INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: R.J. HAMPSHIRE

R.J. Hampshire is trying to bounce back from a severe concussion at last year’s Red Bull Straight Rhythm event. Photo by Brian Converse.

Many expected big things from R.J. Hampshire after he swept every moto at Loretta Lynn’s in 2014 and earned the coveted Horizon Award. He began delivering a week later when he raced the final three Nationals with Geico Honda. His full rookie season in 2015 went pretty well…until the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event in October. Hampshire crashed hard and sustained a severe concussion. He was forced to stay off the bike for months, and since then he hasn’t returned to where he left off before the crash. We sat down and talked to the likable Floridian recently. He still struggles with the effects of last year’s concussion.

By Anna and Jim Kimball

You had a break-out Amateur year before turning Pro, but didn’t have much hype heading into 2014. What changed?
Before 2014 I never won at Loretta’s. I signed with Geico Honda right before that, and I came in confident [to Loretta’s] and believed in myself. I had the perfect week at Loretta’s. You know, it could not have gone any better. My bikes were working well and everything was flowing perfectly. You really cannot ask for anything else. My riding was good, and that really set me up for the final three AMA Nationals of ’14. I came in ready and knew I had what it took. The amateur side of Geico Honda is still going strong, and in fact is a lot bigger now than it was. Geico signed Jordan [Smith] and I on that year.

How did the last three Nationals of 2014 go for you?
Quite honestly, I am still getting used to outdoor races. They are gnarly! These guys are fast and the pace is a lot different than Amateurs. The whole day is different. Getting back to your question, I think I had a couple top tens in the last three Nationals, so that wasn’t bad. Like I said, it is completely different, and also a very long day. It’s no joke, but it forced me to really prepare.

What are your thoughts on your first full season of professional racing in 2015?
I had a podium in Supercross at the Indianapolis round, which was good. I finished top five overall in the series and had a few good races, but then outdoors was up and down. I was five feet from a podium in Utah and went down, and finished fourth at the last round. I ended up ninth or eighth overall for the series, so it wasn’t necessarily bad, but I definitely wanted more.

“A LOT OF MY CRASH IS PRETTY MUCH BLANK NOW IN MY HEAD. IT IS KIND OF HARD FOR ME TO TAKE IN WHETHER IT IS FROM THAT CRASH, OR AFTER THE CRASH. IT’S WEIRD HOW THE BRAIN WORKS. I FEEL I AM GOOD AND 100% READ TO GO, BUT I JUST DON’T KNOW.”

Please talk about your crash at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm.
I look back on that now and wish I had done things a little differently. It was pretty gnarly what happened, and was a very traumatic brain injury. It took a lot out of me. I did three months of absolutely nothing. It was hard to get everything back. My brain was working slower than it usually was. I worked with some good doctors, and they said I wouldn’t have any long-term effects. I’m not so sure I agree, because I have lost a lot of my memory. I feel good now; it’s just a matter of getting myself back to where I need to be.  A lot of people do not understand how hard it was, and still is, to deal with a massive head injury. They think I am good to go. I do not want to use that as an excuse, but it is hard to come back from something like that. I did not have an off-season, and once I got released to ride I went straight into training and worked my butt off to get ready for Supercross. I probably should have waited a little bit longer to ride. I was cleared from my doctors to ride, but now I look back on it and I think maybe I should have taken more time to heal. That kind of shows with how my season has gone. It is tough, but I love what I do. The brain injury definitely changed a lot for me, but there’s no reason why I can’t get back to where I need to be.

Much has come to light recently in regard to lingering effects of head injuries. Does that scare you?
A lot of my crash is pretty much blank now in my head. It is kind of hard for me to take in whether it is from that crash, or after the crash. It’s weird how the brain works. I feel I am good and 100% ready to go, but I just don’t know. I do everything to my fullest during the week now, and I have worked harder than I ever have. It is hard to just accept things, but I still have faith that I can reach my full potential.

You don’t seem too excited about how this season is going for you. Why?
I have had good rides, but my results have been up and down. I know I have what it takes to be up front, but I haven’t executed on the weekends. I train with Ken Roczen and Adam Cianciarulo during the week back home, and like I said, I put in the work. It is tough, but it is something we can build off of. I had good rides at the beginning of the season. I finished fifth in an early moto, and had some other good moto finishes. I showed that I can run up there, but now I am in a little drought. I think I had a top ten overall at Muddy Creek, and I want to be up farther up than that. We have three rounds left, and I am looking to definitely put some good rides together.

What have you been struggling with most this season?
I have been struggling a little bit with bike setup here and there. We have been searching, since we do not have a veteran on the team right now. All these other teams, like Star Yamaha, have seasoned guys who know how to set up a bike. I am our guy right now to find a setup. It is only my second year, so I have no idea how to set a dirt bike up. Usually, you just get the bike set up by someone who is good at that, and I can ride it. Now I am pretty much in control of how my bike works, and it is a lot to take in. The bike is getting better, and my team is still very supportive. Like I said, we just have to get better.

How are you feeling about 2017, and will you take a break after the Nationals are over?
I definitely need a little break. I think I am scheduled for a race in Holland, so hopefully that comes through. I think it is like three weeks after the last outdoor round. From there, it is pretty much go to work to be ready for Supercross. I do not plan on doing much other off-season racing, but just work my butt off back home in Florida. I cannot have another year of just being a top ten guy. I need to step it up. I just signed a two year deal again with Geico Honda, so I am fine until 2018. I want to deliver for the team.

It has to be nice knowing Geico Honda still believes in you.
They took me in when no one else would back in my Amateur days. The team works hard. They are awesome, and everyone–from our management, team, owners, mechanics and crew–is so friendly and positive. They know what I’m capable of, and so do I. Now it’s my turn to step up and get the results I know I’m capable of.

concussiongeico hondahead injuryinterviewinterview of the weekjim kimballR.J. HAMPSHIREred bull straight rhythmrj hampshire