Justin Hill | On The Rise

Photos by Jeff Kardas

While Justin Hill entered the first full season of his professional career touted as one to watch in 2013, injures kept the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider from reaching what many (including boss Mitch Payton) felt was anywhere near his potential. During the long off-season, Hill re-evaluated the experience gained, made changes to his program, and found the confidence missing from his first two tours around the country. This made all the difference in the new year, and Hill reasserted himself as threat in the competitive 250 West Coast championship with a string of solid finishes and a main event win in San Diego. Just when he reached the high point of his early season, Hill faced an eight week layoff as the tour turned East and left title in limbo for nearly two months. What happens when racing resumes just a few weeks from now is anyone’s guess, but Justin Hill is sure that he will be right back in the thick of the action. 

This is your sophomore season in the 250 class and so far it has gone incredibly well. For you, how does it feel?

It feels good. I expected this out of myself and really put the work in, and now that it has gone well, I feel even more fired up and want to keep bringing it to the next level. I think that this year is the turning point for me and my career, because I don’t see any reason why I cannot keep climbing the ladder, getting better, and keep winning. I think that know I have done it, it will be so much easier (laughs).

Last year you said that your confidence wasn’t there and mentally it was a little too much to take in. Does knowing what you do now been the key to this year?

Yeah, pretty much because it sets everything in place. Last year I wasn’t confident and entered the season injured. I only did five rounds and go landed on. I entered Supercross injured, tried to salvage it with good races, left the season injured and entered the outdoors. For me that was crazy, because I have never really had that much time off of the bike. I went six years of riding all of the time and never had a setback, so it was tough for me to be thrown in the class with all of those setbacks and not be confident in myself. But now that I am back to where I feel I belong, and that has been the biggest boost for me, with being healthy and realizing I am what I thought. Actually getting the results has been icing on the cake.

Did you make changes to your training or riding program in the off-season?

We changed some things up and I said I wanted to lengthen the Supercross workouts that we did. I wasn’t in bad shape but the reason I struggled in some races was being injured and not having enough time to train. This year all we needed was the time and we had it. We laid it out so that I did a six-week boot camp, because I always base my training on how boxers train since I am a big fan of the sport and love how they do it. I think it is smart, so I based my training off that. Having the whole time to do it worked out really well, because I think what we were doing last year worked, but we didn’t have the best opportunity to do it.

Although many expected Hill to be more competitive last year, his first full professional season, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider has found his stride in the 2014 250 West Coast championship and sits third in the standings, 24 points down to Jason Anderson.

Experience also comes into play, because as much as someone could tell you what to expect, there is nothing that replaces actually going through a full professional season…

Exactly. It was good race with some of the faster guys, because we had Musquin, Hahn, and Dean all on the East Coast last year. I had already raced them and had a pretty good idea, so being around those guys and seeing how they ride and what they are about really helped. I was into watching the races and studying all of it, so the experience came from being around everyone. That’s why I’m really surprised about Adam. I knew that he would be good, but I didn’t think he would come right out of the gate and run away with it. What Adam has is what I lacked last year with injuries, because he has been riding with Villopoto and has the winning attitude. When he gets out there, he has it in his mind that he his better than everyone and it works. That is what I lacked last year and is what I got back now, so it is all good. I have been hammering things for the outdoors so that I can have a good season because I entered it last year injured and was just mediocre. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life; I was living in Oregon but it just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t feel like I was getting the things I needed, so I left my family there and moved to California and got my place so that I could do it on my own. Now that I have all my ducks in a row, I think I will continue to have good stuff happen.

How does racing on the West Coast this year compare to racing on the East Coast last year? The travel is much easier, but the competition is a bit higher.

The West Coast has been known to have “the guys,” and honestly if I raced there last year, I would have been eaten up because I wouldn’t have had the time to heal from my injury, and then had guys like Tomac and Roczen who were solid. Last year the East Coast had really good top guys. At the first round this year, I was watching Martin lead and then have that crash, but got up and still had a huge gap over the fourth and fifth place guys. Then he crashed again and still landed on the podium. It hit me and I thought, “You couldn’t do that on the West Coast.” This side is notoriously thicker, but I am so glad that I rode the West Coast because over there I could have possibly knocked off more wins and maybe a championship, but I still have the opportunity now and even gain more respect for winning over here.

