Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill

| December 13, 2017

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill – As has been well documented in the past two months, 2017 AMA 250SX West Region Champion Justin Hill somewhat recently pulled up stakes and left the storied, established Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki race team he competed for—and won with—to head east to Huntersville, North Carolina, and become a member of the Autotrader/Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing team’s fledgling 250cc race effort. A seven-time 250SX main event winner during his five-year professional career, the native of Yoncalla, Oregon, actually rode a Suzuki to the 250 B Stock class championship at Loretta Lynn’s back in 2010 and, well, his fondness for the yellow motocross bikes never really went away. Out to back up his ’17 250SX West Region title, Hill will line up at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Saturday night, January 6, 2018 as the lead man in the JGRMX assault of the 250cc division. In his first year of a two-year contract with the team—Hill will move to the 450cc classification in 2019—Cycle News caught up to the congenial, well-spoken racer back in North Carolina. Relaxed and seemingly thrilled with the current reality of is new surroundings, Hill got us up to speed on the progress both he and the team have been making.

BY ERIC JOHNSON

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki's Justin Hill
Justin Hill says he’s never been happier at his new home with the Autotrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing Team. Photo: Kit Palmer

So, Justin, what have you been doing this week?

Not a whole lot. I’m just hanging out right now. I went golfing with all the boys today and that’s about it.

You’re back in North Carolina?

Yeah, I’m back in North Carolina. I’ll be out in California here in about a week. I’ll make the trip back that way. As of right now, I’m just kind of floating and figuring out when I’m going to make my next move and head out there. It’s been awesome here, so I don’t really want to leave.

How has the weather been there? Cool and rainy?

Honestly, it has been really solid, man. It’s been pretty good. It’s been easy. I’m sure it will be like that in California. I’ll soon be out there and it will be nice and sunny, so I can handle that.

I know the JGR team does most of its testing and development work there in North Carolina. When you come out to Southern California, will it be to ride and test at the Suzuki track up in the hills in Corona? I was out there not long ago and with the exodus of the RCH team, it looked pretty desolate.

I’m going to come out there and put a program together and start riding my Suzuki. That track you speak of—the one on the very top—is actually our track now. JGR has taken over that lease. That’s ours now and we kind of do as we please and what-not. That’s the deal.

So how long have you been back in North Carolina?

I’ve been living here about two months now. I love it. I’m stoked. I’m more excited about this than anything because everything is just pretty easy out here. Like, we don’t have anything crazy to deal with. We just do our work and do our riding. We have a track and everything we need and could do whatever we feel like. It’s nice, man. I really, really enjoy it out here. I like the towns and there are actually really nice areas that are a lot closer to what I grew up with. I’m digging it.

Maybe a bit more like Portland or Seattle where you and your brother Josh grew up, huh?

Yeah, it’s way more like that, man. It is way more like a Northwest-type feel. It was funny because I was actually out in downtown Charlotte over the weekend and we, my mechanic and I, came across this area and we’re like, “Man, doesn’t this remind you of Tacoma or areas of Portland a little bit?” It was just weird. Some of the stuff out here is like that and it’s kind of funny.

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki's Justin Hill
Hill’s new ride, complete with the number-one plate.

Okay, the big question: How is all going with the JGR team and riding the new Suzuki RM-Z250?

I couldn’t be more happy about what’s going on. I really like the position I’m in with the people I’m with. It’s good. Everybody is nice and everybody is the same all the time and seems to get along. I really like the bike, and like I was saying, I really like how we get to just do whatever we kind of feel like at the track and make it into what we want. To me, it makes sense. I come from a place with a lot of land and stuff like that where I can just do my own thing and it’s way more like that here. I’m thriving. I feel great. Nobody has seen my riding. All the people in California I know are calling and asking, “How is it going? How is it going?” and I’ll say, “I feel the best that I’ve ever felt.” I feel really good. There are no problems and I’m really enjoying myself. I feel like that when I’m having fun, that’s when I do my best. I’m just trying to enjoy all of this.

You won the 2017 AMA 250SX West Region Championship for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team and then were lured away by the JGRMX outfit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but JGR and Suzuki want a title and hired you to win one,

Yeah, that’s the idea anyway. They’re definitely making a huge effort to launch a 250 side of the team and the felt like I could help them do that and try to put them on the map immediately, which I really believe that I can. I feel better now than I think I ever have in my life. I feel more relaxed. You know, I can get off the bike for four days, for the weekend or holidays or whatever it is, and come back just dialed. The timing is there and everything is easy and I think it gets easier every single time I do it. This position I’m in is something for me to be proud of. That’s exactly it. I just want to get them the wins that they deserve as a team because they put so much into this.

And you like the RM-Z250?

Oh yeah. Okay, so I rode Suzukis back in 2010. I rode them as an amateur. It was about the time that the amateur Suzuki team was going under. It was kind of a break in progress for me, if you will, at the time. We moved over and got a deal with Team Green. When I left that Suzuki bike, I was actually bummed because I really loved how well the bike handled. I would say that, comparably, anything that I’ve ever rode since, I’ve just been like, “Man, I wish this bike turned a little more like the bike back in 2010.” That’s what I always reference. I was looking forward to coming back to this bike, for sure. I knew it already and I knew that I was going to like it. To me, it just made the decision easy. It just made me go, “Oh yeah, I know that bike. Let’s do that.” When I showed up and I rode it I was not disappointed. I said, “This is exactly what I wanted.” And as you know, the 450 thing is attached to my deal. I did get a chance to swing a leg over Ricky Carmichael’s 450 when I was down there in Florida and I actually really like that bike too. And that was just production, but that thing seemed really cool. I’m really excited to move on after this and ride that bike.

