Justin Cooper is one of those rare stories that took the road less traveled on his way to a professional supercross and motocross career. While most of his amateur racing peers were getting homeschooled and riding at purpose-built training facilities day and night, Justin attended a regular High School in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, and he graduated from High School before winning the 2017 AMA Horizon Award at Loretta Lynn’s and graduating to the professional ranks at 19-years-old. The now 24-year-old may have gotten a later start to his professional racing career, but that maturity seems to be working well for the #32 on the Monster Energy / Star Racing / Factory Yamaha team.
Justin won his first-ever professional 250SX main event at the 2020 Anaheim 1 SX and with two 2nd place finishes at the next two rounds and a tough 9th in Glendale, he headed into Oakland on Saturday night clinging to the red plate with just a three-point lead over his 250 West teammate, defending Champ Dylan Ferrandis. Unfortunately, Justin came down with flu-like symptoms heading into round five and found himself in a really tough spot after an aggressive pass by Luke Clout sent him over a berm and into the LCQ. Justin pulled a massive holeshot in the LCQ and cruised it home for a win and a spot in the main.
Starting on the far outside in the main event, the factory 250f bLU cRU power pulled him to a top-ten start and by the end of the main event, he was able to fight through to a third-place finish on the night. Justin’s fourth podium of the year was his toughest and with Ferrandis grabbing his second win of the year, Justin was forced to surrender the red plate to the #1w bike under his team tent. It is a hard pill to swallow when anyone takes your red plate, but an even tougher one when that bike is pitted right next to yours for you to look at on the following weekend.
After the racing was over, we caught up to an obviously under the weather Justin Cooper and talked to him about his night in Oakland, his year, and the team dynamics with his toughest competition being pitted in the same team rig.
Justin, 3rd tonight, and a hard-earned 3rd. You had to give up that red plate tonight, but you managed it and salvaged good points. It was a tough one.
It started out pretty tough. I came through the LCQ and got kind of a decent start in the main. I started getting a little bit of an illness this week so I’m gonna go back, rest up and hopefully be 100% for San Diego. But it was a good night. I did kind of lose the pace of the leaders and kind of got stuck into the pace with Alex [Martin]. I just focused on him for the rest of the race and brought it home on the podium which was good after going through the LCQ and all that.
With how you’re feeling, was that kind of the goal? To just focus on Alex and see if you could at least find the energy to get by him and onto the podium?
I felt like I was keeping pace with Austin [Forkner] and Dylan for like four or five laps, but then they started pulling away pretty quickly when I was behind Alex. The track tonight was pretty hard to pass on and find that spot to get him, and I just took too long to make the pass. By then it was just focusing on Alex because they were out of sight.
You know, there’s going to be some hate this week. You don’t knock A-Mart off the podium late in a main event and not get a little hate. (laughs)
(laughs) I’m going for the Championship. I gotta get all the points I can get.
Talk about that pass by Luke Clout that sent you over the berm in the heat race. Did you feel it was a bit overly aggressive in that situation or just a pass?
It was aggressive. I knew he was there. I gave him some room and he kind of made it a little aggressive to where I went over the berm. I mean, it’s racing. You gotta put it behind you and focus ahead. It just made the night a lot harder for me. It would have been nice be able to line up somewhere near the middle in the main but, yeah (laughs), we were second to the last gate on the outside. It’s so hard when you’re out there. It doesn’t make it easy. I didn’t really have the pace to run with the front guys, but it would have been nice to see what I could have done with a start.
How much of a relief was it in the LCQ to look left and look right just 20 feet out of the gate and see you had a massive jump on everyone? With what can happen in LCQ’s, that had to feel good to know you were out and in front of the LCQ chaos?
It was a relief to get my starts dialed because we were struggling with them in the beginning of the season. That’s why it was so frustrating that I went down in the heat. It was good to those laps in and I was really confident with my starts but I knew I was lining up with 19th gate pick. It’s very hard to do with a shorter start.
I’ve seen you pull a few in your career from out there. I mean, MXoN from the far outside with 40 riders on the gate. That one was amazing!
I almost got it actually tonight—I think I would have been 2nd— but I came together with Alex in that first rhythm section. I almost crashed there. Luckily I saved that. Other than that, hopefully, we’ll get a clean race in next weekend. Maybe have a fair shot at ripping a holeshot in the main event next weekend and see what we can do with that.
I only noticed Dylan had the points lead and I assume you’re second, but I didn’t look that closely to see the gap. How many points are you down?
Yeah, I’m second, and two points behind Dylan.
How’s it been in that rig with you and Dylan battling so closely for this title?
Right now it’s been pretty good. It’s still early, though. We’re only halfway so it’s definitely time to start crunching down. We still have two East-West Shootouts, so those are gonna play a big factor in the championship too. Honestly, the best thing about this is my starts are really good. We’ll take that into next weekend and try to stay out of trouble.
Talking to you, you really look like you’re feeling that sickness. How many people have asked if you have Coronavirus? (laughs)
Quite a few actually. Just sore throat, headache, fever and stuff like that. I actually went to Urgent Care this week just to try and see what was up and make sure it was nothing serious, but it’s a struggle being sick. Especially going through the LCQ and doing all those extra laps. I’m pretty tired tonight. I’m just glad to get out of here on the podium tonight after all that happened.
I asked because my wife got super sick this week and she had just flown to Washington DC and back so everyone was on her case to go to Urgent Care and make sure it wasn’t that Corona crap. The media making everyone paranoid. Thanks for the chat. Rest up and good luck in San Diego.
All photos by: Octopi