“I got my butt handed to me today,” said Justin Starling. “Plain and simple, that was it. RedBud will be better. I guarantee you that will be better. But now that I’ve kind of got my feet wet, I kind of understand. I’m not necessarily used to the heat right now.”
Those are the words that the Florida native (surprisingly) said to us on Saturday afternoon after the fifth round of the 2019 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship had concluded in the hot and humid Jacksonville, Florida.
It’s fair to think that a rider like Starling who has grown up riding and racing in the brutal heat of the Sunshine State would be more than used to the demanding temperatures that riders were faced with this past weekend. There’s just one problem, as Starling has spent the past few summers racing in Europe where the summer weather is much cooler. Knowing that Starling races all summer overseas, we were surprised to see him in the states in the middle of June, and on the entry list for the Florida National.
We caught up with Justin following the race to chat about doing a few races here, his overly impressive travel schedule that will take him back and forth across the North Atlantic Ocean multiple times, competing in the Florida heat and humidity, and more.
Racer X: First of all, [the Florida National] was hot, for lack of a better word. Just talk about that a little bit before we get started.
Justin Starling: Yeah. It was super difficult for me. It was day five on the new bike. Still working kinks out of it and all that. Still learning it. I’ve only been in the States now for about a week and a half, two weeks, and it’s been about three years since I’ve been in Florida humidity in the summer. I’ll straight up be honest, it got me today. I’ve been in Europe a lot the past few months, and it’s been cold there. When I came here, I knew it was going to be pretty miserable, but I thought I could handle it. It got to the point where I got a little bit dizzy about halfway and I just honestly put my health before a dirt bike finish. I think that was smart of me. It sucked quitting. I don’t ever like to quit, but I have a points-paying race next weekend in Germany and that’s where I’m contracted right now. I had to just play it smart and pull off and just bite the bullet.
Speaking of Germany, you were telling me last night your schedule is pretty gnarly. You’re here, and then tell everybody what you’re doing after this.
I fly out Tuesday back to Germany. I’ve been racing with the Castrol Power1 Suzuki Team over there, actually for the past five or six years now. But I’ve been doing the German Masters over there with those guys. I’ve done one round so far, but the next round is next weekend in Mölln, Germany. The last round was in Austria. So I’m going to go over there and race that round next weekend. I fly over on Tuesday. I fly back I think the following Monday for RedBud. I’ll race RedBud and then I think I’m going to stay for about a week in the States again, just to see family. It’s a little bit harder to see family these days. Then I’ll fly back over there for four races, which is the German Masters stuff again. Then I’ll fly back for Budds Creek and Ironman back-to-back, and then I actually fly back the following Monday from Ironman straight back to Europe to race the last three rounds of the German Masters, and then I’ll fly back. Pretty much starting the week after RedBud I’m going to race I think 13 weeks in a row, with also traveling back and forth between United States and Europe. So it’s a lot going on right now, but it’s what I decided to do. I’m having a lot of fun with it. Obviously, I wish [Florida] would have gone better, but I had to put the contracted team stuff before just a fun race in Florida for me.
Does a weekend like this where it just puts you through the grinder and was super hard, does it make next weekend in Germany a little bit easier since it’s a little bit different of a vibe and it’s going to be way cooler?
Yeah, it definitely does. That was one of the reasons I wanted to race here. One, obviously being my hometown race. But these tracks are pretty gnarly. The one-day program is extremely difficult just because I haven’t done it…I haven’t race in the United States nationals in four years now. So it was pretty wild to do it all in one day in an outdoor, because in Germany we pretty much show up Friday and everything’s really calm. Saturday you do two practices. One is timed and one’s a free practice. Then the next day you do a warm up and then you have two 30s, but it’s a lot cooler outside. It’s not as bad. So it’s definitely a lot gnarlier here, but I think it’s going to make next weekend a lot easier than even the last round that I did over there.
The actual racing here versus the racing there, is the intensity kind of the same, or not even the same level? How do you transition?
I think the intensity here is maybe a bit more. It’s hard to explain because when I show up on the gate there, I don’t know a lot of the riders, where here I know who everyone is and kind of how they are. But the one thing that I struggled with today was the practice. I think even [Thomas] Covington mentioned showing up and then having to go wide open like third lap, where in Europe you have a full 30-minute practice of almost play riding, in a way, and figuring some stuff out, and then you do another 30-minute practice. Then you have your 30-minute practice in the morning on Sunday where everything’s just calm. It’s free practice. So, the intensity in practice was what I struggled with a lot today. The intensity in the motos I would say is pretty close to the same. Everyone is sending it really hard, but I had to play it smart today.
