When it comes to two wheels, Guy Cooper has literately done it all. From being a top privateer to earning factory rides and winning races, Cooper has achieved just about everything there is to do on two wheels. He won the 1990 125cc AMA National Championship, he has competed in the ISDE, and won a GNCC race. He has served as a team manager and as a KTM sales representative. He even made a comeback to racing for one season at the age of 40—and was often seen grabbing holeshots over riders that were half his age. He was deeply involved in the pit bike scene—when it was big—and was often the fastest guy on the smallest bike.
Guy always has something going on, even now. His collection of old bicycle and motorcycle parts is so large that the show American Pickers came by to document it all. You can check out (or buy some of) Guy’s massive parts collection at his eBay site.
We checked in with him recently to see how “Air Time” is doing today.
Racer X: Guy Cooper, how are you? Last I heard you were featured on the TV show American Pickers?
Guy Cooper: That’s right. At the house, I’ve got 500 bicycles hanging in order, organized. I have 100 motorcycles. I’ve got my trophy room, and a whole row of Indian motorcycles. So it’s all pretty well organized. I also have a 5,000 square-foot building that’s where the old motorcycle shop is. We have a ton of antique motorcycles and bicycles and I’m still trying to get it organized, and some of the stuff sold off. So that’s kind of what I’ve turned into here lately. I’ve got over 1,000 items on eBay and I’m just kind of selling off all the extra. If I’ve got three apple crates, I’ll sell one. So that’s a full-time job. I don’t really like it because I like doing other things, but it’s something that’s in front of me that I don’t want to give that burden to my daughter to have to kind of figure out what to do with it when I am not around! Our ebay user ID is coopersantiques12, and we started that in 2012.
That’s pretty cool. Are you buying any new stuff at the same time or you’re selling off?
The sad thing is, and I tell [my wife] Wanda, that I don’t need over 1,100 bicycles. I think in the last two months I’ve bought about ten bicycles and I haven’t sold any complete bicycles. All I’ve done is turned around and gained more. A guy brought a bicycle in I wanted, and he wanted one of mine so I guess technically I have sold one, but he ended up bringing us an old Dr. Pepper bike and a two-stroke Lawn Boy rototiller. My dad sold Lawn Boys back in the ‘50s when they were brown. Us 50 to 60 year olds will remember the green, two-stroke Lawn Boys, but the brown ones are collectable, believe it or not! I’ve got maybe a dozen of those.
I’ve seen pictures of your museum—it’s really cool! Can you give us some background on your family history and how you came about all this stuff?
My dad was an entrepreneur, I guess. At the age of 12, he started selling new bicycles at his dad’s harness shop. They had leather to build buggies and saddles and that type of thing. My dad started selling bicycles. That was in 1929. In 1948 he hitch-hiked to Massachusetts and went through the Indian training school and became an Indian dealer, and then he continued with over 20 different brands of motorcycles. Triumph, Ducati, Matchless, Royal Enfield, and many more. He was a Yamaha dealer in ’59. Then a couple years later he keeps seeing the Hondas riding around, so he got a Honda dealership, and then a Bridgestone dealer. Then a Kawasaki dealership in ’67. Bultaco, Penton… Somewhere through the ‘50s he also had a locksmith shop, a lawnmower shop, chainsaw shop, and a laundromat. There was just a lot of things. If there was a traded-in Honda Dream and he felt it was worth $500, he wouldn’t sell it for $450. He would keep it and just go, “I’m not going to sell it unless I can get $500 for it.” So, some people would say that it was just a bunch of junk, but to me, its cool and fun stuff.
Most of the stuff you’re selling on eBay is just parts? Or are you selling complete bikes as well?
I haven’t sold a complete bicycle on eBay. I have tens of thousands of bicycle parts. There’s over 2,000 fenders. There’s over 1,000 seats. There’s over 2,000 bicycle wheels. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, if a bicycle was traded in that wasn’t his brand of bicycle that he wanted to sell, he would take it apart and he’d go, “This bearing is good,” and he’d put it in a bearing drawer. He’d put the cones and the axle [in a drawer]. Even when labor was very little and he could hire people to get in there and work on stuff, he would unlace the wheels and put spokes in a bin, spoke nipples in a bin. It’s unbelievable the amount of used bicycle parts we have. That’s one thing Frank and Mike both said from American Pickers: it is probably the largest collection of used bicycle parts they’ve ever seen.
You’ve had a remarkable racing career and have seemingly done it all. What are some of the things that stick out?
Yes, its been a fun ride. There are so many things—but one thing that I did that sometimes gets overlooked was winning the FIM World Supercross title in ’93. If you wanted to chase that title back then, you could. Since my contracts were never that big in America, but I had popularity, I could make more money in ten weeks in Europe than I could all year in America. So I loved October, November, and December because I raced every event I could. I’d race a Tuesday in Italy and a Thursday in France and go somewhere else, Spain, on Sunday. Wherever I could go. It was a way to make some money.
I often ask—but how was the money for you back then?
At the time, I thought it was great! The kids today make a whole lot more, though. They would typically pay me about $3,000-$5,000 on a weekend. That was after the number-one plate, so if you talk in the later ‘80s, even at $1,500, to me $1,500, all expenses are paid. They’re handing you a motorcycle and you had to do is put your handlebars on it and go ride it. So it started off under $1,500 or $2,000 per race. I think the best I ever did was I think I got $7,000 a night at Paris one year. That was my highest pay. Even the time I made $7,000, Rick Johnson and Jean-Michel [Bayle] each made $100,000! But I was still happy about it.
