“I was really confident before this season started,” said Hill. “I knew that when it came to the races and it came to racing the main events and doing my job, I could do it this time. I’m not too much different, but I’ve definitely just grown up. I’ve also earned little things that kind of make you work better with the team. I would say my work ethic is still the same, but I would say I’ve gained some knowledge on just how to work and to place things correctly. That doesn’t go unnoticed by the team. If they see you and know that you’re doing good with things, they respect that. It’s helped me in the whole scheme of things just to fit with everyone. I fit with Mitch and the entire team.”
Despite the fact that he only raced three 250SX East Region main events in 2016 – he won at Toronto before crashing out hard during practice a week later at Ford Field in Detroit – Hill, who was duly sent to the sidelines for the better part of the entire year, used the downtime to reassess his approach to the sport.
“The time off after the Detroit crash helped a lot,” explained Hill of the injury-induced layoff. “Taking the season I had and all the injuries and all the stupid stuff, just to take that out of the equation, my year could have been good. I thought about that a lot coming into 2017. If I just would have raced and I would have been healthy, I know I could have done this and could have done that. That’s what made me think that I just needed to eliminate the stupid stuff and stay healthy. It gave me motivation because I thought, If I just do this, this and this, we can be winning this thing. That definitely motivated me coming into ’17.”
After placing fifth in the season-opening race at Angel Stadium, Hill barely missed the win at Petco Park. Forced to motor through the pack after a lowly bottom-of-the-pack start, Hill charged for all he and the KX250F were worth and came a few turns away from zapping winner Shane McElrath at the finish.
“I should have won San Diego,” declared Hill. “I was five inches away from passing Shane McElrath. San Diego put me in a position to where I was saying, ‘Yeah, I know I can do it. I just need to keep fine-tuning.’
On Saturday night, January 21, 2017 inside Angel Stadium in Orange County, California, it all came right for Hill when he led every lap to win the 250SX West main event. “At Anaheim 2 I just wanted to dominate and not have anybody touch me. Me winning one race was like, ‘Okay, cool. Winning is the only thing we should be doing so why are we celebrating so hard?’ That’s not to sound cocky or anything, but I just knew that’s what I had to do.”
Immediately thereafter came three straight victories at Phoenix, Oakland and Arlington, Texas. “When I won at San Diego, it was cool, but then when I did it the next few times, that’s when I was like, ‘Yes, now this is good.’ You get into a rhythm and you know it and you know what it takes to win. It’s hard to get to that point, so when you’re there it feels awesome. Winning four in-a-row and having a big points lead is everything I’ve ever done in my life is for. That’s the deal.”
To display domination during a supercross series had been a long time coming for Mitch Payton and the proud Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team. Mutually thrilled at how well the series has been going for both team and rider, the two have been effusive in their praise for each other.
“When I signed with Mitch I said to him, ‘Okay, so we did it, now it’s time for me to make you look good. Now here’s the time and get you the number one plate on the door that we’re missing.’ He just loved that. So when we started to win and everything was going just right, he was pumped. It made me happy that he gave me a chance to do it and it made him happy that I’m taking advantage of that chance.”
Careful to not get ahead of themselves, Payton and Hill have been cautious in their enthusiasm as the Seattle, Salt Lake and Las Vegas rounds of the West Region series still beckon.
“I didn’t want to stop racing,” admitted Hill of the lengthy West Region break. “We were on a roll, everything was going good, there is no reason to stop when you have things figured out. It’s almost scary to take time off because you just spent so much time getting to that point.”
So now comes the final stretch of the 2017 250SX West Region Championship for Justin Hill. Will it be a dearly sought number one plate him and the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team. Stay tuned as time will soon tell the tale.