We continue with part two of our conversation with Monster Energy Yamaha’s Justin Barcia. Today, we discuss the highs and lows of racing, from Justin’s first foray onto a 450—where he found himself running up front and winning immediately—to some lows, and even an offer to go race MXGP (which he came close to taking).
At age 28, Barcia feels he’s got plenty of racing years left in him, but he also has some interesting potential plans for life after racing. If you missed part one of this interview, make sure to read The Conversation: Justin Barcia Part 1.
Racer X: We get this question from fans every time, often from fans in Europe. Have you considered going to MXGP? Your wife is British, and at one point you didn’t have a ride. Was that ever something you even considered?
Justin Barcia: Actually, I have considered it a few times. I can’t remember which year. It was the year we did the Charlotte MXGP. That was the time my contract with JGR was about to end. I talked to a few teams actually and one of the teams, I had the team manager over at my house in North Carolina, and we sat down. There was an offer on the table to go race MXGP. It just didn’t seem like the right time, but I’ve definitely thought about it. At this point in my career, I don’t know if I’ll ever go race the MXGP now. Back in the day I really thought I was going to do it. Would I love to do it? Yeah. I think to be a real contender though you would have to be on a team for at least two or three years and kind of build into it and work up to being in the hunt. It would be gnarly. I don’t want to just go over there and fill a spot. I think I have a lot more unfinished business here in America with supercross and motocross. But I’ve definitely thought about it a lot. It was almost a thing at one point.
You’re like an international guy. You really enjoy those trips. You go to a lot of those supercross races in Europe.
Yeah. I love going over there and racing. I love Europe in general. When I’m done racing, my wife and I are for sure going to move to the UK.
Yeah! We definitely have plans and stuff down the road to move over there. I think I’ll always probably keep my track and property here in the US and probably do some schools and things like that. Who knows what life will bring? We have a lot of good friends and family in the UK, so it will be cool.
But I think you have a long way to go. How old are you now?
Villopoto and Dungey, they retired around that age, but they won all these titles in a row. That’s an exception. I feel like most guys when they get to your age, they start to enjoy racing more. I hear it all the time: “When I was 23 or 24 I was burned out and I was over it, and now that I’m in my late 20s or 30s, now I want to keep riding even more than ever.” Have you reached that point?
Yeah, for sure. I went through that stage. Obviously, I thought about retirement after JGR. I was not having fun racing. I was over it. I didn’t like racing anymore. Then I did the privateer thing. Started having fun again. Got the Yamaha fill-in gig. Put it on the podium. Was having fun. Now this year has been my best year so far, being in the title hunt in the 450 class. I feel like I haven’t even hit my stride yet. I have so many more good years of racing left in me. So, I’ve been loving it.
Brayton is like 35 now and he’s like, “I like racing now more than ever.”
It’s crazy! I think as you get older you mature more, and you really start to enjoy the things more. This year has been cool for me.
Because racing is shut down now, does that make you appreciate it even more?
That’s what I said. I told some people that. I’m like, this just shows that I’m definitely not ready for retirement! I love riding my bicycle and stuff like that, but is that what I’m going to do every day? Just ride my bicycle?
And power wash the driveway?
Yeah, ride my bicycle and power wash the driveway. It’s cool and it’s fun, but I definitely want to be racing.
I don’t know if you’re one of those guys who is bothered by the travel. Is there stuff that did bother you probably won’t even as much now if we can just get this thing back?
Yeah, it’s like you go through stages, like anything in life. Going to the airports you get tired of that. It’s weird not going to the airports on Friday morning. Obviously, I don’t miss the Sunday early flights going home, but you go through life and you don’t realize all those things. Going to the airport, flying, getting your rental car, going to the hotel, going to dealer signings, racing… You don’t realize how much that stuff means to you until you can’t do it. So, I think this will awaken a lot of people, some in good ways and maybe bad ways. Maybe they’ll realize they don’t love that or like it, but for me, it makes me realize I miss that stuff.
