When Team USA began putting a team together for the 2022 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Justin Cooper was just coming back from a lengthy foot injury and spent the first half of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship in a rebuilding phase trying to get back to his old form. As such, it appeared Roger De Coster was considering the option of dropping a 450 rider down to fill the MX2 spot for Team USA and Christian Craig eventually became the front runner for the spot. Then Justin Cooper won the second 250 class moto at Washougal quite convincingly and suddenly eyebrows were raised. The team announcement was then delayed one week from its normal Unadilla announcement back to the following week at Budds Creek.
Then at Budds Creek, the announcement was finalized, Justin Cooper would represent the USA in the MX2 class. By then he had built back into winning form and was consistently contending at the front, so it appeared the right move. But Cooper still felt he was looked at by many as the wrong choice and he used that to fuel the fire to prove them wrong. Well, prove them wrong he did as he helped USA get back to winning ways at the Motocross of Nations by winning the MX2 class with 9-4 scores. After the champagne showers were done, we caught up with Cooper to hear all about it.
Racer X: J-Coop you were on the team. You did say it was a little motivation. Okay we knew Eli Tomac and Chase Sexton were going to be easy choices. The 250 thing was up for grabs, and it was motivation for you to prove you were the right choice?
Justin Cooper: Yeah, of course. A lot of doubters I would say. You know, more than half of them were doubting me. It’s kind of frustrating, and it gets in your head a little bit. But you’ve got to push that aside and go out and do the best you can. I think that’s what I’ve done these last three weeks preparing for this race. I’ve been giving it everything I have in practice and just making sure I’m putting myself in race conditions, you know? Just giving it all I can with the people I’m around and I think it showed this weekend.
We heard from you and from Hunter Lawrence, these conditions made it even worse. A bigger disadvantage when you’re on a 250.
Exactly. You know, yesterday we were pretty similar to the 450s, but when the mud came and rain came, it buried the bikes and the 450s get out of that a little bit quicker. It definitely made it harder for the 250 riders but we still all have to deal with the same thing. We’re all in the same races and just had to execute those starts. And just not really make any mistakes, that was the hard part. This track was demanding mentally and physically. I think it all went to plan. I’m pumped.
How did you stay positive and confident with the rain?
I think we all saw it coming, the chance of rain. I think the last five years it just seems to downpour on Sunday, race day. I wasn’t too worried about it, just get through Saturday, made sure that went well. Woke up to the rain on Sunday. Everyone has the same track to ride. It was a little bit tougher on the 250s, with the mud like that, it puts us at a disadvantage vision wise, also, with the 450s in front of us. The power is a disadvantage, but everyone has the same kind of team [with one 250 rider] … and now I hear it’s really downpouring! There it is.
I was wondering, was there a strategy in these conditions to say, “We’re not going to win motos by 30 seconds. Just don’t blow it and survive the mud?”
I think that’s what we saw from our team today. I don’t think anyone wanted to go out and prove a point that they were the fastest, we just wanted to get the job done as a team. Really pumped on my fourth-place finish. It put us in a great position heading into the final moto for these guys to just go out and ride.
How did you pull that start? That was the best 250 start we saw.
Yeah 100 percent. I did not see one person until the first turn because I shut down early and made sure I went to that inside. It was awesome. I don’t know how I pulled it and I’d like to watch it back.
And the last thing, it’s raining so hard right now. You dealt with this in Assen [in 2019]. You dominated the qualifier on Saturday, and everything looked good. How did you keep yourself positive and not let those demons creep in because you’ve already been through this?
You know, that was the toughest part. Just all the pressure that’s on this race. When I went down and broke my hand and collected my teammate last time, that was in the back of my head the whole time. I’m not going to lie about that. It was great. I bounced back from that and now sitting here, it’s all paid off. It’s been a long three years thinking about that for sure.