Justin Hoeft has experienced more in motocross than others twice his age. Born to a former professional racer, the California native has claimed titles at the top amateur events in the country, competed against top talent from around the world, and ridden top-level equipment. But for all of the positive moments, there have been incidents that in many ways overshadow all of the accomplishments. First was the loss of his younger brother, Tyler, at a race, followed by a serious crash months later that led to a lengthy hospital stay due to serious injuries. After a brief break and return to a "normal life," Hoeft has turned his attention back to becoming one of the sport's top talents.
Darrin Hoeft was a top-10 finisher in the 125 class at Supercross events on the West Coast before having two sons, Justin and Tyler. Once the boys were old enough to control a mini bike on their own, they were cut loose on the family's yard in Castaic, California. "My dad never really pushed us into riding or racing," Justin shares. "When we got to the age and wanted to race as a career, then it changed a bit. Growing up it was all for fun and my dad didn't even think about racing. He had raced professionally, so he was over it. When we came up and raced, he was laid-back about it. He let us do our deal and however we finished was okay." Eventually both boys were ranked among the top amateur talent in California's scene and on the national level, with Justin taking two titles (85cc 12-14 Stock and 85cc 12-14 Mod) at the 2012 Loretta Lynn AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships. Interest from the industry piqued with these results and soon came a contract with the Troy Lee Designs-backed race team. "The whole team was rad. They supported me from when I was 14 to 18 years old, and we had a lot of fun," Hoeft says, noting the race team's amateur division. "The bikes and the way the team was ran was good."
Tragedy struck the family during their trip to Texas for the AMA Spring Championship in 2015, as his younger brother, Tyler, passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a crash. The incident was felt throughout the sport, but Justin continued on with little concern. "Right after we flew home from Texas, it was gnarly," Hoeft says, reflecting on the past. "All that we know is riding, so I never stopped. Two days later, my friends and I were all riding at a track by my house for fun." A second massive setback came just a few weeks later, as Justin suffered broken vertebra, internal bleeding, and lacerations to his kidneys, pancreas, and spleen during a qualifying race for that year's running of Loretta's. "After that I was over it mentally and physically. I had been injured so many times, then my brother, and being in the hospital for three weeks, it was overwhelming. I thought it was time to get away from racing and to be a normal kid."
For nearly a year, Hoeft spent time with his family and friends in Southern California as he finished out high school and saw other things that life had to offer. "Stepping away from racing and coming back was the best thing that could have ever happened to me," he claims two years later. "I learned to be a normal kid again and know that life isn't all about racing. There are other ways to make a living and have fun than just riding a dirt bike." The desire to race remained, though, and midway through 2016 Hoeft worked with TLD Team Manager Tyler Keefe on a comeback. "I didn't have a bike, so Tyler Keefe told me that he wanted two solid months of training for me to prove myself before I started riding," he notes. "I agreed to it, did the full two months, and kept a logbook of it all." It was decided that Hoeft would compete aboard a race bike during the final round of the 2016 Monster Energy FIM Motocross World Championship at Glen Helen Raceway, with hopes of earning a full-time professional contract for 2017. "Three weeks before the GP I got the bike. I feel like he [Keefe] was obligated to do it because of all the things that he told me. I was told that depending on my results at the GP would be if I was signed for the following year or not. I thought by my results at the GP I deserved to be signed since no one on the team did better than I did." Unfortunately, the contract did not come and the two parties went their separate ways soon after.
With no set support for 2017, Hoeft quickly worked to build some sort of program with the Fasthouse brand for his rookie season in Supercross. "I had talked to Kenny Alexander [Fasthouse owner] about doing something for Supercross, just for the West Coast, but with the budget and how much it would have cost, it was too expensive to go racing that soon," Hoeft says. Later came an opportunity with the newly formed IB Corp/Ryno Power Racing team, but things did not pan out for the full season. "I tested with them in December, right before the start of the season. They told me that they didn't have the budget for another rider, but halfway through one rider [Martin Castelo] got sent back to Ecuador, so they called me again."
Hoeft lined up at four rounds of the 250 West Coast region of the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Series, with a 10th-place finish at Seattle being the highlight of the run, remarkable results for the limited time the rider, team, and trainer Ryan Hughes were able to put in prior to the first gate drop. "I thought that I was going to do better near the end of the season, but I had a couple of falls that screwed me up. It was a great rookie season even though I came in a few rounds late," Hoeft shares. "I think Ryan Hughes was the reason I picked up Supercross and progressed through each round. He is an awesome, trainer and everything we did helped tremendously. I had the time of my life riding with them for Supercross."
When Supercross wrapped up, Hoeft was again without a team, so he again went to work with Alexander and Fasthouse for a one-race deal. The duo decided to line up for the second round of the of 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship in the 450 class at Glen Helen aboard a competitive bike borrowed from Manny Gasper. "Everyone at the pit was stoked, and my dad came to the starting line with me, which was rad because we hadn't done that since I was 14," Hoeft says. "It was a little nerve-racking to line up with the best riders and that had my heart pumping. I felt like I rode really well, even if I was tentative in the first few laps. My endurance was good and everything thing seemed to work, and I was having fun." Hoeft battled with factory riders throughout the day to claim 11-14 moto scores and 14th overall for the day, a feat that surprised many in the pits.
For now, Hoeft is in search of some sort of support for 2018. His finishes through Supercross and Glen Helen reportedly have him on the radar for some teams, and it will be interesting to see if he lands somewhere for his sophomore season. "My goal is to be back on a factory team. That's what I've worked towards since coming back, but it's taking time," Hoeft says. "I like to have fun, but I put the work in to be in the best position that I can be. I'm getting older and more mature, which I think has a lot to do with it. I think that right now is my time and I'll keep going."
With support from 51FIFTY Energy Yamaha, Hoeft raced the 2017 Washougal MX round of the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship and the 2017 TransWorld SLAM Pro Race, where he claimed a moto win and finished third overall.