Cooper Webb’s talent and determination, and the success of Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha, are taken for granted now, but it wasn’t always that easy. In fact, it took an amazing number of small pieces to fall into place and create the winning machine we see today.
Webb let a lot of the behind-the-scenes stories come out at the post race press conference at Budds Creek on Saturday after collecting the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. From not even having a team that would take him in, to dealing with doubts due to a wrist injury, to the chance opportunity to hire his trainer, nothing about this title was a given.
Today Webb and his squad are perennial favorites, but this is really the story of the underdog rider, team and trainer reaching the top together.
Racer X: What a very interesting day for you to wrap up the championship with going down twice in moto number one. What a comeback it was for you. Take us through moto one and how that went and moto two as well.
Cooper Webb: Moto one was definitely tough. Went around the first turn and kind of went into panic mode and put my head down. Actually crashed the first lap and after that I just kind of told myself to chill out. Whatever you can do, you do. It was hard to pass today on this track so I knew any pass I made I would have to make it stick. I was pretty pumped to come back with sixth. I felt like I was riding really well. Had I not gone down I feel like I had a moto win in me. So to come back to sixth obviously wanted to do better than that, but with all the circumstances I was pretty happy with that. And then moto two, the start was a little weird. [Chris] Alldredge and Alex [Martin] and I all kind of hit and locked bars and I actually almost went down. So another bad start didn’t help at all. I’m not sure, I feel like I was outside of the top 20 but I wasn’t sure where exactly I was. But I just put my head down once again and was trying to do the best I could. I was pretty stoked to get third. I feel like I really dug deep and was able to make some late passes and go through the pack. I had Alex behind me, I had some people telling me if he had made the pass he would have won the overall. Overall the day wasn’t that sweet but I’m sure I definitely passed the most people today.
Have you had a chance to really take a look at some of the names that are on this trophy and some of the success that they’ve had after winning this trophy?
This is actually the first time I’ve seen it.
What are some of the names you’re seeing right there?
Some legends for sure. Lammy [Steve Lamson], Carmichael, Pastrana, JS, Villo, Dunge….
How does it feel looking at this trophy and reading those names and knowing the success that they had in the 450 class in their careers? What does that mean to you, this Gary Jones motocross trophy?
It’s pretty spectacular. Outdoors is ten times harder to win I think than supercross. Obviously they all mean a lot, but outdoors just comes the sheer toughness and how much heart you’ve got. So it’s pretty sweet to be on this cup with all these guys. A lot of the guys obviously have had a lot of success in the sport. I feel like I’m ready for that next chapter and let’s see what we can keep doing.
This was your last chance to get this title because you’re moving up. We talked about the wrist injury a billion times, but how important was it for you to like… this is my chance to get this one on the resume and I want to get it?
Yeah it was a big decision coming in. Obviously I did really well in supercross. I’ve done well in outdoors, too, but obviously never won the championship. Like you said, I’ve said this 100 times, but, I was sitting on the couch and said, “You know what? I’m going to win. I’m not going to sit on this couch and drink beer all summer. I’m going to go work my ass off and win this title. I don’t care who I got to race or how bad my wrist is going to hurt. I’m going to get it done.” I think a lot of people definitely thought I was crazy for thinking that. I think there were maybe four people that agreed with me to go racing. That was Swanny [trainer, Gareth Swanepoel], my parents and [Star Racing team owner] Bobby Regan. Everybody else was just like, “Hey, take it easy. We want you to do good in the 450s. Don’t worry about this outdoor title. We already know what you’re capable of.” I told myself ever since last year when I sat at Indiana and watched Jeremy [Martin] win it again, I wasn’t going to let that happen. I’ve been teammates with him for a long time and he’s really good. After sitting for these two years watching him win it just eats at you. I was not going to be denied. I’m stoked. It’s toughened me up a lot. Outdoors, it doesn’t come down to speed—it comes down to how bad you can suffer. I wasn’t sure, honestly, if I had it in me. I knew coming in with this wrist injury and everything like that it was going to be one of the hardest things to ever do on a motorcycle. I just kept saying, “I just want to do it. I just want to do it no matter what.” So I got pretty choked up after the race. I was stoked. To get to wrap it up early and this is a home race for me, I’ve been coming here to watch this race since I was four years old and didn’t even know what a dirt bike was. Sitting over there behind the finish line for ten years just telling myself, I’m going to race here one day. Definitely a special moment and I’m stoked on how it happened.
One of the things I’ve heard is its not just about going one lap fast. You’re always learning and improving and getting better lap by lap. I’ve heard guys who tell me at Mini Os that the difference they saw in you from the beginning to the end of the week. Langston was telling me that he did this Red Bull camp once and you were there, and you stuck right by his side the whole day learning lines and learning from him. Talk about your approach to it where you don’t just pin it and rely on talent, but you try to learn and be smart about racing.
