this role, will you still get to do a little bit of that? Do you think you’ll still ride?
I think once I get everything kind of locked down in the office. Right now it’s kind of crunch time because people’s deals are up and things need to get handled. But I think once the season starts and things kind of slow down, I’ll probably be able to get to go to the track and ride more. I hope that I can get to ride once a week because I don’t want to lose all the skill I’ve learned over twenty-something years of riding dirt bikes.

"Monster’s been a company that I’ve ridden for forever, and they’ve just always treated me so well. One of my favorite sponsors, for sure, my whole career. So it just seemed like a good fit." photo: Cudby

Double lung collapses at Daytona. How does that work? Could you even breathe?
At first they just have to give you some pain medicine. They keep you from freaking out because you can’t breathe. My lungs were collapsed, so you could just take the slightest little breaths. One was collapsed worse than the other. I was getting just enough to kind of keep myself from not passing out…I was going in and out a little bit, but it was just enough to keep moving. And then as soon as I got into the hospital, they didn’t even put me under; they just cut me open and stuck a tube down my chest and pumped them back up. So it was pretty gnarly. It actually sucked because I was riding really well. I think I was sitting third on the board at the time in practice. I tried to double two singles and came up just a little bit short, and it didn’t seem like it would be that bad. I wasn’t even thinking about crashing, I didn’t think twice. But because the sand and it’s a little bit softer, I guess my back tire kind of dug in and it just launched me. I went third gear pinned just straight onto my face. It was kind of a gnarly crash. I was lucky that my new Bell helmet held up and I didn’t knock myself out or have anything worse happen, because I went straight to my head. 

You never know how quickly things can change. It’s not like you were thinking, This might be the last time I ever race, when you go in that morning or into that practice session.
Not at all. I was having my best practice of the year so far. It was the very last lap and there was a jump that I thought I could jump and just couldn’t quite make it.

Congrats for landing on your feet with the new gig. From what I see on the outside, that’s got to be one of the toughest challenges for any rider in your position. You either have $20 million in the bank and you don’t have to worry about it, or you have to get a real job, and what the heck are you going to do? Pretty awesome it worked out the way it did for you.
I appreciate that. It was definitely a blessing. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Sometimes I scratch my head, but I just hope that it continues to work. I just want to make sure that I make everybody that rides for the company feel as special as they always made me feel when I rode for them.

And this means you’re still going to be at the races?
I’ll be at every supercross I believe, unless I take one off to go to a GP and check those out. So I’ll be there every single weekend just making sure everybody’s dialed. It’s going to be cool. I get to keep hanging out with my little brother and watching him grow as a racer, so it’ll be cool.