Open Mic: Justin Hill

Open Mic Justin Hill

April 5, 2017 12:25pm

“To win, you have to make it happen,” said Justin Hill a few days before flying off to Seattle, Washington, and round seven of the 2017 250SX West Region Supercross Championship, which he is leading by 21 points.

“When the 15 minutes of the main event come around and the points are being paid, that means everything to me. That’s when I go.” And go he has. As of round three of the series at Angel Stadium, Hill hasn’t lost a race, coming up big in Anaheim, Phoenix, Oakland, and Arlington.

“Winning four in a row and having a big points lead is everything I’ve worked for in my life. That’s the deal.” With that “deal” in mind, Racer X sat down with the Pacific Northwest native before the 250SX West Region returns from a 56 day layoff this weekend in Seattle.  

Racer X: Justin, it’s been over seven weeks since you’ve raced. What have you been up to?
Justin Hill: Seven weeks, that’s a lot of waiting around.

And you didn’t want to be waiting around, did you?
Not really. I want to give that 450 schedule a go. But yeah, you get into a groove and then you don’t want to stop.

Hill was certainly in the groove before the break.
Hill was certainly in the groove before the break. Rich Shepherd

Because you’ve worked so hard to get everything in your racing program—the bike, the training, the physicality, the championship momentum—why stop now, right?
It’s just the formula of racing, you know? The path that you find, it’s a groove. It’s a groove that you don’t want to jump out of. Right before the season I broke my shoulder and had two weeks to get ready. It was pretty much no time and I raced into shape and I was there and I was at a stage where I was like, “I can push through these motos and I can win.” Then, all of a sudden, we had to stop racing after Texas. Yeah, I’m kind of bummed that the last three races left aren’t just Bang! Bang! Bang! like that. Racing sporadically like that is kind of hard. I think I’ve done enough homework. I’ve worked way harder now than I did even before the season because I have the time. Now that I’ve had the break, I’ve got a lot of grinding done.

What have you been grinding on?
I’ve done a lot of cycling, a lot of running, a lot of motos. I’ve been grinding hard with my guy Johnny [Louch]. After Dallas I kind of took it easy for a week as far as riding goes. We rode for a day on a 450 just play riding. After that we went back to it and did a lot of outdoor stuff at first just to get some settings for that. Then I was itching to get back to supercross and just get back to it. I’ve been doing four solid days of riding a week—the Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday program. It’s been a lot of work, but I feel like I’ve gained quite a bit with cardiovascular and the whole bit. I’ve been trying to push for a better cardio stance towards the series. If I can have that, it makes it not hurt as much when you’re trying to win. Never ever is it easy to just do one of those races at full bore.

Yeah, cycling or jogging or lifting weights or running up and down stairwells can never really replicate what you’re feeling out there while racing the motorcycle in a stadium, can it?
It relates, but it doesn’t mirror. I’ve never done anything in my life that mirrors racing a supercross and the intensity of a supercross race. Now, I’ve raced races where I pull a big lead and there’s 20 seconds to the next guy and I’ve just cruised. That’s easy. But that happens almost never. The races I’ve won this year have been down to the wire and me pushing and trying to beat the guy. We got it done, which is great, but they were never easy. A2 [Anaheim 2] was my first win of the year and I was running the whole time because the guys were trying to get me and they couldn’t get me, which was cool. In Phoenix I had to track the guy down and do it. I made the pass on Shane McElrath with a lap and a half to go. That stuff, it hurts. It doesn’t matter how good of shape you are in.

That’s the beauty of our sport, huh? The guy, the rider, by being an athlete, can make the difference. Being an athlete and pushing for all your worth is an advantage. Does that make sense?
It does and this is something my dad always said, “The guy that is in shape versus a guy that isn’t in shape. Maybe the guy that isn’t in shape can still ride his dirt bike for 15 minutes in a race, but he is not going to do every little section, every little jump, every little corner as intensely as the guy that does train and is in shape.” Really, fitness does relate a lot to going around the track fast. It really does. We know what it takes to push and if you don’t have it, you know you don’t have it and you’re not going to push as hard.

"For me, it’s all about the dirt bike. That’s what you’re paid to do and that’s what you should be good at and that’s what you should be in shape for." Rich Shepherd

Do you think some guys overdo it with the off-the-bike training?
The points are not paid by how many road bike miles you did. They really aren’t. A lot of guys think that they are. There are so many things that work with a guy’s mind in this sport. Maybe those guys that are out in Florida training, and I know they do a lot cycling, maybe that’s what they like. Maybe that’s what makes them feel like they have it covered. For me, it’s all about the dirt bike. That’s what you’re paid to do and that’s what you should be good at and that’s what you should be in shape for. If I’m not that baddest dude on a mountain bike or the baddest dude on a road bike, I couldn’t care less. I do all the things I do just to be in shape for a dirt bike. All this stuff is just tools that you can try to use in your racing.

