Justin Cooper speaking with this writer four motos into the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. “Yeah, I was definitely nervous before the season started, but everything is pretty much going 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.”
Although an unheralded minicycle and amateur racer, it all came right for Cooper in the August of 2017 when he went out and won the Loretta Lynn’s Nicky Hayden AM Horizon Award winner, and very shortly thereafter, placed a resounding fifth overall in his AMA Pro Racing debut at Unadilla in the August of 2017.
A mere two years later, Cooper is the breakout start of American motocross. Third and closing fast in the Nationals, the young and determined racer is looking at Saturday’s two motos as a chance to gain momentum and make a serious run at the 2019 250MX title.
Q: Sixteen motos into the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship and you are currently a solid third in points behind only Dylan Ferrandis and championship leader Adam Cianciarulo. In fact, you’re only 10 points adrift of Ferrandis and 46 points removed from Cianciarulo. Are you pretty stoked on everything?
JUSTIN COOPER: Yeah, I had a couple off races that were pretty frustrating, but nothing that I couldn’t bounce back from. It’s been good. There isn’t much to complain about. I’ve been on the podium six out of eight times, so I just want to keep standing on that podium and keep going for those wins.
Q: With the exception of Mount Morris in June and Spring Creek last Saturday, where you placed ninth overall and seventh overall, respectively, you’ve been on the podium at every other National.
JC: Yeah, Millville… I had an incident in the second moto where I was just taken out and there was nothing I could do about that. I’m looking to bounce back this weekend.
Q: After Washougal, you guys will have a weekend off and then go straight to Unadilla, Budds Creek and the Ironman. You placed eight, seventh and fifth overall at these races in 2018. You’re about to line up for the third time at these three tracks since your rookie year of 2017. Will these tracks be good for you in the month to come?
JC: Yeah, Unadilla is a home race for me. Hopefully it’ll be dry this year. We’ve had it muddy the last few years. Hopefully, we can get a dry day for once and hopefully I can do well there in front of the home crowd. I’m also good with Budds Creek and the Ironman.
Q: What’s your take on your competition in the 250cc class thus far in the outdoors?
JC: Yeah, it’s been tough. Everyone has been pretty consistent, especially Adam [Cianciarulo]. It all makes for good racing, and it always seems like we’re up there on the podium. No one is making too many mistakes, so it has been a pretty close series. Everything has been going great so far, and it has been a great year of racing, so hopefully a few more wins under belt. I’m signed to Yamaha through 2020 right now and I think we’re going to work on extending that sometime soon. Everyone at the Star Racing team is awesome. No complaints there. They push me every day to do better. They have a lot of knowledge with everything; that goes a long way.
Q: What’s your gameplan for these last four Nationals? Get straight to the front and try and win motos?
JC: Yeah, I’ve been pretty frustrated with how the last couple weekends have gone, so I just want to get back out front and get some more wins, for sure.
Q: I wanted to ask you if it is difficult to come through the 250cc field if you get a bad start. Thoughts?
JC: Yeah, it really is. If you’re outside the top 10, kind of get lost and stuck behind some people and the leaders take off. You definitely have to start good and run that leading pace very strongly.
Q: Your speed and race conditioning have both been very pronounced through these summer months.
JC: Yeah, I’ve been putting in a lot of work with Gareth Swanepoel and we’re looking to turn it around for this last half of the season. We just want to get back to where we feel we belong.
Q: What’s it like being a supercross and motocross star? I really wanted to ask you this question as we all know you kind of came out of nowhere, and we don’t hear stories like that very often in this day and age.
JC: It’s different. It’s hard to enjoy the moments when they come. You have so much pressure on you at the races and everything. I’m trying to change that and trying to enjoy the moment a little more than I have been, because it comes and goes so fast. Enjoy it while it is here. Yeah, I love what I do and I wouldn’t really change it for anything.
Q: Do you still enjoy going out there and racing straight-up?
JC: Yeah, yes and no. I guess the pressure gets to me a little bit, but when you get the holeshot and you’re out front, there isn’t anything much better.