17 Laps and the Truth. Justin Hill Speaks
The 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Series marks Josh Hill’s fifth in the 250SX Regional Supercross division. And while there have been flash-bright moments of excellence – wins in San Diego and the East/West Shootout in 2014 as well as a triumph at Toronto in 2016 come straight to mind –as you’re about to read, it’s not really where the 21 year-old from Yoncalla, Oregon wants to be. Like his older brother Josh was from 2008 through 2015, Justin Hill wants to be a 450cc competitor. To get there, at least to his way of seeing things, Hill needs to not only be consistent winner in the 250cc classification, but a champion as well. And so far, so good. After placing a somewhat blasé fifth at the curtain-raising round at Angel Stadium, Hill stormed back from an off-song start at Petco Park in San Diego to nearly pip Shane McElrath at the finish line. Then on Saturday night before a packed house at 2000 E Gene Autry Way in Anaheim, California, it all came right for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider stamped his authority on things by winning convincingly over title antagonists Aaron Plessinger and McElrath. The day after what was a 17-lap race, Hill spoke about the win and immediate and not too distant future. Take it away Justin.
Justin, a big win on Saturday night and I’m sure you’ve thought it all through during the past 24 hours. How do you feel and what do you think about what played out inside Angel Stadium?
I feel good about it. More than anything, I just want to keep doing it. I kind of knew last weekend we could do it when I came up and almost beat them from way back. I didn’t want to be thinking could have, should have, would have when I woke up today. As far as being excited about it, I am, but I’m more excited about doing it again, again and again and trying to win this championship.
You raced to fifth at the opening round at Anaheim, but some people who work closely with you believed you might have gotten a little tired during the final laps of that main event. At round two at Petco Park down in San Diego, you got a bad start but charged from way to finish a hard earned second. Thoughts?
This season, and not a whole lot of people know it, but it’s probably the absolute least amount of time I’ve had on the bike before a season began. Not a great position to be in when you want to win the thing, so when I came in fifth on the first night, I was like, “Man, it’s a bummer, but it’s something we can build off of and do better.” I honestly didn’t think I could get enough work in before the season started. I made every day count. I made every single day count from the moment that I got that fifth place. I said, “We can do this, it’s just going to take a lot of elbow grease.” I’ve been working real hard every single day since then whether it’s working hard on the track or working hard in the gym, it rally paid off last night with getting a win. That was rad and that was the step that we wanted to take towards the whole deal, but it was tough. It was really tough to get there.
Back in the pits at the San Diego race I was standing there before you headed into the stadium for the main event and Mitch Payton said to you, “Just hit your marks and you have it.” You got a bad start and things looked bleak but you charged and almost won the thing. Confidence-inspiring?
San Diego put me in a good mental place. I took that that race as a, “I just came from way, way, way back and almost beat these guys. There is no reason why I can’t beat these guys straight-up in any situation. If we are ever up there at the start, just run away and forget them.” Sometimes it works out really easy for you and sometimes it doesn’t work out that easy. Last night it worked out easy. At San Diego and the way I was riding that day, to be real honest, I felt way better all day than I did yesterday at Anaheim. I felt terrible. You don’t want to tell anybody because you don’t want to put it in your own head and bring it up, but I didn’t feel great all day. Then when we lined up for the main event and the flames were shooting out above the gate, I thought, Well, this is for points so it’s time to put it up. That’s just my mentality when I show up to the line San Diego should have been a win anyways, but it was a confidence booster knowing that I could come from way back and do it. I think from that night on I now know that where I’m at. I don’t have any doubt in myself, I don’t have any doubt in the bike and I don’t have any doubt in my physical ability.
I think you’ll agree with me when the importance of the start is getting to be a very well-worn topic when it comes to these main events, but it is what it is, huh?
