Features 15 Mar 2012

The Matthes Report: 10

Pulp MX's Steve Matthes checks in from the U.S. every single Thursday, presented by Fox.

As I was watching Justin Barcia win his fourth race in four tries for the GEICO Honda team at Daytona, a thought occurred to me about just how far this kid has come in a short while.

He hit the scene in 2009 for the outdoors and led both motos at the first round at Glen Helen before fading back a bit. A very respectable finish and later on that summer, he won Southwick which is close to where he grew up.

That next year, 2010, he came into the first round of the 250 east series and promptly started being his aggressive self but maybe it was a little too much. A meeting with his team and Honda quickly reminded Justin to try and channel his aggressiveness towards going forward and not making too many enemies out on the track.

He didn’t win that series nor did he capture that summer’s outdoor title either. He was certainly fast enough but just couldn’t quite figure it out. And then in the most unlikely manner, Barcia learned that slowing down to go fast and thinking a little bit more out on the track was the way to do it. A light bulb went off in his head and the switch was thrown in the form of a bulky brace he had to wear.

You see, at the second round of last year’s SX series, he went down in practice in Atlanta and broke some bones in his wrist. Nothing major but the injury did two things. One was require him to wear a brace and two was he had to also tone down his riding a bit because of limited movement due to the brace. And just like that, Barcia started winning.

He knew he was hurt and had to take what he could get. Which luckily for him, with his talent, backing it down just a bit was enough to win the majority of races and take his first professional championship. All along, the wrist was healing up and Barcia was figuring things out.

Justin Barcia has been perfect to date in his title defence for GEICO Honda. Image: Simon Cudby.

The start of the 250 outdoors came and Barcia struggled with an illness as well as the same old problems which were crashes and trying to do too much, too soon. It was a step back from the growth he showed indoors.

With the factory Honda team in trouble in terms of having riders injured, the call went out to Barcia (then sixth in the points in 250s) to jump up to the 450s and see what he could do. And again, with the powerful 450 maybe forcing him back the hyper aggressiveness down a tad, Barcia proved to be a quick study on the big bikes and was soon right there with the leaders. It was a remarkable jump up for Justin and his speed surprised everyone.

The only thing he was missing, the one thing that held him back, was his fitness. Enter six-time national and supercross champion Jeff Stanton. Stanton, who was a factory Honda rider consultant for years after retiring, was kicking back in Michigan when Barcia reached out to him for help.

These two almost worked together last year but couldn’t make it happen. But for 2012, no stones were unturned in helping get Justin to that next level. I have to admit it wasn’t a big surprise to me that Stanton and Barcia got together.

In the fall of 2010, I had a good talk with Lorraine Barcia (Justin’s mom) at Bercy Supercross in Paris, France, where she was talking to me about what the effects that my friend Tim Ferry had on Justin’s teammate Trey Canard that past summer. Canard had hooked up with Ferry around the beginning of the nationals and put on a charge to win the title.

Mrs Barcia was asking me what kind of things did Ferry do for Canard, what were the specifics of the deal and even joked that with Trey moving to the 450s, maybe Ferry could help out Justin! It was a casual conversation but it was enough to make me think that she thought a calming influence/teacher could help out Justin on the track.

Stanton, not one to need the money or the limelight, doesn’t suffer fools and like he does pretty much everything in his life, went into helping out Barcia with a singular focus. And in talking to Jeff, he admits that he can’t teach Barcia how to ride a motorcycle, which is step one for any of these retired guys to admit.

God bless Stanton and Ferry and the like but the riding techniques and bikes have changed so much from when they were riding, you can’t try to meld them into something that they’re not. What the smart guys recognise (and trust me, there are some retired riders out there that don’t get this) is that the time honored things like working hard off the bike and being mentally strong don’t change from any champion, no matter what the year, but he can get him in shape.

Jeff Stanton has been in Barcia's corner during the 2012 season and it's paying off. Image: Simon Cudby.

Stanton has been working hard with Barcia off the track and in the gym. Recently he told the Pulpmx Show that Barcia and his days are about six to eight hours including riding (that sound you heard is a lot of racers jaws dropping to the ground – “you mean I should work on this like a regular job?”) and that Barcia, while working hard in his career, didn’t really do all that much off the bike.

Stanton’s got Justin working harder than ever off the track and as well working with Justin on his mental game and yep, slowing down to go faster. As Jeff says, you’d rather have a guy who is too aggressive and tame him back than try to light a fire in someone that doesn’t have it.

Stanton was never the most talented rider on the track when he raced, but what he did do was work hard off it and be one of the most mentally strong riders out there. As the great Jean Michel Bayle once told me, he was impossible to get away from at a national, no matter how much you sprinted, Jeff was like the Terminator. He just kept plugging away no matter what the condition.

Right now it seems that Justin, barring disaster, has this 250 east series on lock-down and even Stanton admits that it’s not that big of a deal, after all he won it last year. The coming outdoor season is where we’re going to see if Barcia has learned enough and is able to step up and be that consistent podium guy in the motocross series.

Certainly I don’t mean to minimise Justin’s own contributions to his winning ways, he’s the one putting in the work and is on the bike, he’s the one who is taking the initiative to get Stanton onboard. It’s an incredibly mature thing to do for a rider that’s been accused of no being the most mature guy out there and it’s paying off big time so far.

And you know what? If he keeps picking the brain of Stanton, getting more confidence, there’s no way I’m going to bet against him when the series goes outside.