"I Never Thought I'd Be Riding For a Top Team" | Jo Shimoda 3

Jo Shimoda discusses coming to the United States as a kid to race, getting his first amateur support, and what advice he would give his ten-year old self

Many Japanese motocross riders have come to the United States to try their hand at success. None have had the impact Jo Shimoda has. Jo's family started bringing him to the U.S. before he even understood why he was coming here to race. His first Loretta Lynn's attempt was in 2013 when they would load his 65 into a suitcase in parts. He won his first Loretta's championship three years later, and would go on to score seven over-all podiums in his amateur career eventually leading to an Amsoil Factory Connection Honda supported ride. Jo then made his pro debut in 2019 and has become a contender anytime he lines up, but I wanted to hear more about how a kid from Japan makes the move to race in the States full time. I called Jo up and asked him to tell me about it.

For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.

Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Hey Jo, how have you been? Have you been out riding on your week off?

 Jo Shimoda: Having some time off is good because it's a long season. For me, I can try to test some stuff during the off week and make it better.

Vital MX: With this interview, I want to let our readers get to know you better. You grew up in Suzuka, Japan, but how did you first discover motocross?

Jo: Honestly, I didn't really know about any two-wheel racing or motorsports. It was pretty much all from my dad. When he was a younger age, he used to ride a motorcycle. Then one day after Christmas, he got me a little bike to ride with, and I was just riding for fun for a long time. Now we're racing.

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Vital MX: Yeah, it got serious eventually. Your parents started bringing you to the United States when you were on 65s to race some of the amateur nationals. That had to be exciting for you but also difficult for the family.

Jo: Yeah. When I came here, I don't think I was taking motocross seriously at that age. I watched some Supercross races and then practiced, and then I got to do one race here. I was going with the flow wherever my parents were taking me.

Vital MX: Once you start getting into it, was there a big motocross scene in Japan? Were there good tracks?

Jo: There were some good tracks. Decent tracks. I loved this track called SUGO. That's one of the biggest tracks in Japan. Yeah, the tracks are good over there.

Vital MX: Was the racing competition good? Were you honing your skills there, or did most of your competition come when you were in the United States?

Jo: I guess I was winning a lot of races there when I was little. I've been telling this story to so many people. When I came here for the first time, it was for ten days. I rode every day from Monday to Friday, maybe Saturday and Sunday. Then there was this race called the Gold Cup, if you know what that is. I raced that the last day of the trip and noticed I was seven to 10 seconds slower per lap than riders like Pierce (Brown), (Stilez) Robertson, and all these guys I'm racing against now. I believe at that moment, my dad got fired up, and we got to race here.

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Vital MX: Was the idea always to come to stay in the United States? Did you ever consider the GPs?

Jo: No, as I said, I didn't know what Supercross, motocross, or MXGP was. For the most part, my parents found it for me. They found the big amateur races, like Loretta Lynn's. I never thought I would live in the United States or even race. Now when I look at it, and I know the sport well, I feel if I had that knowledge back then, I would still choose to race in the United States for sure.

Vital MX: With four major OEMs being Japanese brands, why do you think there have yet to be more successful Japanese riders? Is there anything behind that that you can think of?

Jo: I don't know. People ask me that question a lot. Yes, the manufacturers are from Japan, but there is no super competitive Japanese rider in the world. There are a few, but not a lot. 

Vital MX: They put so much money and effort into building the best bikes son they can be competitive. You would think they would develop riders from a young age to represent their companies.

Jo: Yeah. I wonder why, though. We have a racer in Formula One and Moto GPs but not motocross.

Vital MX: Other than you. You're the representative, Jo. You're killing it.

Jo: Thank you. Yeah, it's really questionable, for sure.

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Vital MX: What do you remember the most about those Loretta's years and coming to the United States? 

