INTERVIEW: OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? THE MXA CONVERSATION WITH JUSTIN HILL

February 11, 2014
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By Eric Johnson
 
    Justin Hill speaking in the days leading up to the sixth round of the 2014 Monster Energy Supercross Series set for the cavernous and weathered Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. “If I get a win, I don’t think it’s going to take any more effort that I just put in to do it. It’s just the little things that I need to clean up. I think I’ve proven week-in and week-out that I have the speed. I’ve just got to be looking at those little bits. I just have to get that little bit and then pick off the next two guys to get to that top step of the podium.”
    And work on the little things Justin Hill did. On Saturday evening and before nearly 60,000 Fightertown USA SX fans, the 18 year-old Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider went out, hit all his marks, kept his eye on the prize and, when all 15 laps of the 250SX East Region main event were complete, met the checkered flag and leaped off the finish line jump, the winner of the sixth round of the Monster Energy Supercross Series. Almost two years in the making ? and, in the opinion of Hill, a long time in coming ? the victory was especially sweet and fulfilling as it was the first of his AMA Pro Racing career. On Sunday afternoon, and after reality set in and Hill came to terms with the fact that he was now 250SX race winner ? a feat not even his elder racing brother Josh pulled off ? MXA spoke with the demure, well-spoken kid from the Pacific Northwest about the long, winding and whooped-out stretch to the top step of the box.
 

MXA: Justin, we spoke at the Oakland Supercross where you raced to your first career podium finish. After the race you said, “If I get a win in the next few races, I don’t think it’s going to take any more effort that I just put in to do it here. It’s just the little things that I need to clean up.” Is that what you did to win here in San Diego, clean up the little things?
Justin: Absolutely. When I got my first podium back at Oakland, I think it actually took more effort that night because the race wasn’t all right. I had to battle with guys. This time when I got out front Jason Anderson was close and I actually gapped him a little bit. But, yeah, I did just for the little stuff, you know? I just cleaned up my corners and cleaned up how I got through certain sections of the track. I just the little stuff just to make sure that I wasn’t wasting time out there. Being out front like that really helped me do all that. And also having that knowledge of running up front at Oakland was huge for me. Having that sort of knowledge was huge. You know even coming into the night, I was like, “This place sort of reminds me a little bit of Oakland, and maybe this is the place where I get my first win.” Yeah, for sure, I just cleaned up that little stuff and I stayed on my feet to get that win.
 
I watched your first time practice session with Mitch Payton. On the way back to the truck Mitch saw you and said something like, “You need to out more laps together out there.” You didn’t get too many laps completed in that session, huh?

Yeah, the first timed session was kind of crazed. I just wanted to be comfortable, but they just saw that I was rolling around a little bit. I kind of just wasted a practice getting comfortable. I was trying to deal with this quad jump and spent the whole practice messing with that and I only got one good lap in. I got held up a lot. So I just went out in the next session and just tried to lay down a bunch of laps and click them off just so I could get comfortable.
 
You seem to have your own way of doing things on race day.

Yeah, I normally just do my own thing. I don’t look at the board much and I don’t really care what anybody else is doing. I just kind of go out and do my own thing. I think that’s what’s important to me ? just being able to go out and do my own thing. If there is a guy there I’ll battle it out with him or whatever, but I just want to go out there and have fun on my dirt bike. I want to make sure I’m comfortable and going pretty fast for the night show.
 
Your dad was also watching your timed qualifying sessions very closely. Does he still provide you with a lot of input at the races?

Oh, for sure. My dad taught me how to ride ever since I was a kid. He’s always there to try and give me some pointers. He can see the little things. He’s got a good eye for it. Pretty much after practice I’ll come up into the stands and watch my brother and then my dad will talk to me about practice and tell me all the little things the other guys or doing or the things that I’m no doing. He actually helps me a lot. I love when he’s there.
 
You qualified third. How did you feel going into your heat race?        

Confident, man. I just wanted to go out there and win. I’ve been thinking about it all year and I knew I could do it. I was so mad because I went out and felt like I really laid down some really solid laps. I got caught up in a little bit of traffic and this and that, but I caught up to [Cole] Seely and almost had him on the last lap. If I would have had one more lap I would have gotten him. I’m still waiting for that elusive hit win. I was excited about the main, though. I was like, “Hey, it’s the last race and then we’ll have a big break so I need to lay it all on the table so I can take the next six weeks and feel good about everything.”
 