I think all the successful guys have that. They’re not just balls to the wall and holding it wide open. You got to learn the technique. You got to learn how to ride your dirt bike. That’s the most important thing, and then everything else will come after that. I felt like I was a sponge throughout my amateur career. I had a lot of good guys that I was able to be taught by, and I was always just trying to be a sponge from whoever it was. Still to this day, I watch all the races. I really break down where I can be better. I think that’s what’s really helped me this year was just I put my ego to the side and said, “Hey, I’m going to learn from these guys and whatever I suck at I’m going to go practice. I’m not going to sit here and just drill motos.” I suck at doing this—not suck, but struggle—and I went out and I practiced it, fixed all the problems I had from the previous years. It’s always great to see progress but I think a lot of people skip that aspect. In any sport if you struggle with something you’ve got to practice it. I think that kind of gets overlooked in this sport. I’m stoked with what I’ve been able to accomplish. Swanny is a big part of that. I’m still learning. I was able to win the 250s but I still got a long way to go and even more to learn and prep for the 450 guys right now.
I was talking to Bobby Reagan yesterday, he said you were not actually that excited when you first joined Star Racing. What made you decide to go there?
That’s actually the only ride I had. In 2012 I actually went to every team and pretty much begged for a chance. I went to GEICO [Honda], I went and sat in Mitch’s [Payton, Pro Circuit team owner] office. Red Bull at the time, they didn’t really have the TLD setup that they do now [full-factory KTM team,] but actually I did go to TLD back then, and same thing. Red Bull wanted to do a KTM kind of thing and I think I would have went to JDR at the time. I just wasn’t 100 percent convinced about all that, and obviously when you see where it went [the JDR team eventually folded] you can see that wouldn’t have been good. At first I knew Bobby was just kind of coming around. His team had been good that year but let’s face it, it wasn’t a good team. It was team that you could go to and make good money and be on an okay bike and kind of just go through the motions. So it was really the only thing I had, and it was either do that or nothing. So it’s pretty cool to see the transition. Obviously I love Bobby to death. We get along very, very well. It’s cool to see. It worked out. At the time I was panicking. This team’s never done anything, and I was thinking I was going to be just another average pro. To see it transform into the team it is now, it’s the best thing out there. He always believed in me. Since I turned pro he said, “You’re going to be a champ one day.” I was like, “Maybe, who knows?” He’s always believed in me and Yamaha as well. After my first win I went to them and told them. I had no business telling them but I told them, you guys need to give us better parts! Keith [McCarty, Yamaha racing manager] listened and gave us some factory stuff and it’s been a lot better.
This kind of puts a cap on the 250 side. What’s next for the 450?
I’m stoked to be going to Yamaha for the 450 deal and all that. It’s honestly a pretty sweet thing to do. That’s what I wanted to do since I turned pro. Go to Star and transition to the 450. There for a while they didn’t have a factory team so I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. I wanted to be on a Yamaha with those guys, but there wasn’t anything there. They told me all along as long as you go and do your shit, you’ll have a ride. Don’t worry about anything. That’s pretty much what I did. Then they came back. It’s pretty sweet. Chad [Reed], myself, the whole team, we have such a great relationship and I’m honestly stoked. I couldn’t ask for a better transition or a better family to go into the 450 class.
Will you be on the 450 next week?
I don’t know [smiles]. Probably 250, but I’m going to Cali this week. If the bike’s good I could probably line up with the 450s. I wouldn't mind.
You said you’re in for 250s in Charlotte though, right?
But as soon as you said that last week everyone’s like wait, [Jeffrey] Herlings, if he comes back…he’s supposed to be back next weekend and good to go by then. So that’s going to be a battle.
Definitely. I’m looking forward to it. He’s obviously a really fast rider. I’m interested to see how things go. I watched the European stuff quite a bit and I know he’s definitely the real deal. Coming off injury is hard but at the same time he’s going to be fast. So, we’ll see. It will be interesting. I have a lot of respect for him, and from what I’ve heard I think he kind of respects me. So I’m sure we’re going to do some more banging and kind of have a little bit of that attitude. So I’m sure it’s going to come down to some interesting stuff.
What about your team? It seems like it’s not just the bikes. It’s a whole bunch of things. They got Swanny involved. It’s like a whole package, just putting a good rider on a good bike but a whole package that who knows where you might have ended up if it all didn’t come together perfectly.
Yeah it was. Looking back now at how it worked out is pretty crazy. Swanny in 2014, Bobby Regan said, “Hey, we’ve have had Gareth on the team for a while now. He wants to train you.” I was like, “Obviously I need a trainer but should I put my whole life’s career on some guy that’s never trained anybody?” I basically went to dinner with him. He asked me, “Do you want to win or are you going to waste my time?” I was like, “Holy shit. Alright.” We’ve had the same plan for a while. It works really well. We do all the training and I feel like I’m in good shape and everything like that, but we have fun doing it, and I think that’s what kind of gets lost a little bit in racing. If you’re not having fun there’s no point in going out there and doing this shit. I think that’s the strength that he brings. He gets you where you need to be but has fun doing it. So I’m stoked on how it all worked out.