A conversation with the six-time AFM Afemme champion Joy Higa.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEVE PHIPPS • SEPTEMBER 04, 2017 • PHOTOGRAPHS ON THIS PAGE ARE COPYRIGHT © FAMAMOCA LLC 2017 AND MAY NOT BE REPUBLISHED WITHOUT LICENSE
Joy Higa #802. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, 2016. Photograph: Steve Phipps/FAMAMOCA.
For readers who might not be familiar with you, let's do a quick rider bio.
In 2002, I learned how to ride a motorcycle in an MSF safety course in the parking lot of a community college in Marysville. My first bike was a 1988 EX500. In 2003, I bought a 2003 R6 and started doing track days, then in 2004 did my first novice race with AFM on the R6. In 2006, I started racing at Willow Springs, in 2007 I started racing with WERA. I did my first AMA 600cc Supersport race in 2010. In 2012, I bought a 2012 GSXR 1000 and started racing that in AFM. In 2014, I got my AMA Superbike license.
I have a lot of championships in the AFM women's races, but the majority of races that I do are against men. I usually race Open Production, Open GP, Open Superbike, Formula Pacific, and the women's race formula Afemme. I lost count a long time ago but I've probably participated in over 500 races — sprint, solo 20 lap races, and 4 and 6 hour team endurance races — over the fourteen years that I've been racing.
* Editor's Note: Joy's AFM Afemme championships are 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. *
From the Superstock race, July at Laguna Seca, here's what you wrote about being 0.7 seconds off qualifying, and what sounded like a frightening incident in Turn 1, with the bike landing on your foot:
Towards the end of qualifying I started to get tired and for [lack of] a better word, desperate. I was pushing as hard as I could. I lost it going over the top of 1 at over 150 mph. I felt the tires lift and the bike tip and fall on my foot, and then … the tires touched right-side down and the bike kept on going. But not before it scraped the fairings on the asphalt.
It sounded like a harrowing moment. Joy, please talk a little about that session, how it was going.
That incident in Turn 1 at Laguna Seca happened so fast, it was over before I even realized that it happened. It actually threw my suspension off going into Turn 2, so getting the bike stopped and turned for 2 was an even bigger issue, and I forgot about Turn 1 as soon as I started braking for 2. Which was about three seconds later.
Joy Higa #802. 2017 MotoAmerica Superstock, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Click to enlarge. Photograph: Steve Phipps/FAMAMOCA.
For the gear heads: The bike you set up this year.
I bought my friend's 2016 R1 track bike. It already had an exhaust, suspension, a quick turn throttle from Motion Pro, and gearing. We added Auto-Blip, a Brembo master, and the 22 liter oversized tank that's required for MotoAmerica. Alex Torres from Fastline Cycles did an easy reflash, added some safety equipment, some Sato Racing accessories, and put the bike together. Liquid 3D Design cosmichromed/electroplated the bodywork in silver with a gold tint.
Let's talk about every rider's favorite subject: rider penalties. Most penalty points you were ever assessed was for ...?
Seven or eight years ago, I think, I blew Turn 1 at Sonoma at the Finish. Even though I won the women's race I got dq'd. I'm pretty sure I still won the championship though.
I had lunch with a team owner, who expressed frustration about finding good riders. I wondered if it was because the decisions that riders make during a race is the area that feels the most random and (un)lucky to him, where he has the least control. But to him, in his view, it was the rider that made the most difference. The performance difference between the machines was much smaller than the talent difference between the riders. (Dis-)agree?
I agree. It's 90% rider, 10% bike. Maybe 80/20. All I know is the top guys in each class are really really talented. Nobody gets a factory ride unless they have massive amounts of talent in the first place.
What's a track you haven't done but would like to?
Road America and Barber. I hear they're really cool. Circuit of the Americas was absolutely amazing and I'm so glad I had a chance to ride there.
Wrapping up. This is sort of trivial but I tend to eat at the tracks a lot, and frankly I've been served wayyy too many microwaved budget hamburgers, so this is near and dear to my heart: What track had the best food?
Auto Club Speedway, Circuit of the Americas, and Laguna Seca now serve Bubba Burgers. They're the best burgers ever. To be honest, I've never had any bad food at any of the tracks.
Joy, you mentioned that you were considering retiring from racing. Please talk a little about that, where you are with that decision, what you're feeling about you and racing.
Golf is my new hobby. It's challenging and fun. And as far as racing goes, I've already retired three times. I might be back.
Joy Higa. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, 2016. Photograph: Steve Phipps/FAMAMOCA.
Our thanks to Joy Higa. The interview was conducted via email and lightly edited.
Comments? Corrections? Drop us a line: Contact the author
Links and More Information:
American Federation of Motorcyclists
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
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