Dropping In On: Justin Morgan | Dirt Rider

Dropping In On: Justin Morgan

Qualifying for the ISDE and winning the Baja 500

Justin Morgan ISDE

Justin Morgan is front and center as the ISDE Qualifier winner.

Mark Kariya

It’s pretty hard to be an all-around threat on a dirt bike. Each racing discipline is specialized with specific skills, bikes, and training requirements. But that isn’t stopping Justin Morgan from trying. If you recognized the name, we’ve featured some of his GoPro footage from select races he has competed in. For his ISDE qualifier video, click here, and to see him race the night race at this year’s King Of The Motos, click here. We recently went riding with Justin near his place in El Cajon, California, and chatted with him about what it is like to ride such a wide variety of races and a little about his race bike, a Honda CRF450X.

Justin Morgan CRF450X

Justin on his trusty Honda CRF450X

Mark Kariya

Tell us about qualifying for ISDE?
This year they changed the format for qualifying for the club riders. They made us do two qualifiers for the West Coast. If you got top five, you got to go. I did the Gorman qualifier and the Idaho qualifier since they were the closest ones for me. I ended up third overall at the Gorman race and first overall in the LOI [Letter Of Intent] class in Idaho. The idea with the qualifiers was to make it like the actual ISDE, where you put your bike in impound overnight, each were two day events. It was definitely different. Gorman, they did a really legit job because Eric Kudla was involved and everybody involved was really into Six Days. It was a challenge at first, I actually broke a caliper hanger on the front of my 450X and had to replace that and everything. You know, you have a very short amount of time to work on your bike and nobody else is allowed to touch it. So yeah, it was challenging trying to get used to it but it was good that they mimicked ISDE a little bit, so I feel a little more prepared once I go over there.

And you also raced the Baja 500 this year and didn’t do too shabby…
Yeah, I raced on the 45X bike down in Baja, which was a 450X Honda also, for Bremen Racing. We got second at the 250 by 17 seconds after having the rear axle come out and cost us a lot of time. We had a nice lead at one point but anything can happen down there. And then we came back and won the 500 by a pretty large margin. I rode with Franciso Arredondo, Shane Esposito, and Roberto Villalobos. We have a SCORE race in Tijuana worth the same amount of points as the San Felipe 250, so it should be interesting. We are going to try to go win that one and come out strong for the 1000. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Baja 1000 so it’s going to be pretty awesome. I’ll be on the same team for that race, but we are still deciding riders. There are a couple guys that are really good at certain sections of the 1000 that we are trying to get and we’ll see what happens there.

Justin Morgan Winning

Justin feeling good putting his number 7 machine in the lead.

Mark Kariya

Racing King Of The Motos, ISDE, and Baja seem to be very different from the outside looking in. As someone who races all of the above, do you find more similarities, or are they as different as they appear? Is it a goal of yours to be a very diverse rider? I really try and make myself versatile. I enjoy all aspects of racing, from motocross to Baja, you know. I just try to keep it interesting, really, to keep me from getting bored. But the racing isn’t similar at all, I don’t think. You have the sprint versus the long race with a lot of thinking like Baja. I did King Of The Motos this year. I had my lights go out at night and it kind of screwed me I ended up 11th at that race overall after all three races were scored and I had a good time. All the different kinds of races have their own challenges and they are all specific, it’s kind of hard to say which one I prefer. The slower speed stuff is nice because you have less risk of injury but my all-time favorite racing is SCORE Baja racing. To get wins down there means a lot to me. It’s really, really a challenge so I really like it, there are a lot of unknowns when you go down there.

Tell me about your race bike. You are on the Honda CRF450X is some would say is a little dated.
The reason I ride the X is because I’m doing all the National Hare and Hounds this year and it has the electric start, it’s really predictable, I’m working with Bob Bell and he is very familiar with the bike and the suspension and everything. I knew it was going to be predictable and solid package for that and I was also racing them in the SCORE races. They require a little work out of the box but once you get the bike dialed in, in my opinion, it’s the best bike for racing in the desert. We put on the 2008 CRF450R head, the ‘08 R carb, ‘08 R cam. Got the suspension done at Precision [Concepts], put a GPR stabilizer on it and its pretty close at that point. A couple bolt on parts here and there, FMF pipe, BRP clamps, Renthal bars…

Justin Morgan Hare and Hound

Justin will compete in the whole National Hare and Hound Series this year.

Mark Kariya

Switching back to ISDE, are all your preparations done for the trip? Are you ready?
Well, I built a 450X for ISDE which a lot of people have questioned, but I did the qualifiers on 450Xs and it worked out great for me. That bike is on its way to France right now. I’ve built it pretty similar to the Hare and Hound bike. We left the small stock gas tank on it and set up the suspension a little different but for the most part it’s just a little more nimble version of the Hare and Hound bike, lower gearing too.

What do you see as your biggest challenge for ISDE?
My focus is just to finish and learn. It’s going to be a huge learning experience, much like Baja. You go race Baja and you haven’t gone down there, it’s going to be a lot like that. There is tons to know. It’s my first ISDE, my first time going to Europe. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve talked to a lot of people land a lot of people have helped me, helped me a lot with advice. I’m taking it as a learning experience. I think the challenge is just to stay consistent for six days and keep the bike rolling. Obviously, I’ll have the pressure to do as well as I possibly can and to get results but I’m just looking for a nice solid finish and just to do my best. I’m on the Eric Cleveland Memorial Team, they kind of just assign you a club team, I had no say in that, but I’m really excited to ride with Anthonee Gibbs and Jacob Rowland.

Justin Morgan

He is an all-around threat on a dirt bike.

Mark Kariya

If people wanted to support your ISDE efforts how do they go about doing that?
There’s a Eric Cleveland Memorial Team website also, I try to stay current on my social media about the ISDE thing since a lot of people are interested and a lot of people have helped me out with expenses and everything to get there. With the win last year there is a lot more interest this year. They changed the qualifying format, they want the fastest club riders now. It was legitimately difficult to even get on to a club team and apparently it’s never been like that before. It’s awesome, I’m really proud to go over there and represent and do my best. I’ll probably have the bug and want to go year after year.

After the ISDE what does the rest of the year look like for you?
I have the 1000, I’ll finish out the SCORE series, finish out the Hare and Hound series, definitely hit up the Tecate Enduro. That’s by far my favorite race that I’ve done. I really want to finish strong in the Hare and Hound series. This is my second year competing in the full series. Last year I got in a three-way points tie for fifth place. I want to be top three. I’ve been consistent this year but I need to get on the podium. I’ve got a couple fourths.

Justin Morgan

Wins down in Baja mean a lot to Morgan. Here he is with his teammates after winning this year's Baja 500.

Mark Kariya

Some guys are good racers that just do it for fun while others are out to make a career of it. Which are you?
I get a lot of help through the Precision Concepts/Rocky Mountain Race Team. They give me a lot of good parts, a lot of good advice and a little financial help. I’m technically on a team, but my goal would be to race on a factory team, that’s been the long term life goal of mine. I work full time, I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on than just racing. And I don’t come from a bunch of money or anything so that makes it a little difficult. I just do my best and it’s all about having fun for me. I’ve raced since I was five and I still love it.