The last time Justin Hill lined up for a round of the Monster Energy Supercross series was on June 21, 2020. Aboard a private Honda CRF450R, Hill placed ninth on the evening and took 10th in the final series point standings. He then left the sport to pursue a career in law enforcement, but found he desperately missed the competition and is now back as a member of Team Tedder/Monster Energy/Mountain Motorsports/KTM Racing, alongside his brother Josh. Currently hard at work dialing-in the KTM race equipment he and his brother will go to war on in ’23, Hill got us up to speed on his new surroundings and mindset.
Q: Justin, we’re less than a month away from the start of the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season. What’s happening with you?
JUSTIN HILL: I know we are going to be grinding up to the last second because you know how it gets when it gets close to Christmas time — it just gets super-hectic when you’re doing the family stuff while you’re trying to prepare last minute things for the Supercross series. I just got back into the testing phase. Josh also got back here from racing in Australia. Me and him have just been working on this bike and trying to get the suspension right and trying to get everything up to where we are doing the final tweaks on everything.
I always have an idea of when I think something is right, and then Josh will come up and he’s got such a wealth of knowledge and so many years in this sport developing bikes and it just helps out so much. I am really excited to have him with me because I think I’d kind of be lost at the moment with the bike without him. It’s just a little bit trickier to develop the KTM, I think. I’m quite a while removed from this whole thing, right? My perspective on a bike setup for 2023 is not as fresh. I kind of almost dug us a little hole with bike setup on my own and Josh is kind of pulling us out of it. When Josh gets comfortable, we’ll be pretty happy because I think he is on to something as far as what we should be on with the motorcycle.
It’s a pretty neat opportunity for me. I’ve never had this before — I’ve always been my own pioneer on my own stuff. Me and Josh have always expressed ideas through each other and gone through things in conversation and in theory, but we never had the opportunity to ride the same bike and actually gather real data at the test track and use it. It’s all been really, really interesting and I’m digging it.
Q: Where have you and Josh and Team Tedder been riding, testing and training?
JH: We’ve kind of been all over the place. Tedder doesn’t have the test track out at Lake Elsinore anymore. They relinquished that. It’s been really tough to find tracks. That was one of our hopes, that the team would pick something else up but it has proven really difficult for them to find something that doesn’t cost us $50,000 to put a track somewhere and be something that we actually think will be good. We have been riding primarily around Pala and Lake Elsinore. We’ve been able to ride, but finding a place to develop the bike has proven really difficult.
Q: How do you and Josh feel about your Team Tedder KTM equipment? Can you be competitive on the KTM in 2023?
JH: Yeah, for sure. With what we have right this second can we be at the very best of our ability? That’s a tougher question. Here’s why: It’s all been really tricky. We are really behind the eight ball on actually getting the rest of the bike dialed-in. We have all of our practice bikes from the previous year that we’ve been doing our development work on just as a basic platform that we feel will be very similar. We’ve really run into a speed bump as far as finding the era of KTM 450 that we have been developing and plan to race. It has been difficult to find platforms to start with even with the old bike.
I haven’t really been super-aggressive about doing engine testing because the bike makes a lot of power stock. All of the new bikes are so good out of the box that it is hard for me to re-invent the wheel. I think that we could be really good off of a couple of things here and there. We are really, really close to stock. So, yes, we can totally be competitive, but we need to find more platforms to build on. That’s really an issue that nobody really foresaw. That being said, we still have a lot. We are already on the suspension that we are going to be on in 2023. All that development and everything that we are doing will go directly on the fresher version of what we have. We are in a pretty decent spot, but a couple of things have taken longer than we thought they would have. We are all kind of coming together and trying to solve the puzzle as a unit. Yeah, it is crunch time. We are nitpicking at this point. We’ve just got to get a few things and we’ll be ready to go racing. Either way, it is really exciting stuff.
Q: You’ve basically been out of racing for two solid years. You’re also a former champion. Down deep, you know what it takes to perform and be competitive at the very highest level of the sport. So how do you feel about racing in 2023?
JH: I don’t feel like I’m super-frantic about it. I feel really at home. I feel like I’ve come back to what is comfortable. I’m enjoying it and I feel super-blessed. Like you said, I know my potential. I know that I can win races, so this is a really big deal for myself. They’re giving me the whole program again and giving me a great shot.
I did attempt to come back last year and I ended up getting hurt before the season. I was in great shape and everything was good, but I don’t think it would have been the proper opportunity to do really good and to reach my potential. Every bit of this needed to happen to be here. The fun part is that I’m in just such a better head space, especially now with this being more of a family thing for me now. I get to bring my kids to the races. There is just a lot more added to the situation and it is going to be neat to see how all of this unfolds and translates into racing.
I feel awesome and with where we are at in development right now, I should feel quite a bit better in the next couple of weeks. I already feel like I have winning pace. It is an interesting place for me to be. I’m doing a lot of race day programs and race simulation days. I never feel ahead at this point, but I feel really ahead right now. I’m hoping that translates to good finishes.
The first couple of races are always different because you have so much in the nerves category. You can be in the most tremendous shape in the world and two years without doing the Anaheim opener might make me a little nervous. Let’s reach the goal. If I’m a rock solid top-five guy by mid-season, I’m pumped. We achieved what we wanted. If you’re there then you are knocking on the door for podiums all the time. That’s where my head is at and I think we can totally do it, especially if we get the bike where we want it.
I always thought there was a lot of value in the Hill brothers. Part of me is focused on myself and just getting back to where I need to be — I don’t have to worry about Josh with that, because he is so active. He is always doing this and he’s going to find his way pretty quick, where as I’m like, “Man, I’m a little nervous. I’ve got to try and get this all going so that I feel like I used to as quickly as possible!”
I really feel like I’ve found a new sense of team that I’ve never felt before just with me and Josh. This is the first time in my career that I think of something that we are doing and I consider somebody else in that decision. Most of the time you’re only worried about you. That’s just the nature of the sport that we do. I feel like me and Josh are really putting our heads together. We work really well together, especially now that we are older. I think we can be a great asset to each other, for sure.
And you guys got your ace mechanic Shawn Bell back, too…
And we got Longhorn back! That’s my guy and I’m so excited. Honestly, where we are, we’d be lost without that guy. Anybody that doesn’t have that guy is lost and just doesn’t know it. I’m excited about him, for sure. I know Josh is, as well. We consider him to be a very good family friend. He’s kind of like the third Hill brother.