Yeah, no doubt. Like last night I didn’t really have the speed on Aaron [Plessinger] in the heat race and when I got to start right behind him, I thought, Well, I better just try and zap this guy because he’s on tonight and I just need to get out front. As far as the start in the main goes, when I see the guys that I need to battle with right there, it’s hard until you get separated. It’s like the start is the worst part of the night. If you can start and you’re away from everybody, that’s nice, but that hardly ever happens. You’re always going to have your guys you have to beat right there, right next to you. I think I’ve improved my starts a little bit as I came out in fourth place last night and passed into first in the first four corners. I led every single lap and that’s a perfect night in my mind because I didn’t have to pass anybody past the fourth corner. That’s just the way every single race could go.
How was it to come rolling back into the pits last night after the main event to meet Mitch, your mechanic Shawn, and your family?
That was so cool. My mechanic Shawn, he’s the man and he’s with me all the time and he puts in such good work and I couldn’t ask for a better guy. Mitch, obviously, has been a longtime supporter of me and he’s given me another chance on this team and I’m so grateful for that. Not too many people get the opportunity to ride for him and then ride for him again I was a fool to take off from him in the first place. I have a lot of respect for him and I really, really want to fill that empty spot on his door with a number one plate. I think that would be one of the coolest things to do for him. I think it would be awesome.
The last race you won was at Toronto on March 12, 2016. Cool to win another one?
Yeah. As far as the wins go, I got home this morning and I grabbed my trophy and I grabbed my bottle and I got everything hung up on the wall. I’ve got four now including the shootout (note: Hill won the 2014 East/West Shootout in Las Vegas) and thought, That’s all cool and it feels good to have accomplished these things, but there is still something SO missing. As I get older and as I get better and as I win again, this win is less and less important to me than the big picture which is to be able to show everybody that I am consistently a good guy. And truthfully, it’s also a little bit of a mixed emotion for me because while it’s great to win in the Lites class and it’s great to show everybody that I’m still around, the Lites bike isn’t my bike. I want to win this thing and I want to get on a big bike because I think that’s my bike. It’s a little bit of a mixed emotion just because I just want to move forward from it. It’s not like I don’t like this class, it just means I want to win so I can kind of move away and get in the big boy class.
There has been a lot of chatter in the past few years of how good you ride and race the 450. Being determined to move up to the premiere division, what is the battle plan you Mitch Payton, your brother, your trainer Johnny Louch and your family have sketched out for the rest of 2017?
The battle plan is the same as it has been. Like I said, I didn’t really have a good go from the beginning, but I just this is the year. I’m older and I’ve learned a lot and have been through some things – and not all good things – and I just know that you have to keep a certain mentality throughout the year. In past years when I had the ability and when I had the speed and I had the fitness and everything was going right, I don’t think that I gave it everything I could have gave it. There was a lot left on the last four years coming into this one. I think that moving forward for the rest of the year the game plan is to keep this mentality that I want to win every single time I ride and that’s it. If I can just keep that mindset I don’t think that we’re going to have a problem. I think I’m good enough and I think we do a good enough job and me and the whole team have a good thing going. I have going thing going with my mechanic and I have a good thing going with Johnny [Louch] and we’re real in-tune on what we think and we agree on a lot of things. I also have a good thing going with my brother and my dad where they are constantly telling me what they think I can do better on the bike and that’s extremely helpful to me. Moving forward, it’s on me. I have the best the stuff, I have the best people. It’s all on me because it’s how much work I want to put in and it’s how much I’m willing to gain and to get. When there’s 25 points to be gotten, I’m going for it. That’s what I have to do. That’s what I have to think about all the time. That’s what Dungey does. These guys that are all successful, you look at them and that’s just because they want to win. These guys are persistent and they do what they have to do to win.
Heart and determination is a very big part of being successful in this sport, isn’t it?
Oh, it’s everything. As a kid growing up watching the sport, you knew the guys who were stubborn and who had the will to continue to battle everyone and you also knew the guys that didn’t have the so-called heart and would pull off if something wasn’t right. Especially now as I’m older, I’ve come to understand it a lot more. Heart is the deal because everyone faces adversity in this sport. There is no way for it to go your way every single time. Look at last night. One of the best guys in the world took a gnarly crash out of nowhere. It’s never going to go your way every single time so you just have the heart and continue to push.