Coming into Anaheim One, Josh Hill’s comeback was one of the biggest story lines. Sidelined by a serious injury for numerous seasons, expectations were modest for the former front runner in his first race since 2009. It sadly came to an end in the first turn of Hill’s heat race, when a pile-up broke the Hart & Huntington racer’s leg and put him back on the DL. Hill planned to come back midway through the year, but a second freak accident killed the progress just before Houston. After retreating to his Northwestern home for the summer, Hill and the team are putting a full effort into a one-off effort this weekend at Washougal.
After a tumultuous year which wasn’t what you expected it to be, you are racing Washougal this weekend. How did that come up?
Well, I didn’t race at all this year when I got hurt at Anaheim in the first turn. I was trying to come back at Houston and broke my elbow in a weird little crash. The team wasn’t doing outdoors, so I moved up to Oregon for the summer and have been doing a whole lot of riding. I called Kenny and Carey and told them I wanted to race, and at first it was going to be with a Sprinter van and my mechanic. But it looks like the whole team is coming up now with the semi, Kyle Bentley, and my mechanic. We are going to make a real event out of it.
You’ve pretty much spent the summer on your family’s property in Oregon?
Yeah, just been all over the Northwest riding and trying to race local races as much as I can, just because I haven’t raced very much in the last two years. I wanted to get back on a bike and behind the gate to do a little bit of racing so I can judge where I am at. I have been riding in the Northwest since May.
How are your injuries right now?
My elbow was nothing. It was just a charley horse compared to what I had going on. It was broken, but it wasn’t an issue. That thing is all healed up. The only thing I have going is my ankle. I still can’t feel my toes, but I can move my ankle a little bit better and it is getting stronger. My ankle might not ever be where it was, but I have learned to adapt to it pretty good. When I am riding or am having a good day, the thing is not even bothering me.
How important is this weekend not only to your program for next year, but your career in general?
It is not really that important, to be honest. My career has gone down the path where I have been hurt or done this and that, but I think I am still pretty fast. If I go this weekend, I want to show that I am back on a bike and am solid, to prove to myself that I can still do it. If I can still do it, I will pursue Supercross some more. I think I have proven myself and that I have the speed to do it, but it will just be going to Washougal to show the local fans and my team that stuck behind me for two years that I am back.
What is your plan for next year? Will you be with Hart & Huntington for another year, or are you in negotiations now?
You know how it is, it’s 2012 and no one is signed up for anything. I am still hanging out and waiting for everyone to get their places set, because I am a little bit farther down the totem pole than I used to be. Once everyone figures out where they are going, I will be that second or third string rider, wherever I go. I am hoping that it will be on the Dodge Hart & Huntington team again. I am really crossing my fingers and hoping those guys have a spot for me. It is looking like that is a possibility, but nothing is solid yet.
Below is a gallery of Hill during the Supercross pre-season, shot during his session for the February cover.
You said you have been riding non-stop since May. How do you feel compared to 2009 or 2010 right now?
That is so tough to say. I am riding and I feel really good on a local level. I am fast and can show up an win local races, so that is good, but going in and racing Washougal will be a test of where I am at. I feel great on the bike and feel like I do some things better than I used to, and some things maybe not quite as good, but all in all I think my program is solid. I have been doing motos and have spending a lot of time on my bike, making sure I do a lot of 40 minute motos. I think my endurance is on par with where it has ever been, so we will see. I don’t know if I have as much raw speed as I used to, I used to be more aggro, but I feel pretty good.
Are you nervous at all, feeling like you are going pro all over again?
Not really, because back in the day I had a lot of pressure on myself. I was factory Yamaha, I was expected to perform, and now no one expects really anything out of me. I think the majority of people think I am done and it is over, but for me, I am going to the races and see where I am at.
Are you surprised at how much the industry has stuck behind you? Normally if something like this happens to a rider, they are completely shot off and never heard from again. You still have media coverage, sponsors, and the fans. Does that make all that has happened easier to swallow?
Yeah. The whole deal sucks. Getting hurt while doing the X Games thing, it is a huge bummer. But it is cool, like you said, that TransWorld gave me a cover going into Anaheim. I never would have expected that. I had Hart & Huntington stick behind me for two years, and I didn’t even ride for Hart & Huntington before this. They just stepped up and wanted to support me. We thought we would be going racing this year, which is why they signed me up and unfortunately it didn’t work, but they still stuck behind me which is amazing. Those guys have been so cool to me. If I can’t ride for them next year, I totally respect that. Those guys have been so good to me that I can’t thank them enough. I have ridden for DC Shoes since I was 13 years old, and those guys have been with me the whole time, and I can’t thank Ryan and Nate enough. It is a cool deal, and it keeps me motivated and wanting to go out and prove something to the people.
Say this weekend you come in and kill it, a top 10 finish. What will that do for your confidence and expectations for next year?
Honestly, top 10 is what I am expecting out of myself, and that will mean I am right on par with what I am thinking. Anything above that will be big for my confidence. If I finish outside the top 10, I am really not going to be happy. As much as I say I am not putting pressure on myself, but a top 10 is where I need to be.
Do you think you have an advantage at Washougal? Have you ridden it so many times that it will be a benefit to you?
While I have ridden it a lot, and Villopoto and I used to have some killer battles up there on 80′s, but since I have moved down south I haven’t gotten to ride it that much. It is like an even playing field. I do know the track really well, growing up on it, but I have probably ridden Glen Helen more than I have ridden Washougal in the last six or seven years. It’ll be good, though, having the hometown crowd on my side.