New year, new team, and new rider for mechanic Billy Hartle who makes the jump from Monster Energy Yamaha to the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas team for 2021 and beyond. Hartle has worked for Aaron Plessinger for years, and when AP was injured and the Yamaha team needed a mechanic for Justin Barcia, Billy jumped over. It went so well that when #51 jumped over to the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas team for 2021, he asked Billy to make the leap with him. We caught up to Hartle to talk about that, and more.
Racer X Online: Let’s talk about this. You stepped in for Justin at Yamaha and then he gets the ride with TLD GasGas. Why did you go with him?
Billy Hartle: Honestly, it was just a better deal at the time. Everything was changing with Yamaha, as far as Star taking over and all that, so it just worked out to be a better deal for me to go along with him to TLD. Also, just ever since I started at Yamaha, we’ve kind of got along pretty good. Just created a pretty good friendship there and it just worked out.
I was thinking you probably could have gone back to Star, right, if you wanted to?
Yeah, absolutely. I had the option to do that. Just taking everything into consideration, the TLD deal just worked out better for me in the end.
So what’s it been like? You’ve been there a month or whatever it is. How has it been going?
It’s been great. The guys here are awesome. Everybody’s fun to work with. They welcomed me in pretty well. The bike’s good. It’s been a lot of fun watching Justin adapt to it. It’s definitely been a really good time.
What’s it like working for Justin after so long with Aaron and all that? What’s he like to work for?
It’s a little change of pace. I was kind of happy that I asked him. I think it was time maybe for something different after doing the same thing for the past eight years or however long it’s been. Working with Justin, he’s just one of those guys that’s always one hundred percent wide open all the time.
It’s got to be a little bit different for you. Did something go south with Aaron? Was it just time for a change? Kind of get into that a little more because I think everyone associates you with Aaron.
No, nothing went south at all. Honestly, Aaron had his deal to go back to Star because he was still under contract with Yamaha for another year. Technically speaking, I was too, but with Star taking over that kind of voided that for me. Then spending that last two-thirds of the outdoor season with Justin was a lot of fun. It was just a whole change of pace and something different that I feel like I kind of needed maybe. It was getting to the point where it was just the same thing over and over again every day. Just doing the same work. So it was just a little bit of a change that worked out pretty well. I think between Justin and his wife and me and my wife we’ve formed a pretty good friendship and bond there, and it just worked out really good.
Is it weird for you to work on a GasGas after all those years at blue and the reverse motors and everything else? Has it been strange?
There are some things I like about it, but it definitely took me a while the first time I had to build one. There wasn’t any GasGas bikes in the country yet, so I was building the first ones. So I didn’t really have anything to go off of. It’s pretty similar to the KTM, but there are a couple little differences here and there, so I was kind of all on my own. But I learned it pretty quick, I think. It’s definitely different.
What’s it like seeing Justin on a steel frame bike? It must be kind of weird, huh?
Yeah, it’s weird. He got pretty comfortable on it really fast. I was kind of surprised. I thought it would be a little bit of a transition period. I thought it would be a big difference in the way it felt, but honestly he adapted to it pretty quick.
You got to love the caged-in motor mounts on the GasGas, right? Things like that, little small stuff?
Yeah. No foot peg mounts, engine mounts already in there. A lot of things like that are super cool. I think the KTM motto, Ready to Race, kind of thing is pretty neat.
When the switch to Barcia originally happened, you didn’t think you’d stay with Justin, right? You just thought, “As soon as Aaron comes back I’ll go back to him,” right?
No. At that point, I was for sure just whenever Aaron gets back I’ll be back in the saddle with AP and moving forward. But then Justin was talking to TLD and then he had said that he enjoyed working with me and all that, so TK [Tyler Keefe] gave me a call and said they would like me to come along and the offer was just better than what I was going to get at Yamaha, so I had to go.
I think we all want Aaron to succeed. He’s a really good dude and he’s fast. It hasn’t worked on a 450 yet for him. Injuries just seem to keep happening. I’m guessing that’s the biggest reason. Maybe if he can stay healthy and maybe if the Star guys can help him set the bike up a little better than what he’s used to, maybe that will be the change he needs, do you think?
Absolutely. I want nothing but the best for the guy. I love AP. Me and him have had, like you said, championships together, so much fun, and success together. I think bike setup was a really big struggle for us the last few years, and I really think the Star guys will be able to turn that around a bit. Hopefully he can just stay injury-free and then I’m sure he’ll be a podium contender guy.
Images courtesy of PHD Photography