Justin Barcia got his wish—a factory team came calling, and now he’s dialed in with Monster Energy/Knich Yamaha. But which Barcia will be racing? Could the race-winning rookie from 2013 be back? Or are those days behind us?
At least he gets a fair shake at it. In 2016, Barcia rode Anaheim 1 with an injured thumb, led early, and faded way, way back. In 2017, he missed the race altogether with a wrist injury. At least he comes into this opening without an injury. He’s also in a much, much better place, mentally, telling us he’s so happy in life that now, even if the racing doesn’t work out, he’ll still be smiling. He’s gotten engaged, and said he’s never be been better with his parents or any of the people around him. He’s smiling a lot these days.
But then, he adds that he’s a fierce competitor, still, and he wants to get back up front. He’s very motivated, but relaxed at the same time.
Racer X: We’re at Anaheim 1 and there won’t be any more riding between now and the race. Nothing hurts? No injuries?
Justin Barcia: [Laughs] No! I’ve almost never been better. It feels great to be healthy. It’s been like three years.
You came back fairly early last year. Results were not great. Did we see the real you? Was it not the same because you didn’t race the opener?
Yeah, I just came in not where I needed to be, feeling-wise, not comfortable on the bike. Never got more comfortable, just struggled. I got in that hole and couldn’t get out of it. Mentally I was so beat down. Just years and years of injuries and just not getting to where I belong. Last year was not good. Honestly, I haven’t been in this good position in… Last time I was in a good position like this I was very competitive and fast. I’ve matured a lot and I’ve learned a lot of things over the past couple years. I would say these bad years, it definitely builds a lot of character and makes you a tough person, but at the same time I learned a lot. I can’t take away from that. I learned a lot, and got to hang out with some good people. It was just tough years of racing. This opportunity is a great opportunity for me. I’m comfortable on the new bike. I’m healthy. I’ve got a very good mindset right now.
What kind of a relief was it when you got this deal? Were you thinking you might have to privateer it all season, or not even race at all? Did you face that?
I got to ride my other bike that I had at home when I was privateering it for like a week. Then when I was in California I rode like a day, and then I got a call from Yamaha and they were like, “Can you race Monster Cup for us?” I was like, I need some guarantee for supercross or something, because a lot of people spent a lot of money and gave me a lot of parts and stuff [for Monster Cup]. It wasn’t realistic. It would have been a new bike, not comfortable on yet. I think it would have been an awkward situation. But I kind of thought maybe there was something there [for the 2018 season]. It took a while to get it going. I rode at home on my stock bike I had until I got to come out here and start riding. It definitely relieves a lot of stress and pressure off me because I don’t have to go find money and use my own money and try to put together a team. Some guys can do it, but for me this was just a smart decision. I tested the bike before I signed anything and I was fairly happy with it how it was.
That’s the thing everybody’s going to say. Barcia rode a Yamaha two years ago…
Yeah, and I wasn’t happy with the setup. I’ll be honest. I didn’t like the setup I had. In outdoors, every now and again it was good and I showed that, but it wasn’t consistently comfortable for me to ride. Yamaha had made a big change on this new chassis, and for me it’s been pretty easy transition. I think I was very lost for a couple years on setup and trying to learn stuff. I kind of came here and started with a stock bike, added some stuff that I wanted.
Had you ever done that? Starting with a stock bike thing before?
Not necessarily. A little bit but not in that same way. [Usually] You’re kind of just like, “Okay, now we’ve got all the parts.” We just kind of took our time [this time]. I was the only one pretty much riding at the time. Cooper [Webb] was still hurt, and Davi [Millsaps] is obviously hurt, so I was pretty much the guy to start on supercross on the new bike. It went really well.
Is learning to test and setting up a bike, is that something that riders have to learn? We always know certain dudes are fast and we just assume that means they’re automatically good. Is there a whole learning process to setting up a bike that we have to account for?
