(Justin Hille - Spec Miata class winner during Saturday's race, pictured above.)

The Runoffs’ Contender: Justin Hille

The countdown has begun. With three months to go before the first race at the 2016 SCCA Runoffs presented by Garmin VIRB, we highlight our first driver who is considered a favorite to take home a National Championship – Spec Miata racer Justin Hille.

After taking home both wins in Spec Miata at the SCCA U.S. Majors Tour in early June at Mid-Ohio, we caught up with Justin to learn more about him.
Justin Hille has loved cars, and vehicles, as long as he can remember.  “It’s funny, because before I can remember, I was obsessed with semi-trucks,” Hille recounts.  “I wanted to be a truck driver, probably because my dad would get home every Friday after being on the road all week.  The love for trucks carried over to a love for cars – fast cars.  We didn’t have the budget to go racing, and frankly there was no interest at the time, so starting at 9 or 10 years old I was religiously playing racing simulators – after school work of course :).”  He did whatever he could to make himself feel like he was in a car.  When he was about 12, his father’s business was beginning to grow, which allowed his father to buy a sports car; which turned into autocrosses; which turned into track days.  Hille recalls, “I was there every step of the way, bugging the whole paddock to go for rides, sitting in on classroom discussions.  When I wasn’t doing that, I was working corners or taking pictures by the hundreds.”

When he turned 16, he started going to these events with his father, but this time it was as a driver.  He scored the fastest time of the day at his first local autocross, and quickly jumped through the NASA HPDE ladder sharing vehicles with his father.  Most of the time was spent in a 2001 Mazda Miata Special Edition! “As a 16 year old,” Hille explains, “I would say I was very fortunate to have this opportunity. The late nights of Gran Turismo and GT Legends – after completing all of my school work of course! –  seemed to have paid off.”

A few years later, during a track day at Daytona, it was suggested to him and his father that they look into competing in Spec Miata.  “Honestly, we had never thought about wheel-to-wheel competition up until this point; we were enjoying just trying to get everything we could out of our cars.  We were then hooked up with Tom and Glenn Long, who invited us to come test their 1991 Spec Miata at Carolina Motorsports Park.  When we were .2 off the track record in the 2nd session on track, we decided we had to buy the car and start racing.  Tom and Glenn also gave me the awesome opportunity to crew with their team, Freedom Autosport, during the 2010 season,” Hille reminisces.  Needless to say perhaps, his first year of racing was immersive.  If he wasn’t racing, he was working on the car or flying all around the country to help Freedom Autosport.

2010 was quite a learning experience.  “None of my simulator/arcade racing experience could have prepared me for what the real thing is like, when there are actually consequences,” Hille explained.  “Our very first race weekend at VIR, we qualified on pole in Spec Miata.  To my surprise, however, we rolled over the scales and measured 60 pounds underweight.  This is how new we were.  We didn’t even pay attention to the vehicle weight.  Now, for my first ever real race, I had to start in the very back of a large field of cars.  I was absolutely clueless.  Making moves with no plan; overshooting corners; missing caution flags; all this made me think this really wasn’t for me.  I ended up pitting early because I felt so stupid for missing a full course yellow for almost ½ of a lap.

The second race went much smoother. We got the weight right and finished 2nd.  I then realized I really needed to start studying race craft.  Thanks to the help of Tom Long throughout the first year, we were able to pull off our first win at Pittsburgh International Racing Complex in June 2010, and again at Putnam Park in October 2010. After a lot of winter time studying, we had a very successful 2011 season.”  They won the regional championship in NASA and Hille was awarded Driver of the Year.  They also looked like they had a shot at winning the 2011 NASA Championships at Mid-Ohio, but some bad luck in qualifying and the tech shed prevented that.  During the following four years, they earned two more NASA Regional Championships, one SCCA Majors Conference Championship and National Points Runner-Up, four track records, and many wins. We expect the many wins to continue.