Photos by: Chase Yocom
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. We tell their stories.
This week’s “Privateer Showcase” interview is with rookie IB Corp / Yamaha rider Justin Hoeft. Justin was a standout amateur with two Loretta Lynn’s Championships in the Mini Sr. class, but after his younger brother Tyler tragically lost his life at just 14 years-old in a crash at Freestone and Justin broke his back, he stepped away from the sport for a year to assess where he wanted his future to go.
After a one year hiatus, Justin decided he wasn’t ready to give up his racing dreams, and this year, he was hired by the newly formed IB Corp / Yamaha program to join the team at the 2017 Oakland SX. Justin surprised a lot of people by making the main event and scoring a 17th in his Supercross debut, and he backed that up last weekend with a 13th in the Arlington SX main event. After his 13th in Arlington, we gave the rookie a call to get his story and find out his thoughts on his first two races and his plans for his immediate future in racing.
Thanks for doing this, Justin. You said you were riding today. Where have you been based out of and riding these days, and where are you doing your training?
I’m based out of Temecula, California right now, and I was riding out at Pala today doing some outdoors for a couple of weeks before we head back indoors. I’ve been training with Ryno [Ryan Hughes] for the last month or so and it’s been going good.
What’s your full plan for the down time for the 250SX West?
Like I said, I plan on doing two weeks of outdoors and then there’s four weeks until Seattle, so we’ll start preparing for better finishes for the last few rounds of SX.
You just debuted at your first SX in Oakland, but what kind of amateur career did you have?
It was good. It was super hit or miss. I would either come to one of the big races and absolutely kill it or I would come to one of the big races and do absolutely terrible. I’d be crashing, over riding, taking people out or that whole deal. (laughs) But, no, it was good. I won a couple of championships at Loretta’s, a couple at Freestone, a lot of Bears at Mammoth and a couple titles at the California Classic. It was good. Obviously, it could have been better, but for what it was, it was good. I had a lot of fun.
You kind of surprised some people when you decided to debut as a pro at the 2016 Glen Helen USGP riding for Troy Lee Designs / KTM team. How did that come about?
I rode for TLD for the last five years as an amateur trying to get pulled up into the pro ranks with them, but back in 2015, I lost my little brother [Tyler Hoeft] and ended up breaking my back three weeks after that. I was in the hospital for three and half weeks with that, so I decided to take a year off of racing. TLD thought it was completely understandable and were cool with it. I wanted to come back and decided to race the GP. I started training about three months before it and, a month before the race, got on the bike and went out there and gave it my best shot. I think I did good.
I thought you killed it. You were probably the surprise of the MX2 class considering it was your first ever pro race.
Yeah, I qualified sixth and got tenth or eleventh overall—don’t exactly remember. So that came about and they [TLD] wanted me to go race for them in Canada, but I didn’t think that was the right decision for me. I stayed here and waited for an opportunity to come up, which ended up being with the IB Corp team. It’s been great! I’ve been training with Ryno and my mechanic Brandon has been great.
Losing your brother Tyler and then breaking your back soon after had to rattle you pretty good. I don’t think anyone would have blamed you if you gave it up. Was there a time during that year off when you thought you might not come back to racing?
Yeah, definitely, I ended up going back to high school. I didn’t ride for eight months and wasn’t really thinking about riding. I don’t know, I think I ended up just missing riding a dirt bike, not really the whole aspect of racing or doing it for someone else. I just wanted to ride by myself and have fun again. I did that—rode a little bit—and then shortly after, I decided I wanted to get back into racing. (laughs) It’s been great ever since. I’ve been having a ton of fun riding with no pressure and doing it because I want to, not because someone is telling me I have to race. I’m not doing it for the money or for anything else other than the fact that I want to ride my dirt bike. It’s been awesome.
Was your pops behind your decision either way with whatever you decided to do at that point?
Yeah, he really enjoys going to the races. He loves being a part of everything because he grew up racing. He still rides almost every day when we’re back home. He’s been stoked. It’s been really cool getting back into it and everything is working out really well for me lately. Hopefully I can keep it going.
Yeah, you made your professional SX debut in Oakland,and it’s been going well. You made the main event in your first try and finished 17th in Oakland, and then you backed that up with a 13th in Arlington. How are you liking SX so far?
So far it’s been awesome. Everything with the whole IB Corp team has been incredible. Working with Ryno has been really good for me I think. I think it’s bringing a lot of confidence, mentally, physically and everything. On the other side of racing, it’s been really good too. I’m having a lot of fun and I think I’ve been doing decent for only being on the bike for two weeks. Racing my first SX was a good experience. Other than that, it’s been really cool getting the feel of racing indoors and shaking everything down.
Now that you have two main events under your belt, what are your thoughts on the pace? It’s obviously a new level, big stadiums and a whole new world, but knowing what you’re up against now, do you see yourself running up inside the top five?
Yeah, I think I can definitely get up into the top five with the right preparation, more time on the bike and more used to the whole indoor format: timed practice, heat races and main events. It’s a lot of energy and a long day of racing. It’s definitely a big change going from amateur to indoor professional racing. Being inside a stadium with all the people and fans, it’s pretty cool, but there’s definitely a lot of nerves and super high intensity racing. So, yeah, I think it’s going to take some time to get used to and more preparation on and off the bike will be good.
I think your performances have surprised some people that didn’t know anything about you, but have you surprised yourself at all, or is this about where you expected to be?
I think I’ve always had high expectations of myself. I came in super under-prepared with no real expectations of myself, but I think I’m doing really good. Started with a 17th and this last weekend got 13th, which I think is a good step in the right direction.
Do you plan on going outdoors with IB Corp this year?
Yeah, I’m planning on finishing the last three rounds of SX and then for sure the first three rounds of outdoors with IB Corp. After that, it’s still kind of up in the air. They don’t know if we’re going to do them all or just the first three. That’s still undecided.