MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 31, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Justin Cooper is sitting pretty headed into the 2017 season. He just came off three titles last year at Mini-O’s, as well as the most points earned by any A class rider at the event, putting him in a good position heading into the new year. The New Yorker has been lighting up arenas across the eastern U.S. with some spectacular results in the AX Lites class throughout the first four rounds of action. Cooper snagged the red plate in Baltimore by sweeping both motos with a relatively dominant weekend, and he showed his mettle last weekend in Nashville by making his way to the podium after a first turn crash. He’s going to be race ready by the time the spring nationals come around with so much applicable race experience already under his belt in 2017, making him one of the favorites to take the titles at all the major nationals throughout the season. Cooper just signed with the Yamaha / Rock River/ bLUcRU Amateur MX team again, therefore putting him in a familiar and comfortable environment for the upcoming year of racing. We caught up with Justin to talk about his title run in the AX Lites class, going over to Stockholm for the Mad Skills Motocross 2 World Championships, and what he’s got planned for 2017.
So, you’ve been killing it the past couple weekends in AX, you took the red plate in the Lites class by going 1-1 in Baltimore…how’s the season been from your perspective?
Pretty much it’s been good, I didn’t really expect to go this far, but I got the points lead a couple rounds ago. Everything’s been goin’ smooth so I figured I’d give it a shot and finish out the east coast.
You got off to a little bit of a slow start in Cincinnati and things didn’t really go your way that night, but you’ve really been able to put it together since then. Was there anything that changed between the first couple rounds that made a difference for you?
It’s just that AX is tight and chaotic, you’ve just got to put yourself in a good situation for all the rounds pretty much. I realized that after the first round...basically just been puttin’ every piece of the puzzle together for a good night.
You had a first turn crash this past weekend in Nashville, but managed to come through the pack and still end up on the podium. How difficult is it making moves on such a tight track like that?
You just really gotta plan your moves. That night was just uh...just basically salvaging as many points as I could. I mean, a couple things went my way; a couple people came together and stuff like that, but I was glad to get on the podium and stay in the title hunt.
As someone who has raced both Monster Energy Cup and multiple rounds of the AX series, what’re some of the major differences you notice about the two disciplines?
AX is just way tighter...I mean, you’ve got twenty second lap times compared to SX where you have anywhere from fifty seconds to over a minute. There’s just a lot more room in SX. You just gotta have more knowledge going to AX, be a little more careful, because there’s not too many places to pass. I think AX is a lot harder just ‘cause of the room and stuff like that.
You had an awesome opportunity at the end of last year to go down to to the Dominican Republic and do some racing down there at Caribbean MX Park, what was the event like down there and how was that experience for you?
It was cool. I got invited down there by one of my friends and I figured I’d give it a shot. I mean, I haven’t been out of the country much, so it was a chance to see other parts of the world; I was able to ride a dirt bike down there, too. So, that was cool. It was a three minute moto format -- three twenty minute motos. It’s pretty weird, it’s like summer down there the whole year, like they only have one season. So, I went down there and it was like ninety degrees everyday. It went good, the first moto I won and then it totally downpoured; the track went away after that and it was basically just slick and all mud. But, it was fun...it’s a lot more competitive here, but they have their big time riders down there who are sponsored by big names. It’s cool to race against them and it’s always good to race new people.
Even though you haven’t been out of the country much, you also flew out to Stockholm for the Mad Skills Motocross 2 World Championships. What was it like for you going over there?
Actually I went to two different countries in that same month. Yeah, I’ve been playing Mad Skills for like three years now. It’s kinda what I like to do in my free time. I’ve gotten really good at the game and the top twelve got invited to Stockholm for the championship over there. It was cool, I definitely wanted to do that, everything was paid for. And uh...I definitely enjoyed that, it was cool to see Sweden and all that. I was only there for a couple days, but I spent my time wisely there. All the competitors were hanging out and we all did our own thing after we were done playing. We had a good time.
Not only did you qualify in the top twelve out of over two hundred thousand entrants, but your cousin also made it into the top twelve. That’s a pretty awesome experience that the two of you got to share together, but seriously…is there a family secret to being so good or something?
Yeah, we both go to fly out together and all that. It was cool to at least know someone really good there. I kinda brought him into the game and he saw that I was so good, so I guess I showed him the way to go. He’s basically at my level now, we battle all the time on the game.
