We spend 5 minutes with Justin Hill and come away with nothing but respect for Red Bull KTM’s main man in the AMA 250cc West Supercross Series.
Red Bull KTM’s Justin Hill is no dummy.
Spend just a 5 minutes with the 19-year-old Oregonian and it becomes easy to appreciate what a consummate professional he is. Hill is calm, cool, collected and very articulate, giving the impression that he is wise beyond his years. And he knows the game he is in quite well.
Like most riders who make it to the sport’s top level, Hill has been immersed in the culture from a very early age. Following in the knobby tracks of his older brother, Josh, Justin has had the benefit of viewing the triumphs and tragedies of life as a factory rider throughout Josh’s career from an up-close-and-personal perspective, and it has made him all the more appreciative of his own opportunities, both with his former team, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki, and now with Red Bull KTM.
Hill also has a lot to say. He is blessed with the ability to produce a lot of dialogue in a very short time as we found out during our 5 minutes with him on press day at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California, on the Thursday before round three of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. The common cold has sapped his strength during the first two rounds, costing him positions on the track and in the series points standings, but Hill says that he is feeling better this week, and he is confident that Saturday night’s race will mark a turn for the better as he climbs back into an AMA 250cc West Supercross title race in which he is currently fifth.
You are fifth in the AMA 250cc West Supercross Series point standings. You are obviously not out of title contention, but the first two rounds have been a little rough for you.
Yeah, I’ve had a couple bad rounds, like the first one, and I’ve been struggling a little bit. It [the illness] came on during the first round, and it has been with me this whole time. It really brought me down. I lost a little weight, and I was really weak. I am starting to get over it now, so I am finally feeling strong, like I could do something. It has been a struggle trying to get over it, and as an athlete it is hard when you get sick during your season because it ruins your ability to try and improve on the things you want to improve on during the week.
You have already shown the speed that your fans and your competition know you have. You have won both your heat races, and you appear to be comfortable on your new team. Now that you are two weeks into actual competition, what are some of the things that you like about the KTM or maybe that you don’t like about it?
Everything is great with the team, and the bike is amazing. It has all been me not being strong and not being myself because of my illness, and that bums me out because we have done a lot of good work and have come to the table ready, with a good bike. There haven’t been any problems. It is one of those things where I just couldn’t wait to race the thing because we had done so much work and were showing so much on the track. We were excited to go racing. So it is frustrating because I know that we have the best bike out there.
Coming into Anaheim II, then, barring a mishap, do you feel that you will be able to challenge for the win based upon how you are feeling, health-wise?
Absolutely. You know, last weekend I wasn’t strong, but I also came from dead last off the start—I got into a first-turn thing. That’s a big deal because the start is everything. The guys who are finishing well are getting good starts, and I came from dead last and got up to sixth. That was all I could do with how I was feeling, but I left it all out there. With how I’m feeling now, I think that I could start that far back and it wouldn’t matter as much. If I’m strong, and I’m clicking off laps and am in my zone, I don’t think it would matter, but a good start wouldn’t hurt. Getting a top-five start would definitely help me a lot.
In light of your illness, maybe it has been a little hard for you to gauge yourself against your competition. Are the guys that you have seen running up front the guys that you thought you would see? Zach Osborne has gotten off to a great start even with a broken thumb, Jessy Nelson is flying and Tyler Bowers is here for the whole season and is clearly ready to rumble for the title. Are these the guys you thought you would see up there?
Yes. [Cooper] Webb has been coming on, and he had a great rookie season, so I knew what he was made of. Bowers is no joke. He won a supercross a couple years ago when he was just visiting, so he has what it takes. He has been a good rider for a long time. Jessy Nelson has always been a great rider. I’ve been battling with him since I was a little kid, and he used to beat me when we were amateurs. He has had a rough time in his first couple years as a pro, which I understand because I had a bad time my first couple years, and when you are not yourself these guys at this level will eat you up. But for me, I try to worry about myself, and now that I am myself you are going to see a different me.
These regional series don’t afford the title contenders a whole lot of time to make up points, and you have started behind the eight-ball as far as the championship is concerned. You say that you are confident you will do better in the rounds ahead, but are you feeling any pressure to do so?
Actually, to the contrary, I feel like since I blew the first couple rounds, I feel like I don’t have anywhere to go but up, and I feel very confident. I knew that I wasn’t right, but now that I am healthy I like that [situation]. I know that I’ve got to go, but we aren’t that far away in the points [12 points back], so I’m not stressing. I know there are mistakes that will be made on everyone’s part, and I got mine out of the way early. To add pressure to myself and screw up even more would be really dumb.
So, this is a bit of trip down memory lane, but you probably remember when your brother Josh was a factory Yamaha rider and Yamaha used to conduct its race team intros for the media and for the company employees at its Southern California headquarters. We journalists used to watch you and crack up because you would cruise around the place like you owned it, rapping with your buddies on your cell phone and shaking hands with the VIPs like you were conducting business. We all joked then that one day you would be a star, and here you are.
[Laughs] I was 10 or 12 years old, and I thought I was cool back then! That was when I didn’t have a care in the world. I had taken some time off from racing, and Josh was doing great. He was getting paid to go racing, and that was a fun time for me because I could just walk around and get rider posters, and me and my buddies would make paper airplanes and go to the stop of the stadiums and throw them. Races to me then were just a good time.
But I am certainly not bummed about my current position. It is just a matter of time for me. I feel like I have all the tools. I have the best team and the best bike. I have nothing but the best. Why not go up from here?