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.
His first appearance in the world’s greatest motocross race, the 22-year-old from Cold Harbour Springs, New York, despite the dreariness, truly shined by winning the MX2 qualifying race. Sunday, however, was a different story where anything that could go wrong actually did in the form of a first moto shunt with team-mate Jason Anderson. Smashed hand and all, Cooper lined up for his second moto, that too going to hell via 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 headfirst into 2020 race season preparation.
Dirt Bike Rider: Justin, your back from the European front and now here in Corona, California. What have you been up to as of late?
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. Yeah, the weather was a little bit crazy but other than that, I’m just back in California and just kind of trying to regroup and freshen up before we start getting into the next year.
DBR: Did you know you were being considered for the American Motocross of Nations team or when word came down did it come as a total surprise?
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.”
DBR: Did you 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 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 honour for me.
DBR: Had you even been to Europe before?
JC: I’ve been to Sweden, but no riding was involved. It was just sort of a vacation in Sweden, but other than that, no.
DBR: We’re 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.
DBR: 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.
DBR: 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 and it was getting really quite rough. 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.
DBR: Coming all the way from the United States, what did you make of the European-based crowd?
JC: The fans overseas don’t really get to see the US riders often.
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 team-mates. The whole crowd and the facility and the atmosphere was just like 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 smoke bombs, 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.
DBR: 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.
DBR: Race day. Not much good and sh*t-load of bad and ugly, huh?
JC: Yeah, it was ugly. I didn’t get a good start 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.
DBR: 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.
DBR: 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.
JC: Yeah, 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 intervene with the championships in the US. However, if I go and do des Nations again, maybe I’ll do a couple of GPs just to stay on the gate.
DBR: 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, yeah, bring on Monster Supercross next.
DBR: 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 per cent 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.
DBR: 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 is my second year pro and we came close this year and next year is definitely a new year and new me.
DBR: You seem to have a very good vibe with the Star Yamaha team. Do you like your team and your team-mates?
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 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.
DBR: Okay, 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.
DBR: Do you and your team-mate Dylan Ferranndis get along well?
JC: Yeah, we’re both competitors and we both want to go out there and win, so that’s always a conflict.
DBR: But you both push each other in good way?
JC: Yeah, we’re there to win and we definitely make ourselves better in the long run.
DBR: Yeah, you guys strike me as a strong one-two.
JC: Yeah, we went one-two, I would say three or four times in the outdoors. During the outdoor season we were both on the podium a bunch. It’s been good and I’m looking forward to another year.
Words: Eric Johnson