On August 12, 2017 at Unadilla-MX in New Berlin, New York, Justin Cooper, that summer’s winner of the Loretta Lynn’s Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award, went to the starting gate for the first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross National of his career.
After placing 12th in the opening moto, Cooper bounced back to score a remarkable runner-up finish in moto two. Truth be told, nobody really saw it coming. Fifth overall on the day, the native of Cold Harbor Springs, New York was then awarded with a ride on the Star Racing Yamaha organization for 2018 and beyond. And ever since, things have gone quite well for a racer who entered the professional fray without a lot of hype and circumstance.
After hitting the podium in the 2019 AMA 250SX East on six occasions, the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha teamster slotted in at an excellent second overall in the title struggle. From there it was on to the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series where he won the opening motos at Hangtown, Pala and Thunder Valley
Q: Things are going quite well for you in the ’19 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship…
JUSTIN COOPER: Yeah, I was definitely nervous before the season started, but everything is pretty much going according to plan. I’m still working a few things out. I think we’re just going to get better as the series goes on. I’m feeling strong every time I line up, and that’s a good thing. I just want to keep it going as it is.
Q: You’ve won the first moto at Hangtown, Pala and Thunder Valley, but went 4-4-2, respectively, in the second motos at these events. Thoughts?
JC: Yeah, it seems like every time I put myself in a good position after the first moto and then the second moto comes around and I’m either buried, or like with what happened last Saturday, we got out front and ended up having that crash. It was a shame, but I’ll just learn from it. It happens. We’ll just keep moving forward.
Q: You placed an excellent second overall in points in the 2019 AMA 250SX East Championship. Did supercross and all the podium finishes you posted up help you when the outdoor season kicked off at Hangtown?
JC: It was different, because I didn’t have both series last year. It was kind of different to end the supercross and then go right into the outdoors. I wouldn’t say it helped me, but it was definitely a solid year for me in supercross and there’s something positive to build off of there. We were doing all the work for the outdoors in between supercross races towards the end of the series. We definitely didn’t come in underprepared for outdoors.
Q: It’s been a fair amount of time since a young first or second-year rider has raced so well and generated so many positive and encouraging results…
JC: That’s what I’ve been hearing. I’ve heard it. That’s what everyone has kind of been saying. I mean, I like hearing that; I like to be unique. It’s definitely not a bad thing to come on like this. The plan is to just keep it going. There’s not a time where I go out there not looking to win. That’s going to be the plan. I feel like I deserve to be up on top and that’s what we’ve working so hard to get. No reason to back down to anyone.
Q: To your way of seeing things, what has made you excel thus far in the outdoor series?
JC: Honestly, I just kind of just gel with the outdoors. I’m very smooth as a rider, and I can gel with the tracks pretty nicely and find smooth lines, and just ride around smoothly. Once I’m in my comfort zone and riding the way I want to, it’s pretty easy for me to go even faster from there on. I think staying around the track helps a lot; it helps me get faster as a rider.
Q: When you’re out there among the madness of a 250MX moto, how has the competition looked to you?
JC: It’s stacked. The starts are definitely helping, but it’s definitely tough to come through the pack. Everyone riding really good and everyone is training really hard, so there is not a lot of separation. When you do get out front, you have to take advantage and try to separate yourself from the pack. Yeah, you can’t really take a down a notch or be comfortable in the lead, because they’re always charging and coming at you all of the time. It’s tough. It’s pretty much a 35-minute sprint every time I’m out there. That’s what we’ve come to know going to the gate.
Q: I’m assuming all of this has been pretty fulfilling for you?
JC: Yeah, it is a good feeling. I’m kind of just living in the moment as each race goes, and kind of surprising myself every time out. The confidence is definitely going up each time I go out, and I’ve been getting good feedback from the team and everything is coming along nicely. I think we’re going to start prevailing when it really matters in the series.
Q: Can you win this thing come the Ironman National in late August?
JC: Oh, yeah. We know we can win it, and that’s been on our minds. We’re not trying to think about it too much, because we know it takes 24 good motos. The bad days are going to come, but we’re going to have to salvage what we can on those days. Hopefully we can just keep putting ourselves in a good position off the starts. That’s been working real good for us.