So Seattle this coming Saturday …
It might be muddy.

Yes, they’re calling for rain all the way through the weekend.
Yeah, but that’s the NW. That’s what I grew up on. I like that.

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The NW?
The Northwest. I obviously haven’t raced a whole lot of muddy supercross races, but I’ve practiced a lot of muddy supercross. To me all that means is that a lot of guys are going to be uncomfortable with it, which makes me happy because I’m not going to be super uncomfortable. Really, to me, a track is a track and everybody has got to deal with it. I can navigate myself around it. All it is to me is an opportunity for it to be my kind of track.

Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas are yet to be run. What’s the game plan?
I’ve won four in a row and that streak is alive and I don’t like losing. I don’t like to lose. Losing ain’t cool for anybody. Once you’ve done it, and done it a few times, which I have, I see no need to go back. That’s all I care about. I don’t care if I’m the fastest guy in practice, I don’t care if I win the heat race. I don’t care about anything except for the points.

Have you been watching the East Region races on TV?
I have been. I think it’s sporadic. I think some people have good moments and some people have bad moments. There’s been a lot of inconsistency. I was just talking about this recently: the West Region, me, Aaron [Plessinger], and Shane [McElrath] have all been on the podium a lot. We’re all solid guys. If you think about it and go back, somebody in the Lites [250SX] class that wins four races in a row normally has a sizeable lead. With all of us being so consistent, it kind of puts a stamp on things and says, “Okay, the West Coast is pretty solid.” Without Shane having the bike problem [Note: McElrath placed 22nd due to a mechanical issue at Arlington], things would be a lot closer. I hate to say this because I don’t want to bash these guys, but it just seems like the East is super inconsistent. I think all the guys are good. I think that Joey [Savatgy] and Zach [Osborne] and Jordon Smith all have speed and they all have a chance to beat anybody at any point. I just think there is a little bit in everybody’s game that they haven’t fine-tuned yet.

If Hill wins the championship this year, he'll be forced to move up to the 450 class for 2018.
If Hill wins the championship this year, he'll be forced to move up to the 450 class for 2018. Rich Shepherd

So it sounds like you’re going to want to prove a point in the East/West Shootout in Vegas.
I don’t care about it. Not one bit. I’ve got an East/West Shootout win and they don’t even mention it [Note: Hill won the Shootout in 2014.] It’s so funny. I tell Fro [Jeff Emig] and Ricky [Carmichael], “Hey guys, when are you going to give me credit for that other win that I have that you guys don’t pay attention to?” Back then it was a separate race. It was the Shootout, and it didn’t run for points. Now that points are concerned, a lot of people are conservative. It’s not even a fair shootout anymore. When it was a free shootout and it was like, “Okay, let’s see who is the baddest East/West guy.” That was cool and I was lucky enough to participate in that and I won it. That was sweet.

You rode up and consoled Shane McElrath immediately after the finish of the Phoenix race. What did you say to him?
I did after I got around him in Phoenix and won at the very end and I know that hurts. I said, “Man, this is a lot of fun. I know this sucks for you. I understand. But it’s a lot of fun racing.” And he said the same thing to me. We’re buddies. And then when he had his bike problem in Dallas, I told him, “Hey, I know you don’t want to hear it from me, but I’m truthfully bummed for you.” It’s happened to everybody. It happens. It’s not over for him. We’ve got three races left. I’ve been there and I know what it feels like. He’s a friend of mine.

What’s up with your future on the 450? Is that your bike next year?
If I have to ride a 250 again, I’m going to … I don’t know what I’ll do. I like big bikes. It’s the only thing I have to look forward to. It seriously is. I like my bike right now and it’s my favorite 250 I’ve ever been on and I dig it, but it’s just not what fits me. To me, there’s a ceiling on the bike I ride now and I don’t like to rev it and go nuts. Some people say the 450 is a different deal and it’s more difficult to ride, but I’ve raced them at the highest level and I think that for me, they’re easier. I think they’re going to come easy and I think people are going to be surprised.

Any idea of who you might be racing for in 2018 or is it too early?
Too early. I’m going to have to look at it all because I do all of my own things. I’m not represented by anybody, so I’m going to look over my contracts and talk to my current people. For sure I’d like to get the ball rolling. I’d like to stay where I’m at; I’d like to be on Kawasaki. It’s a good bike and I think Eli [Tomac] has changed it for the better and I think that’s a good place to be.