Riders have things they like, but I really think it’s important to have a group of people that have a lot of experience, but at the same time are open-minded about things. Sometimes you get lost. Yamaha has, I wouldn’t say new model of doing things, but they’re trying to keep the bike more stock. If there’s things we need, we’ll do, but let’s start with a good bike and add little things to it. You learn that as a rider and testing things. You know what feels good and what’s not good.
You were saying the last time you came in feeling like this, you were really competitive. We remember you winning races at the beginning of one season. Is that in your mind, winning races? Or right now are you like, “I don’t want to get too crazy?”
Obviously, I believe I should be a very competitive rider. I feel like I will be. My fitness is good. Mentally I’m in a much, much better place. I sort of got my confidence back. I just feel good on the bike. I believe I have a good team around me. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be competitive. I’m not going to say I’m going to go out there and dominate everyone. There’s a lot of great riders. But crazier things have happened! I feel good and I believe I should be in the mix. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be running in the front with the front runners. I’ve been there before. Last time I was there I was healthy and comfortable and happy riding the bike.
The one thing is, it’s not like you didn’t put in work. Even when you were struggling, I feel like you’ve always worked.
That’s the really hard part about the last three years. I’ve tried different trainers. I was trying absolutely everything, but maybe I was just doing too much and trying too many things. It was 100 percent not because of lack of effort.
We never heard, “Barcia’s just partying all the time” or “Barcia’s lazy.”
I don’t party. I don’t drink. I’m a pretty straightforward person. When a team called, I was there for testing. I moved there [to North Carolina, with JGR]. When this Yamaha thing came about they were like, “You’ve got to stay in California.” So I’ve been in California. I haven’t been home in months. I dedicate my life to racing. It’s definitely never been lack of effort. There were times where I was like, I don’t really know why I’m doing this and I’m in a really dark place. I took a break after the season and I regrouped a little. The Monster Energy Cup thing came up and I was like, let’s go race and try to have fun. Fitness-wise I wasn’t great then, but I cleared my mind and I just had fun riding again. I wasn’t having that much fun for a while. Working so hard and not getting results you expect, that equals not that great feelings. So at least now I’m having fun again and happy.
They say it’s at least a six-race deal or maybe more. Does that even run through your mind?
I’m just racing. All I can do realistically is just take it race by race. I kind of hold the key to my success.
If you do well, you’ll keep racing here.
Yeah. There’s no reason why not. Yamaha is a very big Japanese company and they have money. I wouldn’t see why there would be an issue putting three guys under the tent. We haven’t really talked about it or anything, but I just feel like I make my own destiny. I believe everything will work out, but as of right now I’m just taking it race by race.
How much of a relief is it to be sitting here in the back of a factory truck? This was not a guarantee. I’m sure at one point you were thinking, I might not have a ride?
Yeah, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was going to go racing, but I was going to have to do it on my own and it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work being on a factory team, so trying to do it by yourself is like quadruple the work and more stress and all that. I’m super grateful for this opportunity with Yamaha. I still have some sponsors that I’ve had helping me – Alpinestars, Arai, Scott, Monster’s on board. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be on a factory team and show everyone what I’ve got.
You never know what you’re going to get from Blake Baggett. The stuff is there to produce shocking speed, and rumors from the test track indicate that Blake is doing that again—for what it’s worth, we heard “faster than Marvin Musquin” rumors from the KTM test tracks.
You never know if that’s going to manifest into results, especially with a guy like Baggett, who turns most questions into bizarre answers. His latest kick? Thanking his spotter, NASCAR style. You’ll see.
Racer X: Is the speed still there? The speed was awesome last year. The speed was legit.
Blake Baggett: I think the speed is still there, yeah.
You are becoming a supercross guy. You said you even enjoyed it last year. Are you building on that? Is it even better?
New bike. Been with the team for a year now. Had good outdoor run at it. The idea is to put up a fight indoors, just like we did outdoors. I’ve just got to listen to my spotter and stay out of trouble.
