INTERVIEW: Justin Cooper

INTERVIEW: Justin Cooper

“It was kind of like a harsh welcome back once we got racing again, and I really had to refuel the fire.”

Immediately after taking possession of the 2021 AMA 250SX West Region Supercross title, Justin Cooper showed up behind the starting gate of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship determined to begin a march towards another championship. The kickoff Pala round at Fox Raceway in Southern California over memorial Day Weekend brought 5-3 moto scores for third overall, while Thunder Valley in Colorado produced double moto runner-up finishes for the overall victory.

After a fortnight break, Cooper then raced his Monster Energy/Star/Yamaha Racing YZ250F to 3-3 moto scores for third overall at the High Point National in Pennsylvania, thus positioning him second in 250MX championship points, a mere 11 markers adrift of classification leader Jett Lawrence.

In the next couple of days, Cooper will leave his current home base in Florida and head north to pastoral Buchanan, Michigan for this Saturday’s RedBud MX National. Round four of the ’21 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 250MX title brawl, New York’s Cooper is in it to win it. A lifelong goal in claiming an AMA Pro Racing Supercross Championship now achieved, its time to go after the outdoor red plate, and that’s what he’ll do on Saturday before the thousands of Midwest fans.

Q: As far as the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship goes, I wanted to ask you if it took you a little bit of time to warm yourself up and get going after coming off such a high of winning your first supercross title. Beginning with Pala, were you fully prepared to go after another championship, or did you have to warm into things a bit?

JUSTIN COOPER: I really had to warm into it, but it wasn’t really a choice. It just felt sort of hard to get back into that fierce racing attitude, because you work your whole life to be a champion at this level and I finally achieved that, and it was like all of the stress got taken off of my shoulders. I was just trying to enjoy the moment in the weeks afterward and leading up to the Nationals. I tried my best to almost not celebrate the championship because I really wanted to be ready for the outdoor series, but it was hard. I did the best I could. I just didn’t have that fire, I feel. At least I didn’t in the first the series. It was kind of like a harsh welcome back once we got racing again, and I really had to refuel the fire.

Q: I was out at Pala and thought you looked super-strong. However, in the motocross media during the next and ensuing 48 hours, I thought you sounded a little down on yourself regarding your Pala performance.

JC: Yeah it was a little bit tough to just get right back into it. We only had a few weeks to settle down in the championship I had just won, but I really want to make a run at this outdoor championship and I feel like I’m doing that now, so it was important to have a hot start. And even though it was pretty bad, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it could be, so to get on the podium at that first round at Pala felt like a win for me.

Q: A week later you showed up at Thunder Valley and went 2-2 for the overall victory. Even after that National, however, you sounded a bit bummed for winning a National without winning a moto!

JC: Right, yeah. So I expect a lot out if myself and it is really important to be the guy that is winning the motos, and it just didn’t feel right to me to win it like that. Of course we’ll take a win, but yeah, I just want to be more dominant. I don’t want to consistently get wins, I just want to be the guy that is the best out there and I want to prove that week-in and week-out. I obviously want to be consistent, but I also don’t want to be throwing together a couple pairs of seconds. I want to be the guy winning the motos too.

Q: You won the second moto at Mount Morris. Exactly what you had been looking for?

JC: Yeah, it really felt like a breakthrough ride for me. I never really won a moto in that kind of dominating fashion before. Like, at one point, I had a 13-second lead and I was able to manage the gap from there. I didn’t really have to keep pushing. I’ve never really had a gap like that and been that comfortable out front, so it was kind of like a breakthrough ride for me and what I kind expect out of myself. Going forward now, that kind of moto is what I’m trying to replicate.

Q: It infuses you with even more self-confidence with your racing?

JC: Yeah, for sure. I already feel confident coming in and I do realize that I have the speed, it’s just going to be being consistent and grabbing those number ones and overalls.

Q: What do you make of RedBud? Are you a fan of the place?

JC: Yeah, I like it. I mean it is always a good atmosphere. Everyone always says that, and it’s true. It’s always a good time, and the track is awesome. You can’t really ask for much more out of a track as well as the fans. Yeah, I’m really excited for it, and maybe I can get my first 1-1 there. That would be cool. I’ve never gotten a 1-1. That’s really the next thing on the bucket list for me.

Q: What have you made of the competitive landscape you’ve been up against? The talent runs deep in the 250MX class. Jalek Swoll just shocked everyone with his big High Point win, and racers such as Jeremy Martin, Colt Nichols, Jo Shimoda and Hunter and Jett Lawrence are absolutely capable of pulling off a moto win on any given Saturday.

JC: Yeah, Jett has a lot of talent obviously. He’s still really young. We’ll see if he has it all figured out. We’ve been battling hard and I think we’ve made a lot of progress these first three rounds, so I expect myself to get better from here on out. I think we are in a really good spot to be in, where if we are starting up front, we are going to be hard to beat. So as far as the other guys, Jalek came out and won the last round. That caught us all kind of by surprise. Really good for him. But I’m just going to continue focusing on myself, and I think we are in a really good spot. The bike is awesome. The fitness is awesome. I feel like we are just get better from here. It’s still early on in the season, and I think it’s time to start making that push for the championship. It’s go time now.

I’m really excited to do my best and to do my part to get this outdoor championship. That’s obviously what I’m striving for. I’ll have one more year in the 250 class after this, so I’m trying to make the most of every race and to be there up front battling these guys. I’m just going to continue with this momentum. I think everything is clicking, and I think we’re going to turn in the afterburners here and start going after the wins. Like I said, I only have another year in this class, so I have three more championships that I can possibly win and I’m going to do my best to do that. I’m going to give it 100-percent. I’m just going to give it my all, and I’m excited to keep this thing going.