Hill’s win in San Diego came at the right time, since he propelled him up the championship standings and gave him additional motivation as the 250 West Coast entered a roughly two month break from competition.

You won San Diego and then went to an eight-week break from racing. It is huge because you go into the downtime with a huge boost of confidence knowing that you can win, but at the same time you don’t get to carry the momentum. Has it been frustrating to wait so long before lining up again?

It is and it isn’t. When I won, I wanted to race the next weekend and win again! But honestly it is good because I can reflect on it and know what I can work on to keep having it happen. It was the best night possible, but I know that I can still work on it and learn so there is nothing left on the table. I got on the podium at Oakland, but at Anaheim Three I had some bad luck and got into a weird pile-up, which really messed my hand up. I couldn’t really ride through that week but did all my training, so when I won at San Diego I was really pumped because I wasn’t feeling that good coming in. I am really lucky we had the break after that, because I got to let my hand rest a little bit and redo everything so I’m not getting lazy. When I won, I got even more fired up and started to do more stuff.

In addition to training and preparing, what have you done in the down time? Did the team do more testing for Supercross or did you jump right into work for the Nationals?

I rode a couple more days of Supercross after San Diego, and lot of the guys took some time off, but I jumped back in and went to the outdoors. I rode only one or two days of outdoors before I started testing and I am almost done with it now. Thursday should be my last day before I switch back to Supercross. We have been hammering it to get the bike good and have made a huge leap, so it will be good for the outdoors. Aside from training and that, I haven’t done too much. I wanted to re-evaluate the training I was doing because I getting antsy and ready to do more. But when I was thinking that, it proved that I have good people around me, like my trainer who said not to fix what wasn’t broken. I’m glad he told me that because I was going, “What are we going to do because I want to keep winning!” Now I can rest assured that what we are doing is good and that we need to keep doing it.

Do you view yourself as a better Supercross rider or National rider?

You know, that is a tricky question. I feel like I have good things in both, but they are really different. I think I am good at the timing of Supercross, because my brother and I hear all the time how we have the good style of BMX in jumping and down siding things. But at the same time, I love doing the gnarly long motos. It’s kind of a catch twenty-two, because my style fits Supercross well but my training and my fitness fits the Nationals. If everything is going good and I’m not injured, I feel like I’m ready to rock at the thirty-minute mark. In Supercross you have to be ready when the gate drops, and that is something I had to work on a lot. What I like about the outdoors is that you don’t have to drop the hammer right away because you have so much time and you can come back from a bad start. I’m fifty-fifty right now and having a good Supercross season right now, so ask me that again when the Nationals are over (laughs).

Hill does not shy away from close racing, and with only three rounds remaining in the 250 West Coast season, passes like this may be necessary.

How does it feel to be in the hunt for the title?

That is my main focus. I have dreamed of winning a championship my whole life and now that things are finally coming together, it warms my heart that I’m in the position to possibly do it. I think I have a little bit of an advantage because I’m chasing and no one really expects for me to be in it when we come to Vegas. The two guys out front, they are more worried about each other because they are so close, and I think I can use that to my advantage.

How does it feel to have Mitch and the team in your corner?

They are all good. Another thing that boosted me up from last year when I was in Oregon was that my mechanic swapped with me and went to work with Dean. They got along really well and I got a new guy, and we get along really well and have a lot more in common. When I came back, it all fell into place. Beyond the whole team having confidence, we have everything right this time. The bikes are where we need them and I did a lot more testing to make sure my bike was good, and we the people around to help out.

Your family is very close at the races, but now you are away from your parents and have Josh nearby. Do you get to spend as much time with him as one would expect or are you on different programs?

We try to see each other as much as possible, but it is really difficult to ride together because we are on different teams. It’s always questionable if I’m allowed to ride at Suzuki with him. I don’t see him as much as I’d like to, but we try to hang out as much as we can as brothers and kind of do our own thing and are separate. My parents come to most of the rounds and my grandpa will be at every round of the West Coast, so it’s a huge family deal. But I would like to have more time with him and ride with him. I’ve said it my whole life that everything I do on the motorcycle I learned from him. It is just so natural, because it’s like looking in a mirror when we ride to me. I don’t know if everyone else thinks it’s that similar, since I use the power a little more, he uses the clutch more, and we scrub differently, but as far as body positioning in corners I think it is similar. I always gain a lot when I ride and train with him, and I’m hoping we can do it a lot more.