We Catch Up With Speed Shooting Champion J.J. Racaza

By CTD Blogger published on in Competitive Shooting, General

Viewers of Season 2 of Top Shot on the History Channel saw J.J. Racaza and Blake Miguez make a surprise appearance on the show a few weeks ago. Between his day job at the Department of Homeland Security and his time spent competing and practicing for the upcoming World Championships J.J. has a very busy schedule, but we managed to catch up with him and talk about his experience coming back onto the show as a speed shooting expert.

Cheaper Than Dirt: What have you been up to since we last spoke back in August of 2010 when you were eliminated on Season 1 of Top Shot?

J.J. I actually got engaged!

I’ve been trying to communicate with all of the supportive people out there and at the same time try to prepare for the World Championships this year. I have two of them lined up actually. There’s the IPSC World Championship and then the World Speed Shooting Championship is coming up in August.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You’ve won the World Speed Shooting Championship in the past. Will you be defending your title?

J.J. No, I actually lost the title last year. In Limited, iron sights, I lost my title from a stupid jam on the last stage.

Cheaper Than Dirt: What a disappointment. We’re all hoping you can win it back this year.

J.J. I’m hoping for it. I’m definitely going to go for it this year, in both divisions, Open and Limited.

Cheaper Than Dirt We’ve talked to nearly all of the Top Shot competitors as they have been eliminated from the show, just as we did during Season 1, and it seems like you’ve been quite the driving force in motivating a number of top level shooters to apply for the show.

J.J. *chuckles* Why do you say that?

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s see… We’ve got Athena, Jermaine, and Maggie, just to name a few, all of whom said you encouraged them to try out.

J.J. *laughs* That’s good. The show was a positive experience for me last year. They saw how it could turn out to be a good thing, a great thing actually, to be recognized in that manner and to showcase your skills out there. People really gave me a lot of credit, which I don’t think I deserved. It was really just being in the right place at the right time I guess, but it’s nice to hear that they called me and appreciated my influence to get them to go on the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt It was great to see USPSA and IPSC represented on there, as well as another Filipino-American. We love to see that level of diversity as we bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream. What else can we as fans of the 2nd Amendment, as hunters, gun owners, and shooting sports competitors, do to help bring the shooting sports further into the limelight?

J.J. You know what, to tell you the truth, it’s a good start with Top Shot to bring out every type of shooting discipline into the mainstream. The biggest thing I noticed ever since Top Shot is that there are a whole lot of disciplines out there, and we don’t know each other. Even though one person may be in the top echelon in their field, like Kelly was number one in long range rifle but, you know, I didn’t know much about him.

We definitely need to get people together a little bit more. If we do that it will give us more recognition in the mainstream. Getting it on TV was definitely a huge help.

Cheaper Than Dirt What Top Shot really does is bring together the different shooting disciplines.

J.J. Correct. I totally agree with that. That’s it.

I mean, there’s a lot of difference between pistol shooters and rifle shooters, even IDPA and USPSA shooters, there is a lot of friction between each other. Instead of going against each other, why don’t we support each other? We’re all in the same field, but we’re all at the same time only interested in our own little discipline.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about the show for a bit now. How did you wrangle your way back onto Season 2 as an expert?

J.J. You know, I was very fortunate. I was just in the right place at the right time during the first season. They knew what Blake and I could do, and we talked about it a lot. We wouldn’t shut up about it throughout the whole entire Season 1, on how we’d love to showcase our skills. I was fortunate to make it far enough to make it to that dueling tree and then make it look good.

They saw that and they saw the huge disparity on the skill level with the pistol, in both accuracy and speed, so in a sense their eyes were opened. They had no idea what my specialty was, I just told them “pistol.”

So, they called me and asked “Hey, what can you bring? Do you have a gun that looks like a 1911? That’s what we want to showcase.”

I said “I have the perfect gun for it,” and I told them “The 2011 is basically the 1911 on steroids,” and they used that line over and over on TV.

Cheaper Than Dirt Tell us a little bit more about the gun. This was the Razorcat made by Limcat, correct?

J.J. Yes. My sponsor gave me an opportunity since I was getting a lot of orders through them asking for my gun, and he didn’t have a gun specifically made for me. He asked me, “Hey, would you like to have a gun specifically for you?”

I told him “Definitely,” and so we started designing. He gave me about 5 or 6 designs with a compensator and we worked with it, test fired it, and came up with this. He asked me what color I wanted and I went with simple black and white. That black and white really stands out, I didn’t realize how it was going to turn out.

It was amazing watching it on there. It was almost a tear jerker for my parents to see that my gun was showcased on national cable television.

Cheaper Than Dirt Take us behinds the scenes now. We’ve talked with Athena and Maggie, both accomplished competitors who have shot with you on the national circuit. Everyone was so disappointed to see them go, especially when we saw that you and Blake would be back on the show. What was it like, you and Blake sitting in the hotel lobby, and seeing Maggie walk in through the door when you knew you were going to be on the show the next day?

J.J. You know, I was really hoping that I’d have a few friends out there. There were maybe 4 or 5 that I knew out there. Jermaine actually used to work with me at D.H.S. and I was looking forward to meeting them out there and seeing how they would react, because they had no idea. I was in the dark though, I had no idea how people were doing.

I was sitting there in the hotel lobby with Blake, we were just so excited, and we see Maggie come walking in and my heart just dropped. I couldn’t wait for them to showcase their skills because I knew it came early for them in the competition. Then I found out that Athena was gone, my boy Finks was gone, and Maggie was eliminated.