Jo: In my case, it was a little tough with the English language part. I did go to a public school for four years and then an online school. When I went to those public schools, I had no time to do both well. I wanted to study, but I had to ride. Sometimes I would have riding, but I also had some stuff to work on from school. Then starting a whole new language, it was hard for sure.

Vital MX: I can imagine. When you did start coming to the United States, did you have an image in your mind of how America would be from movies? Did it equal what you thought it would be, or was it different?

Jo: I was surprised how open-minded people are here. I love how in public when you say hello to random people, they're super friendly. It's rare to see that in Japan. With American people being that nice and chill, it helped me live easier as I learned the language.

Vital MX: It probably built some confidence, and you weren't so nervous. You knew that they were going to be accepting.

Jo: Yeah, they accepted my language when I was speaking horribly. 

Vital MX: I've certainly noticed the improvements over the years. You've done very well.

Jo: I appreciate that. 

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Vital MX: You did win a Loretta Lynn's championship in 2016 in the Super-Mini 2 class, and over your career, you had seven top-three overalls there. That's a very successful amateur career. At some point, Amsoil Factory Connection Honda picks you up with some support. What did that mean to your family? 

Jo: For my family, it was simply happy. Especially my dad, because he has known the sport for a long time. He was pumped because it was one of the best teams out there. When I signed with Geico Honda, for myself, that's when I took everything a little more seriously. I thought, "Okay, motocross is going to be my job." At that moment, I took everything more seriously.

Vital MX: I find it interesting that once you got the support, you started taking it seriously. Because kids take it seriously at five years old, and they don't even have any support. 

Jo: Whenever I rode, I tried to have the right mindset. I never thought I would be riding for a top team and have a chance to be the star there, you know? So, when I got the ride, it was like, "Okay, let's do this."

Vital MX: I love that. Ok, you made your pro debut in 2019 at Unadilla with Geico Honda, you got your first Supercross 250 win in 2021 at Salt Lake City, and a couple of motocross overalls in '22. So, you've had a lot of success. We've watched you get better every year. You're a championship contender at this point every season. Do you believe you're a championship contender?

Jo: I mean, I don't want to be too cocky, but at some point, you have to believe in yourself. Yeah, I think I have a good opportunity with the team, and I believe I can do it someday. 

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Vital MX: Things were a little uncertain after Geico Honda closed their doors. You got this 'fill-in' ride and were one of the best riders on the team, if not the best rider that season. Now you're arguably the leader or the star of the team. Does that add any pressure on you, or is it business as usual?

Jo: I don't compare myself like that. I do have a good team behind me, and I have an opportunity to be one of the best out there. Even though there are a lot of fast teammates around me, whenever I go to the races, I stick to my program and try to bring my potential. I don't get pressured by my teammates.

Vital MX: Currently, you are in fourth place in the outdoors, and you're coming off of a collarbone injury from Supercross. That threw a monkey wrench, as they say, into your season. Do you feel you're 100% healthy right now and ready to go, or are we still trying to get back to 100%?

Jo: Honestly, I don't know what 100% is. I did nothing for five weeks. Once you get injured, the hardest part is not the physical stuff. It's the drop-off. Your physical definitely gets weaker, but trying to regain confidence is difficult. If you go over the bar or something, you have a feeling of not wanting to do that again. So, it's in your head while riding. The most difficult part is getting rid of that. That takes time. Injuries are tough to deal with.

Vital MX: It's not just physical. It's mental also.

Jo: Yeah. It's those little doubts that you have that are hard to get rid of.

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Vital MX: My last question for you is, if you could go back in time and talk to ten-year-old Joe Shimoda, what advice would you give yourself?

Jo: Ten-year-old me? I feel I grew up telling myself, "I'm behind right now." I would see these fast kids around me that were more than five seconds faster. So, I always told myself that I needed to do better. Even when I practiced, I thought I still sucked. Instead of that, I want to tell myself, "You're fine. Be yourself instead of trying to chase so many things and caring about other stuff." I feel that will make the kids freer to ride, and it would be more fun.


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