So, between traveling to the Dominican Republic and Sweden, what was the food like?
I was in the Dominican Republic for like ten days. I guess I had some run down food, because I had the worst sickness I’ve ever had; I had like a one hundred and seven degree fever. I had to go to the hospital there and that wasn’t good. I guess it was just the difference in the food, that’s all I can think of. But, I was actually with some good people for both, so I got to eat whatever I wanted when I wanted. I had a lot of good meals every night when I was out there.
You had a pretty solid season in 2016, the only downside being your injury at Loretta’s. You were initially planning on making your pro debut after the week at the Ranch, but you had some bad luck in the first 250 A moto. Could you talk a little bit about what happened in the crash?
Yeah, basically I was just training all the way up to Loretta’s and I was in tip-top shape -- the best shape I’ve ever been in. Practice went good, I was top three in times. The first moto of 250 A, I had like a second place start comin’ out of the first turn...and I just kept sliding, the back never grabbed; I guess it was a little bit slippery there. As I was getting up I got hit by another rider in the back and that knocked me out. I woke up in the hospital with a broken wrist and a bad back.
So, you went to the Baja Brawl with a vengeance and completely dominated every race that you entered, along with every fastest lap and holeshot. How does it feel to just completely sweep an entire event like that?
Yeah, it was definitely awesome and it was my first race back from Loretta’s, so I was kinda seeking redemption. Basically after Loretta’s I’ve pretty much dominated everything. I mean, Monster Cup I was in contention to win, but I got cleaned out in the second main. That wasn’t good, but I brushed that off and came back to Mini-O’s and won three championships there. I’m just trying to keep the ball rolling and see where it goes.
What’s going on mentally lining up on the gate when you’ve won like six motos in a row and you kind of know you have everybody covered?
The main thing you’re thinking is ‘take it one moto at a time.’ You’re like ‘Alright, I got six down. Let’s get this one down.’ You just keep clicking away and try to focus on every start. I mean, that track (Baja) was pretty rough all week and I like it. I like sand, I wish the motos were a little bit longer, but they were fun and I had a good time.
You carried that momentum from Baja into Mini-O’s and had some great results down there. Could you talk about the week at Gatorback and how things went down there for you?
Yeah, for sure. I came into the week expecting to be up there. I definitely wanted to get a couple titles, so I got the first title in SX -- it was actually the last main event. That took a lot of pressure off and just made it easier to transition into the outdoors. I actually started off the outdoors really bad with a twelfth...I think. I got a horrible start. I was kind of bummed out after that and didn’t know if I had it. I went out in the next one and got the holeshot, and won the moto. So, I disciplined myself before that moto and came out strong in that. It basically went on from there; I had a lot of podium finishes and consistency led me to the championship in 250 Pro Sport and I think I went two-one in 450 Pro Sport -- that gave me the championship there. I ended up getting the Dunlop Silver Tire award for the best A class rider which was really special to me. It’s a pretty prestigious award and I was excited for that, for sure.
You’ve been riding for the Yamaha / Rock River / bLUcRU Amateur MX team for a while now, what do you like about working with the team?
The bLUcRU program is unbelievable! They’re at pretty much every national, I can always count on them when I’m in trouble with bikes or stuff like that. Yeah, they’re always there for me and I just signed with them for 2017, so this will be my last year as an amateur. I hope the transition into the pros goes smooth after this.
What are your racing plans for the 2017 season after AX is over?
After the AX series I have a bunch of scheduled events I have to go to; it’s pretty much starting off with spring nationals...I’ll be at Daytona first and then Freestone. Then I have like three races in California, I’ll be at Mammoth and stuff like that. I’ll be doing Loretta’s and Monster Cup maybe at the end of the year, that’s pretty much a wrap. I’ll be doing some big races by me too, but those are just the scheduled ones I need to do. If the opportunity arises I’ll definitely go pro (after Loretta’s), but the plan right now is to go pro in SX for 2018 and focus on that.
Who would you like to thank for helping you out?
Yamaha, Cycle Trader, Rock River, bLU cRU, Yamalube, Thor, VP Fuels, Roost, 6D, Scott, Alpinestar, Twin Air, Guts, Enzo, Dunlop, FMF, Motion Pro, Renthal, Adrenaline World, Boyeson, Tamer, JMS