I can see that. I can see some people being home every weekend for three months and thinking they kind of like it! Hey, so one of the reasons we wanted to chat with you is to talk Unadilla 2011. We had the watch party on Facebook for that race over the weekend. There was a lot of buzz for that race. You jumped onto a 450 and you were right in there with the Ryans [Villpoto and Dungey]. Do you remember those days?
I do. That was awesome. I haven’t watched that race in a while, but that’s one of my favorite races and one that sticks out to me a lot, because I was battling with Dungey and Villopoto. It was fun. That race was cool, too. That’s like a home race for me, so my fan support there was insane. That Honda as well was probably the most comfortable bike I’ve ever been on. That year’s bike was before the big change. Then they went to a new frame and stuff. That was a really comfortable bike. Perfect power and chassis. Everything worked really good. I just gelled with it. I was riding off pure comfort and talent, because back then I didn’t train smart or anything. I just rode bicycles. I didn’t know anything about training then, so it was pure young kid blood just out there, wide open. I can perfectly remember after I think the second moto where I jumped a little sideways and Dunge kind of landed on me. He had some words for me after that race. It was funny.
[Laughs] Yeah, I think you’ve had guys get mad at you a time or two. Does that bother you? When you left the track that day, were you like, “Oh, man. He’s mad.” Do you care?
No. It was hilarious. I didn’t know Ryan [Dungey] ever got mad at anybody. I’m pretty sure that was the first time he maybe did get mad ever because he exploded at me. He was not happy. I was like, my bad, dude. I was like, that was sick. I wasn’t mad at all. I thought it was funny.
Your confidence from those couple of races at the end of 2011, and then you won Monster Cup…your confidence must have been so high at that point!
Yeah, it was for sure. I got off the 250 and went to the 450 and just gelled with the bike so much and it was so comfortable. Like I said, my training or whatever, obviously I trained, but I didn’t know anything. I probably did way too much training, to be honest. I was just naturally really comfortable on that bike and could ride it any way I wanted to. Everything clicked perfect and the team was good. Everything was just really fun.
Is a lot of this because you’re new and the pressure isn’t there? Or was it literally like bike changes that slowed you down a bit? You couldn’t stay on that high.
I don’t know. I was super comfortable on the bike and then the frame stuff changed and then I went testing and did things like that. It was kind of eye-opening. I didn’t know anything about testing, so I was probably just picking stuff. At Honda as well, it’s absolutely mind-boggling how many parts they have and things to test, compared to any team I’ve ever been on. Say if a team will have two sets of foot pegs to try. Honda will have six sets of foot pegs to try. Like up, down, back, over… It’s quite incredible. For me now, as a rider, that would be really cool to have that, but then as a kid, I knew nothing about testing. In 2011 when I hopped on that bike, I didn’t test really. I just rode it one time and I was like; this is sick! So, I didn’t have to test it or anything. I think it was probably Trey’s [Canard’s] setting and I just went and rode it and sent it.
So Dungey was mad at you that day, like we saw with you and Eli [Tomac] a couple weeks ago getting mad at each other. Then I talked to you and Eli at Daytona and you didn’t seem bothered by it one bit.
No. Honestly, people are still going on about that Eli thing. I’m sure he’s probably over it too, I would assume. I don’t know. We don’t talk on the phone or anything! [Laughs] It was a bit blown out of proportion, just because cameras were there at the race and people thought I was being the “B” word and whatever. It was just after the race and we’re fired up. That stuff happens all the time, but the cameras don’t get it. This one time it happened, and the cameras were there. I look at it now and I watch the videos and stuff. I laugh because it’s funny. I watch the passes that happened during the race. Yeah, I probably overreacted a little more than I should have. But I was mad at the time. That’s my job. I put everything into it. So, I thought it wasn’t that cool, but it was just racing. We were talking after the race. I think it was funny. I don’t hold a grudge over it, and I’m sure he doesn’t either. It’s just racing and move on from it.
So that Unadilla race, from 2011, that was one of your favorites. Any other particular motocross races that stick out to you throughout your career?
