Photo by: Photo by: Doc Weedon
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 motocross and 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. The privateer is the lifeblood of SX and MX and the true MotoXAddicts. We tell their stories.
This week’s “Privateer Showcase” is again one of the top privateer 250SX riders in the Western Regional 250SX class and one of the top finishing privateers in the 450SX main event last weekend in Tampa. Not only did Justin Starling make his first 450SX main event in Tampa, he did it on his AJE Motorsports / Skase MX practice 250F. Justin isn’t the first rider to make a 450 main event on a 250F, but he is the first I know of that did it on a practice bike with no mechanic or pit board during the races. It was a solo effort to be proud of.
This is Justin’s second 450 race in ’18, but in Arlington he missed the main by one spot in the heat race. In Tampa, he qualified in timed qualifying in 19th, transferred right out of the main in 8th and finished 18th in his first-ever 450SX main event. The #68 will race the Triple Crown this weekend in Atlanta in the 450SX class and then return to racing for the 250SX East/West Shootout in Indy. He is currently 14th in the 250SX Western Regional Championship and is hoping this 450 class experience will be the boost in confidence that gets him closer to the top ten when that series returns.
After the Tampa SX, we decided to give the Floridian a call at his home base in Florida and talk to him about his 450 main over the weekend.
Justin, thanks for doing this. How have you been? Where are you based out of while you’re racing the 450 class out East?
Things have been good. Just going through the process of racing every weekend again. People don’t understand how quick it goes. It’s Tuesday right now, and I feel like it’s Sunday. I’m back in Florida now–my home base. My parents are here and they’ve been here my whole life. I haven’t been home in about a year, so once I knew–once the series headed east–I was like, “Yeah, it’s a good time for me to head back home for a little bit.” Plus I can race some and keep it going.
How is the east 450 class stuff working out with you and your team, AJE Motorsports. I know they’re supporting Cole Martinez for these 450 races, so I assume you’re getting the same deal, but you’re riding a 250 in the 450 class?
That’s Cole’s personal bike and I’m riding my practice bike. Our race bikes are on the semi, but the semi didn’t come east. They supported us to the extent with all the stuff we need for practice and everything. Cole’s staying in North Carolina and I’m in Florida, but we have enough stuff to get through the time we’re not out west. Cole has one practice 450 that he went and bought and is racing that.
Tampa was your first-ever 450SX main event, correct?
Yeah, last year was the first time I had ever raced the 450 class and I was on my practice bike then too, but I couldn’t put it together. I was always close but not close enough. This year, we have a really good bike and the practice bike is just as good as the race bike–not as fast obviously because it can’t be the same motor, but the chasis is the same. I felt really good on it, so it was nice to make the main. In Arlington, I was tenth in the heat race and then a bad start in LCQ. In Tampa on Saturday it was good to get into the main through the heat.
You actually improved a lot in Tampa with your qualifying times. Was it the sand, the home vibe and all that, that maybe made the difference?
I think it was the home vibe. I felt at home and the sand section was my strong point all day. It was just a good day. I felt good. It’s funny; I didn’t even have a mechanic and was going out to practice by myself. For the races, I had a couple people help me so I could set my holeshot button and that was about it. No pressure, nothing. I just went out and rode, and I think I rode the best I have all year.
Did you have a pit board or anything? (laughs)
Oh no, I didn’t have anything. (laughs) In the B practice–the group they had me in–it’s easy to tell where I am ’cause I’m always on the board. In Tampa, I was first in every practice, so every lap I was looking at the board, “Alright, I’m first. Cool.” On the TV monitor, it would show the top 22, and I saw I was 16th. I was like, “Alright, that’s all I need to know.”
I know it’s been done, but I’m not sure how many people have made the 450 main on a 250. And they didn’t even mention you on the show. I thought it was a cool story being your first main and on a 250.
I don’t think many people knew I was on a 250. From what I understand, I think two people have done it before on a 250: Freddie Noren and Mitchell Oldenburg. I was the first to do it out of the heat races, though. They both went to an LCQ.
You are also as privateer as it gets. No mechanic, no pit board and riding a practice 250. Heck of an accomplishment.
We have spare motors and stuff in the rig, so I have all that stuff, but I’m just doing this for fun. The West is on break, and I just wanted to have fun and race. Cole has his mechanic out east and he was helping me out with bike work. I didn’t need anyone out there for practice, and in the races, it’s hard to look at the pit board anyways.
Was the family there to witness the first 450 main event? I’m sure they were pumped either way.
My mom wasn’t, but my dad works for the AMA and was down on the track. He was actually in the tower, so when I went across the finish line I could see him hanging over like super stoked.
I’m surprised your pops didn’t grab a pit board. (laughs) How was the 20-minute main event for you?
It was long. We do 15+1 in the 250 class, and even that’s long. At about 16 minutes I was like, “Man, this is up there.” I kind of made the mistake of sprinting hard in the beginning. After about ten minutes I made some bobbles, got my heart rate up ’cause I was trying so hard and I was like, “Dude, just relax.” I basically just rode it in, so I didn’t get hurt or make a mistake. It was long, but it was good. I think it’s only going to help me for when the East/West Shootout gets here in Indy.
Let’s talk about the 250 West. You’ve made every main so far and are 14th in the points. I don’t think people realize how deep the talent is on both coasts right now.
It’s definitely stacked in both, but I think it’s more stacked on the West, from what I’ve seen. My season’s been okay, but we’ve had some stuff that myself and Cole were not too thrilled on. We ended up making a change in Arlington and ever since then we’ve both gotten faster. Now I’m way more comfortable. Our bikes are way better, and I’m excited for when the west comes back and I can run the race bike with the changes. I think it’s what’s been holding me up. I haven’t had much trust in what was going on with it. We sit down in the truck and talk, and I’m like, “I’m losing time around the whole track because I can’t do what I want because of this situation.” Now we’ve changed it and now it’s good. We’re all really happy. I think when the East/West Shootout comes up–it’s definitely going to be way more stacked than just the west–with me racing every weekend and we’re still testing, I think I should be better. I’d like to be better than my best so far this year which I think is a 13th.
We have the Triple Crown race coming up in Atlanta where you’ll need to qualify for main with times. You were 26th fastest in Arlington, 19th in Tampa, so if you keep on that up trend you should be in top 18 and get right in the mains.
Hopefully. In Arlington, I messed up the last practice and couldn’t get a clean lap. I think part of the problem is some guys don’t like a 250 being faster than them when they’re on a 450. They don’t like to move out of the way when you’re on a fast lap. I even had that problem this last week in Tampa with a rider and it’s so frustrating. It’s always a good feeling, though, when you’re on top of the board and those guys are 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. They’re on their 450 and I’m on my practice 250, and when I throw it in the main, it’s kind of a dig–like, “Hey, maybe you should follow me around instead of blocking me for a lap.” (laughs)
Enjoy those 450 paydays too. Getting 18th in the 450 main is a decent payday compared to the 250 payout.
Dude, that was like two weekends of Lites class. I am not complaining, not at all. It’s actually more than two weekends, so yeah, not complaining. It was a good way to wake up.
Thanks for taking the time out to do this, and good luck this weekend in Atlanta. I’ll come say hi when you get back west in Seattle.
That sounds good. I’ll see ya.