From your view of looking over the starting gate and watching it streaking across the finish line jump, tell us about your main event.
I was pumped right off the bat because I actually got a good start. I got by a couple of guys and then talked right in behind Malcolm [Stewart] and I was in third. I was in a great position and I was just kind of sitting there waiting. I was just going to hang with the pace and let the race play out. And I’m really glad I did that because if I would have caught Dean [Wilson] immediately I got of caught up with whatever Dean did. I’m glad I hung back and was smart about it. When Dean fell I just jumped by him. Man, when I got into the lead I knew what I wanted to do. I just wanted to click off good laps, one after the other. I wanted to stay consistent and not do anything drastic. Previously I thought that I’d want to drop the hammer if I got out front, but it was a technical track and it didn’t really suit aggressive riding. You had to be careful on it. I just tried to click off good laps and hit my marks and it was awesome.
 
I watched your race on TV on Sunday and Jeff Emig and Jeremy McGrath made a pretty big deal out of how you were just firing off the laps and motoring away from everyone. To their observations, that’s exactly how I saw things playing out for you during the main. You were focused, strong and laying down one great lap after another.

You know once I got to lap seven and they threw out that halfway flag, I was nervous, man. I really was. So I took a big deep breath over the finish line and thought, “hey, no way. This is mine. I’m going to take it.” The race started off with me getting put in a great position to win and I was really confident. I was confident just because I was just feeling so good and I thought it was long overdue. They weren’t going to catch me. I was just going to do my deal and not worry about them. I was going to click off my laps and do what I knew I needed to do and I was going to take it home.
 

When you met flashed by the waving checkered flag, did you know the race was over? It looked like you kept the power on for a number of turns after the finish line.
(Laughter) I’ve been asked this a few time. I actually didn’t know it was over! On the lap before ? the white flag lap ? they were actually flying blue flags too because I was coming up on some guys. When they were flying the blue flags everywhere I saw blue, I didn’t see the white flag. At the finish line I wasn’t about to stop, I just kept charging. I was in the zone! I was so caught up with just clicking my laps off that I got robbed of my finish line whip. It’s no big deal. I think we’re going to have a lot more whips to come and a lot more chances to throw my big whip over the finish line. Whatever. It was cool to just race over the finish. Once I realized I won, I was like, “Yeah, sweet! I’m in the clear. Nobody is chasing me now.” So I threw the number one up and just had some fun.
 
Justin, you just won your first 250SX main event. You’re brother Josh didn’t even win a 250 main during his career. Moreover, I know going into the 2014 season that you were really hard on yourself about both the supercross and outdoor struggles you experienced in 2013. All this withstanding, how do you feel now, essentially a year removed from the past?

I can’t explain it, dude. It’s great. The biggest thing for me now is the confidence I have in that I’m a winner. I know I can do it and that I can keep doing it. One win was sweet and I had an awesome night last night and I loved every second of it. However I woke up this morning and thought, “Well, the joy is over. I’m ready to get right back into it.” I just want to keep it going, man. I’m not as much excited about the sweetness of my first win as I am the confidence that win gave me that I am what I believed I could do the whole time. The win has given me confidence to keep going.
 

Mitch Payton and Zach White and your mechanic have all been singing your praises and have had no problem talking about how much you’ve improved this year. All of you guys on the Monster/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team are close and collectively you’re a very close knit group. Did it feel good to win for the team, as well?
For sure. It’s great to come through for them at this point. I know they were probably frustrated with me last year. And they don’t even know. I was so frustrated myself. I was really bummed that I didn’t make it happen for them last year as a rookie. I knew that I was good enough. Now that I’ve really done my homework and really reevaluated how I do this, that warms my heart a lot that I can bring it home for them now. They’ve been behind me the whole time and now I can say,”Hey guys, you’re right to hire me this time and put all this work into me.” It’s a great feeling, man.

BONUS: INSIDE JOSH HILL’S MONSTER ENERGY PRO CIRCUIT KAWASAKI KX250F

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