RJ Hampshire once aspired to play college baseball and tooled around with motorcycles as more of a hobby.
But once the motorcycle bug bit hard, the Pasco County native traded in his baseball glove for motocross gloves.
Now he heads into Saturday’s Monster Energy Supercross series race at Raymond James Stadium, his home race, as one of the most promising riders on the 250 cc riding circuit.
"Motocross is one of those sports whether you’re either all in or it’s almost pointless to go out there and race," said Hampshire, who was born in Hudson and lives in Wesley Chapel. "I kind of felt like baseball got a little bit boring. Motocross is all yourself. You’re the only one out there making the choices."
He played baseball at Fivay High and was a solid third baseman, but has focused solely on motocross for the past several years.
Hampshire, 22, led for several minutes in last Saturday’s 250 SX East Division opener in Arlington, Texas, but lost the lead to eventual winner Zach Osborne, then lost two more positions when he fell. But Hampshire got back on the bike quickly and finished fourth, one spot short of his career Supercross series best.
That performance continued his comeback from a broken leg, sustained during a race last spring in Toronto. That injury cut short his 2017 season on the Supercross East circuit (there is also a West series; riders from the two series compete against each other twice a year), but he returned for the fall 250 cc MXGP series and won the finale in Jacksonville.
Even better, the GEICO Honda factory team re-signed Hampshire to a two-year deal at the end of last year.
"I had a couple of different options but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than where I’m at right now," said Hampshire, who rides the No. 36 Honda CRF 250. "This team had a belief in me from the beginning."
Hampshire also had no qualms about coming back off of the injury and said he is fully prepared for the rigors of this season.
"It’s been so long and we had such a long offseason that I feel the most mentally prepared, and physically, that I’ve ever been," he said, noting that he spent the offseason training in Brooksville.
Saturday’s event will be the first appearance of stadium Supercross in Tampa since 1999. Hampshire joked about fielding "so many" ticket requests but is pleased to have a true home race.
"Whenever I heard it was coming back, I was so stoked that I pretty much begged my team owners to keep me on the East Coast," he said. "It’ll be cool just waking up in my own bed Saturday morning and going to the track."