Justin Barcia spoke with me a few days before Christmas. “It’s been a huge turnaround for me,” he said via telephone from England, where he was visiting his fiancée. “I was in a rough place for a while, but I came out of it strong and I have a lot of good people around me now. This is a fresh start for me, and this opportunity that I’ve been given at Yamaha is something that I’m very grateful for. Going into the first race at Anaheim, I feel super confident with the bike, my training, myself, and everything I’ve put into it. You never know what can happen, but I know I’m going to be very competitive and to come away with a win or a podium or being able to run up front is the goal.”
On Saturday night before an overflow crowd at Angel Stadium, Monster Energy/Knich/Yamaha Factory Racing team racer Justin Barcia did, in fact, reach his goal when he hit the 450SX podium with a spirited third-place finish. Something he had not done since Houston all the way back on April 5, 2014. The A1 finish not only marked the tenth 450SX podium finish of his career, but perhaps even more importantly, it displayed that the 25-year-old is back on the right track.
On a rainy Monday afternoon in Corona, California, “Bam Bam” Barcia sat down and talked with Racer X about his big night in Orange County as well as what he expects of himself come this Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Racer X: Justin, even going back to the Friday morning of the Monster Energy Supercross press conference inside the Diamond Club at Angel Stadium, it was evident you were at ease and in a good place with everything. I got the sense that you were really stoked to be there.
Justin Barcia: Yeah, honestly, I’ve been happy the past couple of months when I made the decision to take the opportunity and go to Yamaha and start fresh and from scratch. Even with life in general, I just started from scratch and I had an open mind about everything. I was just super happy. I knew the new bike was great, and I was super-comfortable on it and I felt good on it. When I’m happy riding, you can’t really beat that. Press day I was having fun, just, like, whipping it around in practice and all that. Even coming into Saturday morning, like I said, I had an open mind about everything and I just kind of let the day come to me. I felt super good
As usual, there was a lot of hype and a lot of talk at the press conference, but you were very low-key. I remember doing an interview with Kevin Windham right after the press conference in 2005 and Kevin saying, “Nobody asked me a question and nobody even talked with me today. I guess I’m not that big a deal this year.” He went out and won the next night. Not a bad thing to be on the down-low once in a while, huh?
Yeah, I was kind of glad I didn’t even get invited to talk at the press conference. I was fine with that. It was kind of nice. It was no stress whatsoever. I was coming in as the dark horse. Obviously, I struggled with the Yamaha in the past, so a lot of people didn’t really believe in me. I knew I was making the right decisions and was super happy. Everything worked out perfect because everybody was worried about this guy and that guy. I was the dark horse, and it’s great when you can be the underdog and actually do good.
But to pull something like that off, the rider or athlete has to have a lot of confidence in himself, doesn’t he?
Yeah. I built the confidence way back up. The confidence, for sure, is the biggest thing, and I just built my confidence up the month and a half before the season started. I changed a few different things in my training and put my full focus on getting the bike how I wanted it, and luckily I was gifted with a good bike to start with. My confidence just came to me.
When you walked into the pits on Saturday morning, did you feel like you were going to have a good day?
Yeah, I mean, I went in telling myself I was going to have a good day, for sure. I don’t want to say I set my bar low, but I told myself that I wanted to qualify top-five and I told myself that I wanted to try and win a heat race.
I watched you in both 450SX timed qualifying sessions and you were really on it. You were fifth in session one and then jumped up to second in session two. You looked very confident and were going fast. You can’t fake that, huh?
No, you can’t fake the speeds and the times, for sure, so that was awesome. I wasn’t surprised, and I was definitely pumped on where I was at. In the past couple of years, that hasn’t been where I was at. I was struggling so bad. To be there where I was in qualifying was such a good feeling.
You rode very well to win the second 450SX heat race of the night by +04.887 seconds. And you had to earn the win as well, as it wasn’t handed to you by any means, was it?
For sure. I didn’t get the holeshot and I was about sixth at the start. I just had a good flow and a good feeling with my bike. I was able to turn down in the corners and pass guys. I also passed guys in the whoops. I was just able to make quick passes and make things happen, and when you’re able to ride your bike like that, you can make things a lot easier. When I got to the front and I pulled a good lead, I said to myself, “I don’t remember the last time I was able to cruise the last two laps of a race in the lead.” It was great. Going into the main event, that heat race was a big confidence-booster.
In the words of David Pingree, “It’s always nice to win.”
Yeah, it had been a long time. Honestly, my nerves weren’t too bad. It was a fast track. Not super technical, but slick. It could bite you. Any little mistake could cost you so much. It felt great to be out front and win.
And then came the main event when you came out of the first turn immediately behind leader Eli Tomac. You guys took off and cleared out pretty quickly those first couple of laps.
Eli was running some solid laps the first half of that race before he crashed. I made a couple of mistakes and lost touch with him a little. When you lose touch with someone on a track like that, to push and try to catch up is hard. That was a little frustrating. Then he went down and I was like, “Whoa, I’m in the lead now.” A little bit of nerves kicked in and I got a little tight and made a couple of mistakes. Then, the first time I got passed by Marvin Musquin, I kind of got a little antsy and made a stupid move and missed the finish line jump, which wasn’t good. Once Jason Anderson got me, I kind of took a breath and regrouped and by the end of the race I actually closed in on him a bit and was like, “I wish I would have figured it out a little sooner and maybe I could have been fighting for the win a little better.” But to finish third and now that that’s out of the way, it relieves a lot of pressure. Before the season, you don’t know quite where you’re at, and now I know I have the speed and speed is not an issue. Now it’s just putting all those little things together.
A lot is made of Anaheim being the first race and that nerves and apprehension play a role in its ultimate outcome. A lot of that may be true, but still, a great result at A1 can’t be underestimated, can it?
I would say that Anaheim is probably one of the harder races, you know? It’s the first one and you don’t know where you’re at and the nerves are high. And yeah, maybe guys will settle down, but it’s not going to change that much. When you get in that stadium, you feel how you feel.
I was back in the pits afterwards, and it was evident that you had generated a lot of interest among the fans and the industry who had gathered around you. It’s funny how that works, huh?
Yeah, it’s unfortunately how the sport works. When you’re down, you’re down, and when you’re up, you’re up. It’s just how it goes. But yeah, it was cool to see people come back around, but at the same time, you know the good group of people who have been there through the thick and thin. I’ve had a lot of people like that around me, so it’s cool.
Normally in this sport, when a guy falls off in the results for three or four years, they usually don’t come back. To a lot of fans, I think it’s very impressive to see that you’ve still got it, you know?
Honestly, I’ve just had a tough couple of years with injuries and I was just never super comfortable, and it just shows that when you put your head down and work hard and get a good opportunity like I did with Yamaha, I was able to make a comeback. I think this is just the opportunity and the door I needed opened to get back to where I belong, and that’s winning races and being in the title hunt. I put myself in a great position this weekend to be in the fight, which I haven’t been in a long time. That’s all the motivation I need.
Any of the riders really surprise you at Angel Stadium on Saturday night?
I wouldn't say anyone really surprised me because I knew the competition was going to be really, really tough, and it's going to be like that all year. I wouldn't say anyone really lit the world on fire. At the end of the night, we were all pretty close. I'm happy that no one surprised me and was way out front, which is great.