Dressed in surf shorts and a T-shirt, Justin Cooper walked into the main lobby of Monster Energy in Corona, California. There to visit one of his primary sponsors, it was the first time this writer had seen the Monster Energy/Star/Yamaha Racing Team since leaving for the 2019 Motocross of Nations in Assen, Holland.
The 22 year-old from Cold Harbor Springs, New York truly shined in his first appearance in the world’s greatest motocross race by winning the 250cc qualifying race. Sunday, however, was a different story thanks to a first moto shunt with teammate Jason Anderson. Smashed hand and all, Cooper lined up for his second moto, whereupon he suffered a broken clutch. All things considered, Cooper performed well in his very first Motocross of Nations and is now back in the Golden State catching his breath for a couple of weeks before diving head-first into 2020 race season preparation.
Q: Justin, you’re back from the Europe and now here in California. What have you been up to?
JUSTIN COOPER: What I’m doing is just relaxing. It was a long year and we had those extra six weeks that we had to train to go over to the Motocross of Nations. It was a great experience and very cool for the first time. I’m back in California and just kind of trying to regroup and freshen up before we start getting into the next year.
Q: Did you know you were being considered for the American Motocross of Nations team, or did it come as a total surprise when word came down?
JC: I really didn’t know until probably three days before they made the call. The team started talking to me about it. It was like, “Yeah, do you want to do it? Do you feel you are capable of doing this? Do you want to go over to Europe?” I told them, “Yeah, if I get the opportunity, I want to go for sure.”
Q: Did you the follow the race as a kid? Did you know what a big deal it was?
JC: Yeah, when I knew I was in the talk for the race I started [watching] all of the Motocross of Nations events from the year before, and started seeing what it was all about. You know, I think Ricky Carmichael said it best when he said it was probably the biggest race for him. Ricky’s mentality that he wanted to do it for his country made me want to do it that much more. That made it more of an honor for me.
Q: Were you nervous when you arrived in Holland?
JC: I didn’t really feel the pressure until we got there and started feeling the vibe a little bit. The team intro and all the people around me were really cool, and I just tried to take it as another race. Everything went really good on Saturday.
Q: Yes, a great day for you. Can you talk about race day on Saturday?
JC: Yeah, it was really good besides the 31st gate pick. That was a lot of pressure on me just because I wanted to go out there and win. It was a longshot from that 31st gate pick, but I was able to get the holeshot. Saturday was great, yeah.
Q: You were the world’s best 250cc racer on Saturday. That had to be a rush, huh?
JC: Yeah, I think the track would have been awesome on Sunday. The track was shaping up well. After that they would have graded it and everything would have been pretty rough and good for the next day. After Saturday though, it didn’t stop raining. It just didn’t stop. They did what they could, but it was pretty treacherous out there on Sunday.
Q: What did you make of the European crowd? The fans overseas don’t really get to see the U.S. riders often.
JC: It was cool, because they focus on the American so much because they know our nation is always going to send over some good guys. It was cool just being there and experiencing all of it for the first time with some good teammates. The whole crowd and the facility and the atmosphere was just so loud, and I guess you could say that everyone was going crazy for their country. It was cool to see all the different cultures come together. It was so different. There are different fans over there and they use different things like smokebombs, chainsaws, people dress up as their countries – they paint themselves. It kind of sends chills down your back a little bit. The fans were so into it at that race. The experience was like nothing else.
Q: What did you make of all the deep sand?
JC: It was basically beach sand. It was the kind of sand you feel under your feet at the beach. That was basically what we were riding on – it was pretty slippery.
Q: Race day. Not much good and a lot of bad and ugly, huh?
JC: Yeah, it was ugly. I didn’t get a good start in the first moto, and after the first turn I couldn’t see a thing and it just made things that much harder. I ended up going down in the third turn and then I got hit and was beat up, and the bike was beat up, and it all kind of sucked. However, it was a good experience, and I had a hell of a day on Saturday.
Q: What did you think of those guys as riders and racers? Anything different from America? Anything similar?
JC: They all have unique styles. Even riding with them at the local tracks before the race, you kind of see that they have a different kind of style. Even my trainer, Gareth Swanepoel, was pointing out different things that they were doing differently than I would do. It was cool to see, and cool to learn from. It was cool to race someone different.
Q: Anyone come at you and ask you to do any of the international races?
JC: I was actually supposed to do the last two GPs in Turkey and Italy with the KEMEA Yamaha Racing team. We discussed it, but the tracks weren’t anything great and it would just be a lot of work. So we backed out of it. Maybe in the future, though. Obviously nothing that would interfere with the championships in the U.S. However, if I go and do des Nations again, maybe I’ll do a couple GPs just to stay on the gate.
Q: The 2020 Monster Energy Supercross is next on your list. Do you have a preference between supercross and outdoors?
JC: I prefer outdoors, but when you do one for so long, you’re itching to get back to something different. So I’m itching to do supercross now. I’ve done 35-minute outdoor motos for a while now. So I’ll be itching to get six months of supercross, and then I’ll be itching to get back to outdoors. Whatever you’re doing, you’re looking for a change of pace. So yeah, I enjoy both, and bring on Monster Supercross next.
Q: Looking back on your year and now a month removed from the fray, what do you think?
JC: I think I’ve met most of my goals. I looked at the statistics and I podiumed 15 out of 21 races. That is a good 70 percent on the podium. And that’s important. It is definitely the best stepping-stone I can have, and I think I’m setting myself up for a great next year.
Q: What’s your future plan?
JC: The future plan this next year is obviously to go out and win some championships. That’s the goal. This my second year [as a] pro, and we came close this year, and next year is definitely a new year and new me.
Q: You seem to have a very good vibe with the Star Yamaha team. Do you like your team and your teammates?
JC: Yeah, I think the team pushes me. They push me when I need it, I feel. Even though I know it, they are there to make sure that I hear it from them. They just make me the best I can be out there. That’s good for me, and I look forward to getting their help, and I need all the help I can get. It’s a team effort, and you got to take what you can get from everyone. Any value I can get from them is what I need.
Q: Who are you going to have to fight next year?
JC: I would have to say [Austin] Forkner and Dylan [Ferrandis]. I think they’ll be the tough ones.