On Saturday morning, January 6, 2018 at Angel Stadium in California, a young rookie racer from New York state named Justin Cooper stood beneath the pit awning of the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing team and took a long look around at things.
“This is my first professional supercross,” he said. “This is what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little kid. It’s crazy to finally be here.”
Cooper raced to a steady ninth place that night, launching his freshman season into fifth gear, and in doing so, started piecing together both consistency and championship-level results. Second in the 2019 AMA 250SX East Region Supercross Championship and third in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, Cooper looked to 2020 as his year to put it all over the top. And come the Anaheim opener in January, Cooper excelled in winning the main event and forging ahead to hit the podium three other times to find himself just seven points adrift of title leader and teammate Dylan Ferrandis.
It all looked good for Cooper and his 2020 plans until the coronavirus found its way to the U.S. and pulled the plug on the bright lights of all of our major sports stadiums.
Q: The issue of nobody having a date for when racing might resume again is really causing a lot of frustration and anxiety for racers all over the world, isn’t it?
JUSTIN COOPER: Yeah, exactly. No one really knows what to expect from this, because we’ve never really had something like this. It’s all new for everyone, and we’re all doing the best we can to do what we have to do. It’s just a waiting game right now, and we’ll see what happens and what comes from this.
Q: Have you been able to ride much?
JC: We have been riding, but it’s not like a major issue if we don’t because this is looking to be a pretty big deal and we really don’t know when we’re going to come back. Obviously, parts and everything are going to be limited with all this stuff shutting down, so it’s scary times right now. We have to stay smart, and stay healthy most importantly. We’ll keep training and keep the body in shape, but now is really not the time to go to the hospital. We’re trying to keep it pretty mellow.
Q: Have you been in close communication with your race team and teammates?
JC: Yeah, we’re still in our training program as far as indoor stuff. We talk on a daily basis still and everything is going good. We’re just waiting around like everyone else is.
Q; What have you been doing to burn time?
JC: Yeah, at one point I was doing some puzzles, but I’ve kind of fading away from that. I’ve done too many of them and honestly burnt myself out. After the training we do, there isn’t really that much to do. I’ve been watching a couple of TV shows on Netflix and have been trying to keep myself entertained and playing some video games, but other than that, it has been pretty mellow. I’m looking for a quicker way out of this. It is definitely taking longer than I thought it was going to take, and we’re not really even close to the end of this, I feel. It’s hard. It’s just hard to right now.
Q: You were really powering along on the AMA 250SX West stadium tour, with your first supercross win at Anaheim and three other podium appearances. I guess if anything, you know you are right there and totally capable of winning a title?
JC: Yeah, everything was going good, and now it has all just stopped. It’s like, “What are we going to do now?” No one really saw this coming. It’s just weird. We’re training for this full season to happen and then, all of a sudden, we’re not doing anything. It’s difficult to keep motivated, like I said; it’s really hard to train for something that you don’t even know you’re training for. I’m just taking it day by day and seeing how it plays out.
Q: In the span of just a couple of years, you’ve really become a force in the American 250cc wars. Even though everything is currently lights-out, how do you feel about where you are at with your racing?
JC: Yeah, when we talked last year, I told you I was just trying to get a good base season in and see where I stood, and that we were going to be going for the wins and stuff, and that’s kind of how it has gone. The main goal for me is to just keep progressing, and make sure I do that each time out. I’m just striving to be better, and so far it has been working well. I’m still learning. I’m always learning, but getting better and better.
Q: Your consistency is also very good…
JC: Yeah, I’ve heard people call me the next Ryan Dungey because I’m so consistent. That’s good for me, but I don’t want to be a guy that is on the podium every weekend, I want to be a guy that’s going for the wins. I feel like my podium percentage is great, but I’ve only got two wins to show for that, so it’s a fine balance. I feel like I need to hang it out a little bit more to get up in the top spot, and that’s maybe where I’ve lacked a little bit. I mean, taking nothing away from the guys I race against, they’re all really good racers and it’s definitely hard to win, but it’s time to start stepping up to that number one spot.
Q: Can we get the outdoors in this spring and summer?
JC: I’ve already done a crap-load of training for outdoors, so it would be a shame to not run it. It’s not really up to us right now. We’ve got a lot going on; I’m just hoping that we get the outdoors in. That would be nice, but we can’t expect that to happen with what’s going on right now. I feel like I had a really good year last year and I feel like I can still be better, so I definitely would love to run it.