After your racing days were effectively over, you made a come back in 2002. You and Dowd were the oldest guys out there!
That’s right. I was 40 at the time. I don’t think anyone else has done the full season like that.
Then you were a rep for KTM as well—you’ve really done it all in the sport!
Yeah, I was with KTM for a couple of years as well. When I left KTM there was that stint with the Chinese pit bike company, Extreme. That was a good chapter of my career. I liked it. I guess I wouldn't say career—chapter of my life, doing the thing. Wanda and I got to go to China a lot, developing that bike. We learned a lot of worldly stuff, which is really cool. Also, I wish I could redo some of that stuff. There would be more money in that deal there [in pit bikes] than all of my racing career! We just didn’t pick a very good factory to work with. They pretty much screwed us. But it was still fun. We still made some money though, so its all good. I was under a really neat setup to where with every bike I sold I knew that I was going to collect so much. There was a percentage thing going. So at the end of the first year, I made $260,000 and spent $262,000. But we had to show the part. That was whenever you had Pingree and McGrath and Phil Lawrence and all of us riding on pit bikes. They were $5,000 pit bikes. In order to make it right, we really had to look like this is going and mind blowing. We had a $150,000 motor home. I had the stacker trailer and I’m traveling all over the country just doing backyard racing. It was a lot of fun. I worked right under Layne Smith, the owner of the company. We did a lot of things together and it was a ton of fun.
I think the whole mini bike, pit bike thing really died off pretty hard, almost like the chopper market.
It was similar. The only problem was the Chinese—they were hard to trust. You tell them, this is our layout. We’re going to start here with this model. We’re going to move to this model. We need to be the moving target. We need to exhaust all sales here before we bring the new one out, and they didn’t see it. They would agree to whatever we said up there, and then they’d turn around and build our future one behind our back and sell it to our competition. So that’s where we got screwed. We laid out the line of what we wanted and when we wanted it, and they would beat us to the line and sell it to our competition.
You also were a team manager for a privateer team, right?
Yeah—Crossland Racing. It was a low-budget supercross team but we looked the part. We had the big semi and had some good riders under us, guys like Freddie Noren and Tommy Hahn. It was another chapter in my life that was fun. I enjoyed being up in the manager’s booth. There’d be Roger DeCoster and Dave Arnold and Mike LaRocco and Marty Smith. These guys I looked up to as a racer. It was pretty neat. Without the funding, we had about a $300,000 budget, and you can’t go race for $300,000. Not in today’s supercross. It takes well over a million, if not five or ten to really do it right.
I actually think my budget was almost $700,000, but some of that was long-term stuff that you could carry over—the semi, the rig. There was a lot of expenditures that first year that we had to roll over, but somebody’s got to spend it and there it is. That first year was a lot of money to get things up and running!
Does the famous “Cooperland” still exist as a riding park?
The Cooperland track is no longer there. I sold the track in ’01 and it got sold several times since then. It changed hands and the last guy went bankrupt. A friend of mine who is a Six Days rider, he bought the property and there’s about 30 miles of trail because he’s a Six Days guy. I help him with some of that trail. But where the track was, he’s got a big four- or five-acre lake now. There is no chance to restore that one!
What’s next on your radar then? You’re one of the few guys that’s literally done just about everything in the industry or business that there is to do.
Yeah. It’s been a good one. I’m kind of relaxing. Really the turning point for Wanda and I was when we adopted our daughter Kaitlin 13 years ago. I have really been home most of the past 13 years. Whenever I did that Crossland thing, we tried to base it out of Oklahoma, which was tough. I’d have to be in California for the start of supercross. But for the most part, I’ve kept it back home. That being said, if there’s any new ventures, at least for the next five or six years we’ll still be based around Oklahoma. But you are talking to me on a day where I think it’s around 17 degrees right now. South Florida sounds really cool right now! I could see retiring down there….
Florida? You have always been an Oklahoma guy!
Well, not Miami, up around Palm Harbor, Tampa. There’s some natural springs over there, Homosassa, Weeki Wachee. That area I think would be really cool. But the only problem is I still need my big five or six thousand square-foot shop. I couldn’t be without my tools. I have been kind of a junkie on all these bikes.
Are you still doing any vintage racing?
Last year I didn’t do anything. There was a lot of stuff going on with getting this eBay thing up and rolling. So I didn’t go to Diamond Don’s, which is our biggest race around here, the North Texas Diamond Don’s vintage race. But I’ve made promises to too many people, so I’ll have to go back next year. I’ve got a YZ100 that I need to do a bore on it and get it going. That 100 class is awesome! I also just picked up an ’05 CR125 that’s like brand new...it’s got maybe 10 or 15 minutes on it. It’s awesome.
Tell me a little bit about your daughter.
My daughter, Kaitlin, is 13. She’s got every motorcycle that would fit her right now. She would rather read a book and play her saxophone. It honestly doesn’t bother me. She’s really, really a smart girl and it’s all good. Sometimes I wish we could go do some more trial riding and stuff. But it’s all good, we’re having fun!