Hey Justin. Thanks for the time in doing this interview with us. Where are you hanging out this holiday season?
I’m in California full-time now.
On the Saturday morning of January 6, 2018, this writer was walking through the pit area for that night’s season-opening round of the Monster Energy Supercross Series at Angel Stadium when I came across rookie rider Justin Cooper. Set to be his pro supercross debut later that night before 40,050 fans, one could tell the native of Cold Springs Harbor, New Yorker was wide-eyed with the new reality of his surroundings.
“This is my first professional supercross,” Cooper explained shortly before practice was set to begin. “I’m excited to finally be here. I want to get some experience tonight and see where I stand. I’ve been blessed with this opportunity with this Star Racing team and this is what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little kid. It’s crazy to finally be here. I’m excited to get out there and leave the nerves behind.”
Some 14 hours later and his race run, a race in which he charged back from an opening lap yard sale crash to place a charging, impressive ninth. “It was awesome, to say the least. It didn’t go the best or as smooth as I thought it would, but I definitely got a lot of experience. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
As we all know now, one week later Cooper would hit the ground at Houston, immediately ending his supercross run for the year, but then came the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship and spectacular season which undoubtedly make him a title contender in 2019. But first, there is the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross Series to run and Justin Cooper is ready, willing, and able to start it all off with a bang. On Christmas Eve, I talked with the 2018 250MX Rookie of the Year.
I’m in California full-time now.
Yeah, it’s basically the polar opposite. I like it more on the East Coast, but it hasn’t been bad. I wouldn’t say it’s terrible, but I’m more of an East Coast guy.
That’s probably the biggest change, yeah. Not seeing rain took a while to get used to. But I am going to go back home this week for a little bit. I’m actually going to go visit my girlfriend’s family in Arkansas. That’ll be pretty cool to change it up, I guess a little bit. It’ll be good.
Yeah, her brother raced. She pretty much followed her brother all the way through it. Not much has changed with her!
Awesome. I’ve just basically been working on stuff with supercross. We’ve been breaking sections down and just trying to get the most out of each place on the track because the racing is so close. We’ve been working on specific stuff, like my weaknesses I guess you could say. It’s been working well.
I was prepared, but I didn’t get the racing experience. That was the only thing that I was missing there. Yeah, we’re just putting a lot more together this year and working a little bit closer on stuff to just get that much better. We all train with Gareth Swanepoel, so we’ve all been working with each other and everyone on the team is helping everyone. It’s been good.
Yeah, you start with the basics and you ride the track and then you just break down your weaknesses. If you’re struggling compared to your teammates, that’s when you want to start breaking down your weaknesses. That’s the most important part of it all. You just need to put everything together and that’s what we’ve been doing this year, it has been good and it has been helping me a lot and it has been helping everyone on the team.
It really does. I’m a lot more comfortable coming in this year, I think. I know what to expect this time and I really think that things are going to go much smoother this year. That’s what I’m excited for. I’m already feel comfortable on the bike and I have had all this extra time to really just buckle down and focus on the team and to be able to rely on the team and all of its experience to help me that much more. We’re in a good spot right now and we still have a little time to go before we start up.
Honestly, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t think I was going to do that good. I expected myself to be up there and to be battling like that, but I didn’t really expect myself to be a podium guy every weekend.
Yeah, it all came really quick and it just came with the team’s help and working on things that I knew needed to be worked on. It’s hard to have the mindset that you’re just going to go in there and crush them when you have all these guys that are past champions in the class. They’ve all been doing this for many years, so they know what to expect. I didn’t, so it was hard to put the expectations that high, but I definitely didn’t put it past myself, though, and I think that’s why I did so good, so quickly.
Yeah, I think that was probably one of my strong points. I think I qualified first at half of them, so I definitely have the speed, I guess it’s just experience. It was just the experience of going through the whole outdoors and we had a good and solid year there, so next year we’re going to come in and know what to expect at each and every round and hopefully be that much better.
Yeah, it was amazing to see all the feedback I got from everyone and all of the fans would make positive comments after each showing. It was cool to see and it just made me that much more pumped to go out there and do it again. You know, it’s really tough mentally when you don’t back up a good performance. It makes you wonder what you did wrong and you have to go back and kind of analyze what happened and what you need to work on to get back up there quick.
Yeah, it’s really important. It’s really important to just keep going out there and building each weekend and not taking any steps backward.
For sure, I’m going to be putting myself upfront. That’s where I want to be, that’s where everyone wants me to be and that’s what I expect of myself, so we’re going to be shooting for the podium range. I’m not going to get ahead of myself yet because I’ve only done one supercross race, so I can’t just go out there swinging. You can, but you have to do it safely and smartly because I want to make the full season. I think that’s the most important of it all for me in 2019. Yeah, we’re just going to go out there the first round and see where we’re at. We’re going to come in as prepared as we can and like I said, I think we’re doing pretty good and that we’re at a good point with everything right now, so we’re just going to buckle down these next few weeks and fix the things we need to fix and hopefully come in as prepared as we can. We’ll see where I’m at come the first round and then go from there.
Yeah, I put myself in really bad positions. My starts weren’t that great, but I felt like I rode great and that was important to me. But yeah, the first race nerves got to me. It’s just a whole different thing once you get to that stadium. It’s hard for a rookie to take all that in and ride comfortably out there. I thought I did good.
Uhm… That’s a tough one. I can reinforce the fact that starts are key. That’s for sure. You have to have a stable mind out there. You can’t let things get to you. You just need to keep the ball rolling and do the best you can, I guess you could say. You have to always believe in yourself and believe in your capabilities. You just have to make sure you don’t lose that confidence because once you lose that confidence, you’re not going to do too good out there. You know, I got that ride with Star Yamaha and then it was like, “Okay, what can you do out there?” I had to go out there and prove myself and I felt like I showed what I have this year. Everyone kind of respects me a little bit more and I’m a vet now, so that’s how it all came on for me this year.