Is your mentality and the way you prepare different here versus there? Ii
To train in Germany I had to pretty much try to back it down. I think that hurt me today. I backed down my training a bit and dragged it out over a few days, my race days. So you’re training just as hard, but you’re also getting more rest. In-between the motos here we had an hour, where in Europe you have about three and a half. It’s just everything is just a little bit different. Here it’s just go, go, go, go, go. I should have remembered that. That was just my mistake on that. When you’re doing your motos in Europe, I take more of a break in-between them for practice, on practice days, where here I was doing that same thing but then I couldn’t do that here. I think that just hurt me today.
With all the traveling back and forth, will you have much time to ride in-between and train, or just kind of travel, race, travel, race?
I’ll be able to ride next Thursday, which kind of sucks because I don’t get that much time. But like I said, you get all day Saturday as well, and then you have your race Sunday. Then I’ll fly back. I might get one day in. I’m going to see if I can maybe try to ride press day at RedBud just so I can get a little bit more time. But it’s very little riding. It sucks that it’s that way. But after these next couple weeks, even this coming back, I’ve been here for two weeks but we were still waiting on the engine and stuff like that. So today was day five on the bike. So hopefully we can get some more time on the bike. The travel definitely takes a lot out of it. Even once you’re here you need two days to really be ready to ride because of jet lag and everything. It definitely is difficult to ride but I'm getting a little bit more used to it now.
You mentioned that when you’re over there, some of those riders you don’t know, versus when you’re here there are riders, obviously, you’re familiar with. Are your expectations different there versus here?
I think it helps me there not knowing who they are. So I don’t sit on the gate like, “He’s fast, he’s fast.” I do think that. I think everyone does. But the last round I knew I was lining up with [Jeffrey] Herlings and Jeremy Seewer and Valentin Guillod and all those guys as well, so you kind of have that in your mind. But there’s some of them that you’re battling with and you just don’t know who they are or how they ride, where in the States I kind of have an idea how some people ride. If they’re going to slam me or something. Over there I have more of a target on my back because I’m the American and they don’t want the American to beat them. It’s tough, but I do enjoy it.
What’s it like racing with Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen versus Herlings and Seewer and those guys? Is their race craft different?
Yeah. You guys have seen Herlings ride and he hangs it out, but he kind of reminds me a bit of a taller Tomac or something like that, where Seewer rides a lot like Roczen. So when I watch those two, and I couldn’t compare them, but I’ve been racing Roczen and Tomac and these guys for years, so I’m used to them. But I will say that when I lined up for both motos in Austria I was a little starstruck just because I’ve only raced Herlings and seen him ride one time before, and that was at Motocross of Nations. To see it again but this time at a smaller event, it was really cool. Obviously, I wasn’t battling with those guys. They’re on a different level. They seem to hang it out a lot like they do here, but I would say definitely Seewer and Roczen ride a lot the same. Very smooth and not taking many chances, but they make it work so well. Where Tomac and Herlings seem to just kind of send [it]. I think for me, I’m a supercross guy. That’s more my expertise, and I’m a very smooth, calm rider. So I maybe need to pick it up and learn how to hang it out to race here.
Do you learn from those guys a little bit? Do you take bits and pieces from guys?
I do. Obviously, today I couldn’t see anybody ride. Even when I pulled off, I maybe should have watched a little bit. In Europe, the practice is a little bit different. They do it off of even and odd numbers, so I never ride with Herlings. I’ll honestly go out there early and watch his practice just because it’s pretty crazy what these guys can do. You also have to ride the tracks in Europe just different. You can’t ride them like you do here. I think maybe that even hurt me a little bit today as well, where you have to be a little bit more precise and float a little bit where here you can kind of bulldog everything. I got my butt handed to me today. Plain and simple, that was it. RedBud will be better. I guarantee you that will be better. But now that I’ve kind of got my feet wet, I kind of understand. I’m not necessarily used to the heat right now.
It’s funny to hear a Florida native say that.
I keep telling everyone the heat got me [in Florida], they’re like, “You’re from here.” I’m like, yeah, but I haven’t been in the Florida heat training in three years. I’ve been in Colorado for two and then in Europe now for one. It’s not the same. When you’re away from it for a while, it’s hard to adjust back to. Honestly maybe I just need to up my program a bit. Maybe the training that I do in Europe works for Europe, but it’s not going to work for here. I think I just need to buckle down and change stuff and up the intensity.