Okay… can you be just as effective indoors? You were the points leader at one point. You were winning races.
Only time will tell on that.
Would you be shocked if you were winning races?
No, but I think a lot of people would be.
Summer, were you mad going into the season that we were not hyping you as much as we should? We were maybe disrespecting you? Should we have been less surprised when you were doing well?
No, I let you guys have it when you guys deserve it. I don’t hold anything back. I hadn’t really done anything on the big bike [until then], so I get it.
That was the data we had.
The data that you had [previous results on a 450] was not good. I knew that. So, that’s why I needed a change in the program. New team, new bike, everything. I made a change and it just took a little bit of time to adjust. It’s hard to build speed. It’s hard to build endurance. It’s even harder to tie it all together. Now I feel like I have all the puzzle pieces, just connect them indoors like I can connect them outdoors.
Connecting the puzzle pieces, that was the problem last year indoors. How many races did falling on the first lap last year? Like five in a row?
In the first turn? I think I did three races in a row, actually.
Didn’t you fall on the first lap here at A1?
Yes, and the next weekend and the weekend after that. Then I finally looped it out here for A2!
Yeah, lots of first-lap carnage. Is there anything you can do to prevent those things?
Stuff’s going to happen. It’s like gambling. You don’t know what cards you’re going to get dealt. I think some of it can be avoided and other times you can’t avoid it. You’re just caught up in it. Stay out of trouble. Listen to your spotter. That’s a real key this year. Listening to your spotter. Coming out of turn two you got to listen to your spotter. You don’t know if you’re clear or not, so listen to your spotter. Try to stay out of trouble.
Can you drive through the smoke?
Try to get clean air. Clean air is good, especially for the goggles and for the bike. Keeps the temperature down low. There’s no more semis, so less hours on the bike is better. Keep things fresh. I think that’s the goal.
I’ve heard rumors of lap times. Can you confirm or deny? I’ve heard very, very good lap times.
My spotter must have been drinking. I don’t know why he would be saying that.
What about the thumb? How did that whole process go?
It’s attached now. It’s definitely a lot better than it was. I don’t think I could have raced supercross with it. Outdoors I was able to kind of get away with it, but at the same time I couldn’t ride like myself. I struggled. I straight up struggled. I got it fixed and I think we’re here to see what we’ve got and hopefully be in the hunt.
No residual damage?
Yeah, it’s not as good as it once was, as good as you’re born, but they fixed it. As far as riding, every once in a while, it will be sore. It will be achy, but for the most part once you’re out there, you kind of forget about it. Let the spotter tell you what you need to do and just focus on that.
It didn’t slow your program? You had time to get ready?
Yeah. I started riding in November. The last start I did at a race was Indiana the last moto. You’re only as good as your last start, so I got a holeshot. I’m going off that. Then just mainly listening to the spotter if you’re clear. Stay out of trouble.
How different is this 2018 bike? I know it’s different, but is it radically different?
There’s enough changes that you had to change your internal setup.
If you just bolted the old stuff on, it wouldn’t have worked the same?
I don’t think so. I don’t think you’d be as comfortable.
Are you going to be changing everything after round one?
Depends how it goes.
Outdoors you changed a lot.
Yeah, everything but the color of it.
Why does that happen though? Is it just the classic case of you don’t really know until you race?
Yeah. You can’t mimic the racetracks where they’re on a time rush to prep them. They’re on a time rush to build them. Could have been raining and got delayed in something. Sometimes they don’t care. You can’t mimic all that stuff. You can’t mimic so many guys riding it. You can have guys come ride at your place, but you’re not all riding it all at the same time within the amount of time that the track was just built. It was fresh. You can’t mimic that, no matter what you do. I could call Dirt Wurx and have them come build you a track and invite everybody out and have a race at your place mid-week, but that is going to be quite difficult! But really, the key to everything would be, listen to your spotter.