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki's Justin Hill
Hill is no stranger to Suzuki motorcycles. He raced them as an amateur.

And you ride the West Region come next month, correct?

Yeah, that’s the idea anyways. We have to make sure that we’re healthy and that’s about it. Obviously with the whole West Coast/East Coast thing, I can only ride with the number one if I’m on the West Coast. Basically, the value is on the West Coast for me and that’s what Suzuki wanted. And obviously before we signed, we all came to an agreement that that is what we wanted to do. That’s kind of been the plan laid out for a while. Me and Jeremy [Albrecht, team manager] talked about that a long time ago when we were putting the deal together. He said, “West Coast, right?” and I said, “Oh yeah, West Coast. We’ll do it again.” That’s definitely the plan. And furthermore, my family is on the West Coast and I’ve done the West Coast more so I think I’m a bit more comfortable with it and the travel is better. You also get some time off and you get some testing time in for the outdoors.

I was around you at most all of the West Region races this year and you appeared to be really focused and to have a very good relationship with Mitch Payton and the entire Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki race team. Do you foresee being able to replicate that come the season opener at Angel Stadium?

Yes, that starts with me. It’s just a mindset. I just want to try my best and do the best that I can do for myself and now, especially more so, for my team and this thing that I am a part of. I kind of always have the same attitude. Like, people have been saying out here, they call me “normal” all of the time. Obviously, to me, it’s a compliment. To me, that’s it, you just need to be a normal dude and think things through. You can’t go all off the deep end and have all these crazy ideas and be a kook. You just have to be normal and do your job. That’s really all it takes. For me, the most success that I’ve ever had is just going to the line and saying, “All right, we’re going to do the best we can do and that’s what we got.” That’s all you can do is rest on the fact that you tried. I think I have a talent for this and supercross comes so easy to me. If I’m giving my best and I did do as much prep work as I feel I could, then I think we’ll come out on top. Things can happen and these guys aren’t going to let me have it two times in a row. They’re going to try even harder to stop me, so it’s just one of those things and I’ve got to do the best that I can do.

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki's Justin Hill
Hill at the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki Team celebrate the 2017 250SX West Championship. Photo: Hoppenworld.com

Yes, you have never struck me as a racer who gets too caught up in the image stuff. Some guys seem to get caught up in the glitz and glamor, but my take on you has been, “Let’s go down to the starting gate and race.” It’s a simple approach, isn’t it?

Well, that’s how you get paid. In a way, I love the sport and I hate it. I think that everybody that does it has the same feeling—they love it and they hate it for many other different reasons. For me, I do love the sport, so I like to be involved in it and I like meeting people inside the industry and everything, but for the most part, you look back at the successful people and the people that do it right, they kind of come in and they do their work and they get out and that’s just how it is. I feel like I have the potential to do that. I just want to do the best that I can do in the sport. I think you can stick around longer and have a healthier, longer career if you don’t so anything crazy. You just have to kind of reign it in and just be a normal dude and you’ll get along just fine. I like if you’re just a standup, regular dude then you can probably get a little bit further. You’re a working man. It’s kind of like a blue-collar sport.

Okay, as far as the competition come the winter of 2018, how do you see it? I know a lot of the riders and teams play their cards close, but I’m sure you have a pretty good read on what you’ll be up against?

For me, it’s always hard to say. I always say the same thing: I just say whoever is winning, that’s the competition, because that’s the truth. It’s hard to say preseason because you never know because a guy can be seriously just destroying all the gnarliest guys out at the track all year long and all off-season and then come in and just not do it. People are different. I’m a super middle-of-the-road guy all the way through the year. I mean, I’ve actually been having very good practice days, which I guess you could say is slightly uncharacteristic for me. I always try to better myself and stuff like that, but I would consider myself a phenomenal practice rider. I think I show up at the races and I gain speed and that’s good for me. I think you’re going to have the normal guys come back and be really, really good. I think if Aaron [Plessinger] races West again, he’ll be really, really good. I think Shane [McElrath] will be really, really good, as he was. You’ve got a couple new kids coming up. You’ve got that Justin Cooper kid who looked really good in outdoors. He came in as an amateur. You have a couple GEICO kids that are young. Another guy that I’m really impressed with is my teammate Phil Nicoletti. He’s been riding really good and I think people are going to be impressed. I heard Colt Nichols might be on the West Coast and he’s a talented kid and he’ll be more ready this year than ever. I think he’ll be awesome. There are a lot of guys to think about, but my job is not to think about any of them and just try to do what I do. We can’t win thinking about other people. It just doesn’t work. You can bench race all you want, but it doesn’t necessarily go that way. I feel the best that I’ve ever felt, so if I’m those guys, I’m worried about me. That’s kind of the basis of what we’re looking.

Interview: JGRMX Suzuki’s Justin Hill

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