If you were to go onto YouTube and search for who is the dirtiest motocross racer in history, then you’d quickly find a whole compilation featuring the antics of American Justin Barcia with almost 450,000 views. He didn’t pick up the nickname ‘Bam Bam’ for nothing. The brassy 24-year-old New Yorker has had run-ins with many of the sport’s stars, like Ken Roczen, Dean Wilson, Trey Canard, Eli Tomac, Malcolm Stewart, Ryan Dungey and James Stewart. It’s fair to say he’s not scared to rub his rivals up the wrong way.
Barcia is typical of the lastest breed of super-aggressive American racers, brought up on Supercross and the close racing it demands. He scrubs harder than just about anyone, and isn’t afraid to take it right to the edge – and beyond – in his bid to win.
After a youth career that saw him win four national titles before going pro for the Geico Honda team where he won the 250 East Supercross crown, Barcia has made the move up to 450s but has not yet had the same level of success.
In 2015 he was one of the only riders to regularly take the challenge to Ryan Dungey in the outdoors, but an injury the week before Supercross 2016 started saw him miss most of the season. And when he came back in the outdoors, was just outclassed by Ken Roczen.
For 2017, his JRG team has made the massive switch by changing from Yamaha to the much older-school and heavier Suzuki. The squad is working hard to get the bike up to Supercross speed, and Barcia is racing it as often as he can in pre-season races get used to the all-new machine.
“It feels awesome,” he says. “The Suzuki is way skinnier and there’s a nice smooth engine power. We’ve been adding on a lot of parts to get it how we like it and it’s going well so far.
“But you can’t compare the Yamaha to the Suzuki as they are so different. The power curve is different, it’s more mellow on the RMZ. It’s a slower bike from the factory so we can tune it up a little bit and alter the power curve.
“I don’t need lots more power, as our guys at JGR have the power up already and and are working on a nice smooth power delivery. We’ve also changed to Showa spring suspension which is a nice change, and Dunlop tyres so that’s a huge change for us. We have lots of good stuff going on, but it’s big changes for the team.”
So with lots of changes to get used to, will 2017 finally be the year Barcia really got to grips with Roczen, Dungey and Tomac? We quizzed Bam Bam to see what’s going on inside his MotoHead.
What was your first bike? A Honda Z50 in I was seven years old in 1999.
When and where was your first race? It was in New York, at a track called Diamond Back. It was pretty cool but I definitely didn’t win it. I didn’t win for a while! It took me while to get better. At first I wasn’t really killing it!
Have you ever had a job? No. I’ve done a few things like helping friends out but never a real job, apart from racing dirt bikes. But I’m not scared of getting my hands dirty by any means.
Could you change a piston? I’m sure I could – but would the bike run? Probably not! I don’t work on bikes. My dad always worked on them and wouldn’t let me do it. And now I have mechanics so I don’t have to! I have been messing around with some old cars these past few years though. I have an old VW Rabbit truck that I’ve been tinkering with a little bit and trying to learn a little. No Lamborghinis though. I have some cool cars but they don’t need any work!
If you could have one of your old bikes back, which would it be? My 125 two-stroke was fun. I never really got to ride 250 two-strokes but I loved the 125.
Who’s the best rider you ever saw? Watching Ricky Carmichael racing outdoors when I was growing up was impressive. He was always gnarly. And watching James Stewart on a 125 in Supercross was insane. And then being able to race against him was pretty awesome
What’s the best track in the world? Red Bud in Michigan is one of my favourites. Good dirt, good ruts, bug jumps. Unadilla is cool for sure but Red Bud is an all-round great track.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career? I worked with Jeff Stanton for a long time and we are still good friends. He was very good for me. I do my own thing now with everything. I have learned so much from so many people, it’s hard to pick one!
What’s the best bit of motocross-related advice you’ve ever been given? Oh man, I don’t know! I’ve had so much good advice, but not one thing is really game-changing. I was with Johnny O’Mara for a while and he taught me about training pretty hard and how much effort you really need to put in, which was cool. I have worked with lots of people, especially old-school motocrossers, and got lots of help.
What’s your greatest motocross memory? When I won my first 250 Supercross championship was totally awesome. But winning championships at Loretta’s as a kid is pretty high up their too. The times flies by!
What are the keys to your success? Never giving up, for sure. You can’t give up in this sport. I’ve been through a lot of injuries and you just have to work harder to get back to where you were.
Describe your perfect day? Wake up, have some coffee, drive to the track and do some riding, get home and go for a cycle ride on my road bike, then hang out with some friends. That’s pretty much my basic day as a pro rider so I’m very lucky! I get to enjoy my days for sure.
Do you have a Plan B when you stop being involved with racing? Not really – I take everything day by day. I have a lot of good investments and own a big track track in Florida. So I have a lot of different opportunities when I’m done with racing, which is nice.
Have you ever been in a fight? Not a proper fist fight but I’ve been in some fights on and off the track, yes! None that really stick out. I had one in Bercy one year that caused some drama and people remember it, which is pretty cool. Although at the time it wasn’t that cool!
What do you drive? A big Toyota Tundra truck. Toyota sponsors our race team and looks after us too, which is very cool! I like to drive and listen to old-school rock, old and new alternative rock too. I’m pretty easy going
What’s your most embarrassing moment? Jeez! I’ve had a few, but I tend not to get too embarrassed! I just laugh it off. Nothing too crazy.
What is your guiltiest pleasure? I like ice cream and chocolate. But I don’t think it’s too bad as I work out a lot and burn it off! I definitely like the sweets.
Is there anyone you’d like to say sorry to, and why? I have squashed any issues I’ve ever had with anyone, for the most part. I don’t hold a grudge too long.
Who or what is the greatest love of your life? Riding my dirt bike.! I get to do a really cool job for a living.
How do you relax? Being a dirt bike racer it’s hard to relax as lots of people ride dirt bikes to relaxed! I’m most calm when I put my helmet on and go riding, just doing what I do. Relaxing mentally is riding my dirt bike and bicycle as it clears my mind. And it’s a release. Physically relaxing is all about sitting on the couch and watching Neflix on TV, mainly documentaries.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would it be? Listen my dad more! I listen to him now a little. But back in the day I didn’t listen as a kid. Dad was pretty much always right but it takes a while for you to figure that out.