Things get interesting every summer for independent racers in the United States. Many privateers put their focus on Supercross through each race season and will then hit on select rounds of the Nationals between standalone fair races and events that offer lucrative paydays. It’s rare to see a rider hop to the other side of the globe in favor of a paycheck, but that’s exactly what Justin Starling has decided to do this year. Through connections with teams and promoters overseas, Starling has put together a three-week run of races in Europe (ZwarteCross in the Netherlands, Supercross Cup in Italy, ADAC Nationals in Germany) and will finish out the rest of the summer with the Castrol Suzuki team. During the downtime at the Supercross Cup last week, we spent a few minutes with Starling to learn more about his plans and experiences abroad.
Every generation has a racer that breaks from the normal routine and decides to hit races around the world for money instead. How did all of this come about for you?
The first time I came to Europe was in 2009, when I was sixteen and did a German Supercross through Engine Ice Dave. I loved it and ever since then I come here anytime I have the opportunity.
After your Supercross season in the United States this year with AJE Motorsports Husqvarna, they are obviously cool with you coming over here for the summer.
They're really supportive because my team in the United States is Supercross-only, so in the summer they want me to do something and have fun since we aren't chasing the outdoors. I took a couple of months off after Vegas and let my body heal up, but then went to ZwarteCross, am in Italy now for the Supercross Cup, and next weekend will race in Germany for the ADAC Nationals. I just bounce around to do the races in Europe and as of now, I won't go back to the United States for a few weeks.
The team in the US, AJE Motorsports Husqvarna, they came out of nowhere but it seems very organized and well put together. The bike looked good and you did well in the 250 and 450 classes on it. They have the infrastructure to be really good.
Tony Eyrich didn't cut any corners with the team. They built it from scratch when he bought Star Racing's trailer and a new tractor and floor. They built something that was unbelievable and the bikes were great with a good chassis and a motor that is getting better. I think the 2019 bikes will be a lot better for us and we're looking at adding two more teammates for next year, but I'm not sure who they are yet. I know they are talking to a few guys and it will be good. We will have Husqvarna support now so the bikes will be a lot better and the team will get better.
How many times have you been here in total?
This is my first time to Italy, but to Europe, it's somewhere in the twenties. It's mainly been in Germany and the Netherlands, but I raced the des Nations in the UK for Puerto Rico. I come over for the German stuff a lot and I won a championship there.
How is the ADAC series? That's always been big for Supercross and motocross. The strange thing about Europe is that although guys will follow the full MXGP series, they'll still do rounds of National championships like the Dutch Masters and ADAC between MXGP races.
The German Supercross I put it somewhere like an East Coast Supercross. It's still big and there are fast dudes. I haven't done an ADAC National yet, but from what I understand I'll race guys like Henry Jacobi and those guys from the MXGP series. At the Dutch Masters last weekend for ZwarteCross all of the factory MXGP racers were there. Although next weekend is a weekend off for those guys, so I'm sure we'll see more of them in Germany.
I know there are a lot of privateer racers that would like to come do events in Europe like this, because you make good money coming over here. How do you find that "in" with teams and promoters? Like you said, you first came here with Dave Kimmey, so I'm sure after that you just built the relationships.
Yeah, pretty much. That got the ball rolling with me meeting people here and I when I came back over here I did well. It's been important to make the contacts here. It's like a vacation, but we're working during the week at the gym and testing. It's the same amount of work as the States and there is good money to be made. During the summer I was either going to stay in the States and train or I was going to come to Europe. I'm twenty-five now and I want to take advantage of any opportunity that I can get.
Is it difficult to ride a different bike all of the time? In the US you were on the same bike every weekend, but here you'll ride three different bikes in three weeks.
Yeah, it is. Typically during the first practice session I am a lost fish out there, but I can get used to it pretty quick. I bring handlebars and stuff like that, but I didn't bring suspension this time because I was only supposed to come for a week and now I'm here for longer. I was on a Husqvarna last weekend, which was close to my bike in the States as far as feeling. I rode a KTM in Italy and didn't know the suspension or anything on that, and will ride a Suzuki in Germany. You have to go in open-minded every weekend and enjoy it.
ZwarteCross is massive and I remember seeing stuff from that for the first time seven years ago. How is it for a racer? There is a lot to do and see aside from the race.
I underestimated it. I thought it was going to be calm and not have that many people, but when I got there it was insane. There were 220,000 people and I got lost walking through the festival because it was so big and I didn't know where to go. It's crazy and the racing part is just a side project of it all. It was the craziest event I had ever done in my life. I thought the fans at des Nations were wild, but they have nothing on ZwarteCross. I hope I get to go back next year.
What do you like so much here? I'm the same as you because I come here every chance that I can and would stay if I could.
I just like the culture and the way of living. The food, the hotels, and the bikes are always different, and so are the races. Growing up in the States, I raced the same thing for fourteen years in amateurs and have done the same thing for six years as a pro. It rejuvenates you and makes you look at things differently. There are some things that are a lot better in the States that I look forward to when I get back and I'll be excited about that. My girlfriend is from Germany, so I'll stay with her and it's cool. I like learning different things and being around different people, all trying to understand their way of life. That I get to race a dirt bike to do that and it doesn't cost any money for me to come here, what could be better?