I think that same year, Southwick the first moto, we lost the engine, but I believe I won the second moto. I’m pretty sure I won the second moto. So that one sticks out for sure. There’s definitely a lot of races, but that Unadilla one always sticks out because that was my first 450 and battling with two of the greatest racers in my era alive, so that was really cool. That’s one that definitely sticks out the most.
I know the answer already. Let me guess. You battled with those guys, and then you win a moto at Southwick. Were they also some of the easiest races you’ve ever had? It almost always works that way.
Yeah. You’ve been around long enough to know that. It’s so weird. The hardest races are the ones where you’re not in the fight or in the hunt. That Unadilla race, I was just riding all off comfort and my own talent. A race like Southwick, just super comfortable, just riding it. It was super easy. The races you win are the easiest. I look back even this year at Anaheim 1. That race wasn’t that hard. I led for a while. Adam [Cianciarulo] was behind me, not super close but enough. Just riding super comfortable. Then I made that one huge mistake, went off the track in the rhythm lane. Adam passes me, then I kind of start pushing hard to get back to him. You would think that would be really hard, but it wasn’t because I was just in such a comfort zone. Then Adam made that mistake and I moved back into the lead and pushed the last five laps or whatever as hard as I can and won the race. But it wasn’t a hard race. I would say the races after that were way mentally harder and physically demanding just because I wasn’t up front in that comfort zone.
It’s that sweet spot that you’re probably looking for every week, right?
That sweet spot. When you find that sweet spot, there’s no better feeling in the world than just riding off complete comfort, and your bike’s doing exactly what you want it to do. You’re just in that sweet spot. It’s an incredible feeling as a racer.
Is this current state only affecting you from a racing, business, schedule standpoint, or are you a little worried about actually getting coronavirus itself? I’m getting answers all over the map on that. Are you worried about the health part, or just the work part?
It’s scary, for sure. Me and my wife actually got really sick in January. I’ve never been so sick in my life. I had a lot of the symptoms that people have with this coronavirus. At one point I was like, I need to go to the hospital. I was so sick. It was after A1. In St. Louis, I don’t even know how I raced. I got on the plane and flew there. It was weird. It was something that I’ve never experienced in my life in the chest and stuff. It was quite scary. Now that I think about it, I’m like, man, did we have that? But it obviously affects everybody. We definitely don’t want to get sick. Obviously, we stay away from everybody and do everything we can when we go food shopping. Cover the mouth and stuff like that. It’s scary times. Obviously hopefully it’s getting better.
If this antibody test comes out where people can accurately find out that they have already had coronavirus, I would think you would want to look into that, right?
Yeah, for sure. I think that would be something to definitely look into. In the beginning of the supercross season a lot of racers got really sick. Maybe some people got the flu, but for sure, that wasn’t the flu that I had. It was weird. It was hard to breathe. Couldn’t breathe. Who knows, when that test comes out definitely get it and see if they can tell us if we had it or not.
You got any other stuff you’re doing or binge watching or stuff to pass the time?
I’m going to go clean up in the garage because yesterday I made a complete mess in there just going through stuff. It’s cool actually to go through stuff. I was in the garage at the track the other day, just finding cool stuff. I’m at the house finding cool stuff I didn’t even know I had that. So that’s kind of cool. But definitely been on Netflix a little bit. We’re always on Amazon Prime, the video. They have a lot of UK shows. We’re all into watching these home shows where they redo these really old houses in the UK, so we’ve been watching that quite a bit.
You said you want to move to the UK when you’re done racing. When you watch this show about fixing up an old house in the UK, are you already thinking that’s what you want to do?
We’re so unsure of what we want to do when we decide to move over there. I’m always thinking we should buy a little farm and do some farming or something, with animals and stuff. There’s one where they redid an old farm and had the animals and stuff. I thought that was super cool. But who knows? My brain is always running at a million miles an hour. I watch something and I get an idea, so I’m all over the map. My wife, I know it drives her crazy because I’m always like, let’s do this, this, this… She puts me back on track, just like with anything in life. You’ve got to have someone to keep you in your lane.