Maggie saw us and said “I was told what you guys were going to be doing, and I’m so mad!” You could actually look at her and see the disappointment on her place.

It touched me a little bit, and Blake and I looked at each other and asked “Who’s left? Because I don’t know…”

Now it looked like all the IPSC shooters where gone-

Cheaper Than Dirt Well, you had Chris Tilley still in.

J.J. Correct, but I didn’t know that Chris Tilley was still in. I actually had news for Chris Tilley at that point, because he had made the US Team, as the 4th place guy on the US Team. I asked the producers “Hey, can I tell him?” but they wouldn’t allow me to tell him. Being there, it was very hard to keep my mouth shut.

Cheaper Than Dirt How frustrating! And on top of that, unfortunately we saw him eliminated just a few episodes later, and now almost all of our USPSA and IPSC shooters are gone.

J.J. I think Kyle actually had some experience in the USPSA, he told me during the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt Top Shot is about being able to adapt to any weapon and do so quickly. Do you think the level of training in that particular specialization can actually handicap competitors on the show?

J.J. You know, I’ve looked at it, and I’ve thought about it, and it looks like it could work both ways. When I went in there I had all the confidence in the world that I would be able to pick up anything and translate it to the way I shoot my pistol. But you get there and they give you something that you’ve never seen before, never even heard of before, and they tell you that you’ve got 5 round to zero the weapon.

In a sense, it’s basically problem solving. Your specialty skill can help you with the confidence, but when they give you an unknown weapon you had better be able to figure it out, and you’d better have some good problem solving skills because that’s what Top Shot is. It’s about figuring out what you’re given and making the best out of it.

Cheaper Than Dirt What was it like to go back on there as an expert, to be on the other side of the fence? You don’t have anything on the line, you don’t have the stress of being up for elimination, and you get to watch things from the sidelines.

J.J. There are two ways to answer this. I’ve always had two answers for this.

Being out there as an expert with nothing on the line, just coaching and watching these guys compete was an amazing experience. Sitting out there, not as a cast member, but at the same time being a part of the crew, they treat us a lot different. We were no longer blind, we were constantly given the heads up. We were kinda roaming on our own schedule.

But when it came to competition, Blake and I kinda looked at each other, and I said “I’m not a bench player. I want to get out there!” It felt like it was the 4th quarter and we’re down by 6, and I’m sitting on the bench because the coach wouldn’t put me in.

I wanted to take over. The competition part of me wanted to go and help out and do something other than the coaching part of it. It was just torture.

Cheaper Than Dirt You probably have some sympathies towards the Blue Team, given that you were on that team in Season 1.

J.J. I was. Obviously my loyalty is with the Blue Team. I went up there and I looked at the Blue Team and it looked like they were struggling. They had less people than the Red Team. I actually said during the show “I wish I was on the Blue Team again.”

Once you start to meet the group and the cast, I started pulling for the Red Team. They had a lot more character it seemed like. The Blue Team, it seemed like they were all disheveled. Speaking to the team members one at a time, it seemed like they were all against each other. There was not that camaraderie that we had in the first season.

Cheaper Than Dirt In interviewing the team members as they are eliminated, we’ve seen that there are some serious problems popping up here and there in the team dynamic. As anyone who has been on the show can tell you, it’s critically important to be able to pull together as a team to win the team challenges and stay safe from elimination.

J.J. That’s it. Now that I get to think about it, in hindsight, you don’t need to be the best at one challenge. At the same time, you can’t be the worst. You just have to cruise through and make the team as strong as you can. The stronger your team is, the further you make it through the show. Once it gets to the individual challenge, the wolf gets hungry.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about one team member in particular, and you’ll know what I’m going to ask you as soon as I mention his name: Jay Lim. He’s gained the reputation as someone who is difficult to coach. Was that your experience as well?

J.J. You know, it’s very hard to walk up to the line and try to teach somebody something that they are unaccustomed to within 30 or 40 rounds. I understood his point about trying out my style for 5 rounds and then going back to what he’s more comfortable with. The bottom line is, once you’ve been doing something for years and years, and then step up to the line you’re taught something completely different, when the pressure is on you’re going to go back to something subconsciously. You’re not going to have time to think things through.

There was a lot more resistance with Jay and coaching him, and it seemed like that throughout the whole season with all of the experts. I thought it was just me and Blake. We tried our best with him, but he even shunned Chris Tilley who was a Grand Master, on his team, and who tried to lend a hand to him.

Cheaper Than Dirt Jay made the comment “I was unhappy with the instruction. Why change fundanmentals? I just want to know how to shoot faster and more accurately.” Did he have a valid point there?

J.J. Actually, I would say no. The basic principles of speed shooting or practical shooting comes down to three things: recoil management, sight picture acquisition, and trigger manipulation. He didn’t have the first two. If you don’t have the first two, your gun is flopping all over the place. If you have one step missing you can’t put it together and shoot fast and accurate.

Cheaper Than Dirt Yet, when it came right down to it, Jay was still able to make the shots, and consistently so.

J.J. Yeah, he seems to have that natural ability to not worry about who he’s going up against or what people think about him. He just zones everyone out and does his thing, which is very important when you’re on TV or when you’re on a challenge like that.

Cheaper Than Dirt That is indeed the mark of an experienced competitor, having that ability to get into the zone and tune everything else out.

I appreciate your time and information and want to thank you for talking with us today. We’re looking forward to seeing you compete once again on the world stage at the Speed Shooting Championships as well as the IPSC World Championships, and we wish you the best of luck.

J.J. Thank you, it was great to talk to you again.

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