Would you stay here full-time?
Absolutely. I'm contracted with AJE Motorsports Husqvarna for 2019 so I'll be with them in Supercross, but come Vegas, I'm fully open to coming back here. That's the talk right now, to come here for a few months and experience it all. It's hard for me to get a solid team ride when because their seasons start in March and I can't do anything until May, but I'm fully open to it. If I were to race the MXGP series, I would have to be on a 450, but I'm open to it. I'm looking to get my feet wet at one or two this year. I've talked to Thomas Covington and Marshall Weltin and they both said it's an experience that you can't get all of the time, so if it's there, I'm going to take it.
One thing I've noticed about the Europeans is their technique, it's the opposite of what guys in the US are doing. It seems like they use much more finesse and thought-out lines to jump through. Have you adapted your riding style to match? You've probably figured out by now that you can't just muscle through things.
When I came over last week we rode a sand track in the Netherlands and I tried to ride it like an American, but I was blowing through corners and not going very well. I talked to the team owner and he basically told me that I have to be smooth and move around on the bike a lot more because the suspension is softer than what I'm used to, despite the fact the guy it was set up for weighs more than me. But that's how they ride and they have the bikes softer so they can move around and jump more. I have had to change my riding a lot. At ZwarteCross the track was super deep sand in one section and hard pack it the other, so during the first practice I qualified twentieth because I had no idea what I was doing, because I tried to bulldog the bike while everyone else was smooth and finessed the bike. When I talked to Anthony Rodriguez, he said the first time that he came over he got twentieth but by ZwarteCross he won the last moto because he learned how to ride these tracks. You have to have the mindset of a European. I'm figuring it out, but I'm not going to say that I'm good at it yet.
Another thing I've seen is that although most of the guys live close together in that one area of Belgium and the Netherlands around Lommel, they ride different tracks all of the time. They'll go to France, Sardinia, Italy, the UK, and other places to mix it up and try new terrain. That's much different than some guys in the US that ride the same track every day.
That's what I was talking about the other day. There are about twelve tracks within forty-five minutes of where the team is based and the one that was five minutes away was unbelievable. In the US, guys will ride their training facility all year or do the rounds in Southern California at Glen Helen, Milestone, Pala, and Perris. You never see these guys ride the same stuff all of the time, they are always going somewhere else. Racing over here is really big and in the Netherlands and Belgium, there is a lot to offer in terms of riding. I thought the tracks in the US were rough, but I fully underestimated the tracks here, especially the sand. I thought Southwick was sandy but it's hard pack compared to here.
People assume that they are rough because they don't take care of the tracks or prep them, but that's not necessarily true. You can only do so much to a sand track to keep it smooth.
They told me that Lommel can be flat in the morning but by the end of the day there are rollers all the way around the track. I went to this track, Emmen, and in the morning it was smooth and I thought it was easy, but when we were still riding at four in the afternoon, it was one of the roughest tracks I have seen in my life. The same thing can be said about ZwarteCross, because they never groomed the sand section through the weekend. It was just brutal the whole time. I fully think that we underestimate the Europeans and they are gnarly riders. When the tracks get rough, they get faster, while we in the States complain when the tracks get too rough.
Is there a country you'd really like to go to?
I'd like to go to Spain, but for riding, I would really like to go to Belgium. I've mostly been in the Netherlands and Germany, which are great, but when you see riding over here, it's always in Belgium around Lommel. I would really like to go there.
Give me your gnarliest travel story.
It seems like everything goes without a hitch here. I've never lost a bag or suspension. Maybe getting to Italy was kind of wild, because we flew from Amsterdam to Milan and then were on train after train to get to here. One of the trains didn't have air conditioning and it was miserably hot, we were drenched in sweat. Then we had to find a taxi that would bring our bags, that was hard too.
We stayed in an apartment all week and while it was very nice, there is no air conditioning there and it's 95 degrees. It's a lot of old homes and buildings that have been retrofitted to be nice but it’s not like the US, where there are new houses everywhere.
It's drastically different. The house I was in back in the Netherlands, there is no AC there either, so during the day I don't even go inside but at night I need a hoody. The Netherlands wasn't too hot, but in Italy I'm glad that I have sandals and board shorts because it's hot and nearly the same humidity of Florida.
Do you speak any other languages, considering you have a German chick, or do you know just enough to get by?
I'm trying to learn German, so that's kind of it. I don't know anything else but I have some German here and there.
What's the best and the worst food you've had?
The best is this place in the red light district of Amsterdam that has crepes, it's the best one I've ever had in my life. I go to the city just for that crepe. I'm really looking forward to eating the pasta here because that's my favorite. The worst has been in Germany because I can't understand what I'm ordering half of the time, so there has been some fish that was pretty disgusting that I didn't even eat (laughs).