In my last blog I gave you my interviews with James Stewart and Kyle Chisholm, both Yamaha riders for 2009, but not Factory Yamaha riders. I also spoke with the three racers who work out of the official Factory Yamaha rig, Broc Helper, Josh Hill, and Grant Langston. All are signed up to ride Factory Yamaha YZ450Fs, though it is unclear if or when Langston will be back on a bike.
Broc is a talented racer whose past seasons have been promising but all brought to a stop early with injuries. Josh Hill got himself into a little hot water with the AMA during the 2008 outdoor Nationals, but he seems back on track now and focused on racing. Not to re-hash what Josh did, but the problems revolved around horsing around in the pits with a rental car, it was not any on-track dirty riding. And Grant Langston, the 2007 Motocross Outdoor National Champion, spent most of the 2008 season out with an eye problem that turned out to be a tumor. It is not known if or when he will return to racing. They all took a little time out of their day on November 11 playing official Yamaha Factory ping pong and eating official Yamaha Factory hamburgers at the official Yamaha Media Day to tell me, this…
PP: It seems you start so many seasons off not quite 100%, how are you feeling now?
BH: Right now I’m actually healthy, so I’m able to start getting stronger. That’s what I need, some more strength for the 450 so I can throw it around in supercross.
PP: How are you feeling on the 450?
BH: I’m actually pretty good, making improvements already since the US Open. At the US Open I lacked a little speed and strength, so that what I’m working on.
PP: What are your goals for 2009?
BH: Probably a goal would be shooting for top 5s starting out, and hopefully I can accomplish that and then make better goals as the season goes on.
PP: Who are you riding with right now to pace yourself and see where you’re at?
BH: We’ve been riding with James a little bit, he’s been here around the US Open and then he’s gonna be testing here all this week so we’ll get to see how he’s doing and learn from him. Josh Hill and I are always riding together.
PP: Has having James on a Yamaha helped you directly in any way?
BH: He’s going to help develop the bike even more. Because with Josh and I the only ones doing all the testing, now we’ll get some feedback from him, too, and see what works best, and hopefully that will in return help us, also.
PP: What’s going to surprise us most about you in 2009?
BH: I’m gonna stay injury free.
PP: You got into a little bit of trouble in ’08, any changes to your program for 2009?
JH: My program training-wise was not too bad last year, I just made a few bad decisions. It’s definitely transformed my personality, for sure. I regret that it happened, and maybe I don’t have the best image right now, but to be honest, that was probably one of the better things that’s happened to me. I was just having too much fun and I needed to have that wake up call to get serious or I’m not gonna have a job soon. I actually think it was a blessing in disguise, it made me think I have to turn my program around a little bit. Not my workout program, just my life program.
PP: Who are you riding with on the 450s to see where you stand going into this year?
JH: I was riding with James a lot until I tore my labrum (shoulder cartilage) just two and a half weeks ago. I had surgery on that, so I’m out for about four weeks or so, maybe a little bit more. I hope to be back strong for Anaheim.
PP: How much time are you going to have on the bike before Anaheim I?
JH: If everything goes well, three weeks. I feel like my base is really good. I think my speed was good before I got hurt, I felt really good. My stamina, I’ve just been running and working out in the off-season. I’m still doing that stuff, I just have not been on the bike.
PP: What are you looking more forward to, supercross or the outdoors?
JH: Oh, for sure supercross. I don’t really… I don’t get overjoyed about outdoors. I mean, they’re good but definitely supercross is more fun for me.
PP: You had a win last year, what are you goals for 09?
JH: To get more wins. I’d like… I don’t want to say what my goals are, really. I’ve got my own goals in my head and that’s basically to be top 5 every weekend. If I’m top 5 every weekend, then that means I’m gonna be close to the top 3, and if I’m in the top 3 I’m close to the front. I just have to play it by ear, especially with this injury I’ve had. Who knows how strong it’s gonna be, but I’m just going to do everything in my capacity to be strong. I don’t know if I’ll be 100% by Anaheim, but even if I’m not I think I’ll still be a threat in the top 5.
PP: What’s going to be the biggest surprise about you for 09?
JH: I really think I have a lot of speed to offer that I didn’t even get a chance to show last year because I just never started up front. If I can get good starts, like I’ve been working on, and be up front, I think I’m going to surprise people more than I did last year.
PP: How is your eye right now?
GL: It’s been six weeks since the radiation procedure and they said realistically I would hopefully start seeing, if the eye’s going to improve, a change between six and twelve weeks. At this point there really is no difference, I’m really hoping that there will be a difference. I’m trying to not get too bummed out just yet. They even said sometimes it can take almost a year for the eye to adjust, but by three months we should have a good indication if it improves, and how much. I just keep my fingers crossed and have been trying to do a lot of other things in and around racing, but realistically if it doesn’t improve I’m not gonna try to race professional… It’s just not worth it. Some people say, “I know someone who has one eye that rides.” I can ride, but there’s a huge difference between going to the local track and riding with your buddies to lining up at Anaheim to race against people like Chad Reed and James Stewart. I mean, there’s no comparison. I’ll probably always ride, even if I lost my eye I’ll still ride, but on a professional level it’s just not worth the risk right now.
PP: What’s your function with the team at this point for ’09?
GL: I was talking to Keith (McCarty) (Yamaha’s Racing Division Manager), saying I can ride if he needs me to do some testing, if it’s outdoor testing and they’re in supercross, or if they’re busy. They’ve had me go and do a couple dealer shows and PR events, which has actually been quite enjoyable. I thought it might be kinda crappy, but it’s… Obviously I don’t want to tell them (Yamaha) too much, but I’m having fun getting paid, so it’s really been quite a pleasant experience, a lot more enjoyable that I what I thought I was getting myself into.
PP: Was your contract up at the end of 2008? You said earlier at the media presentation that Yamaha could have released you.
GL: Basically when I won my championship in 2007 it was an automatic third year renewal. But what I was saying was that it says in the contract that if I have a medical condition, like if I get cancer, or have this vision problem, or anything, basically it was a sickness clause that said if I couldn’t race, they’d have the right to terminate my agreement. And Keith just came to me and he said, “We don’t want to do that, we like you, we appreciate what you’ve done to us, and we want you to be a part of Yamaha.” I was pretty, well one, excited to hear that, and two I felt like there was a fair bit of respect and fair treatment. I know I won a championship for them, but, especially with the economy, business is business, and knowing what they could have done and what they did, I’m very thankful and I feel very loyal and very excited to be a part of Yamaha. I want to be a part of Yamaha whether I race or not for the rest of my life.
PP: You’ve reached the top of the sport, you’re talking today that it’s possibly retirement time, do you have any advice to young amateurs coming up about… Do you have a new perspective on things that -
GL: Yeah. Make sure when you get disability insurance that it’s not just for injuries, but for sickness as well. It caught me off guard with that one. I’ve spent money on insurance policies year in and year out, now when it comes the time to possibly be able to claim, I wasn’t able to do it. But it’s not over until the fat lady sings. I’m still optimistic. I would like to race and finish my career out in the right way and be able to say, “Okay, this will be my last race.” And kinda close that chapter, close that book. Right now it’s been wishy washy and it’s been hard to give people definitive answers because I really don’t know. When I know, you guys will know. I don’t want to say I’m done, because I’m not ready to quit, but if I have to I will.