Five-time New Zealand MX1 motocross champion, Cody Cooper, really doesn’t have anything left to prove in this country, having won our top prize in the sport for the past four years in a row.
However, the Mount Maunganui-based rider still has plenty of unfinished business in the United States, where the prestigious AMA outdoor series is about to kick off on May 21.
With the help of a staunch group of long-time supporters, Cooper will contest the opening two rounds of the series, and a couple of strong results in these could see him remain Stateside for the following rounds.
All that Cooper needs to do to cement a place in the series is to have a similar impact on the series to the other times that he has raced in the AMA. He contested America’s toughest outdoor motocross championship in 2008 and 2009, finishing fifth and ninth on the points table respectively.
At his last AMA race at the iconic Unadilla track in 2009, he finished second to James Stewart, then dubbed the ‘fastest MX racer in the world’. However Cooper is now 33 years old, and is nearing veteran status in this young person’s sport. What does he expect to happen when the starter’s gate drops at Glen Helen, near San Francisco, on May 21, and the following week at Hangtown, near Los Angeles, on May 28?
“I really want to get the holeshot and finish inside the top 10 in each moto,” he says.
It may seem a modest pair of goals, but the AMA is arguably the pinnacle of the sport, and the series rivals the World MX1 Championship for attracting the best motocross racers in the sport. It’s also fair to say that Cooper has shown mixed form when racing offshore at times, a contrast to his total domination of the sport back home. In past years, he has often followed up a successful NZ MX1 title chase with a campaign in the Australian MX1 championship, however when no offer to race for a distributor-backed team across the Tasman was forthcoming this year, the AMA seemed present a better opportunity to race as a privateer.
“It’s not worth me going over there (Australia) as a privateer, pouring all my money into a campaign, and getting nothing out of it. I’d rather go to the US and do a couple of AMA rounds – it’ll cost me less money and I’ll get more recognition out of it if I do well,” Cooper stated in an interview for Tauranga motorsport website, Maddix Park, back in March.
Since expressing that interest in racing in the AMA, a number of New Zealand motocross identities have got behind Cooper’s AMA campaign, including the 1996 World 500cc MX champion, Shayne King, and Darren Henderson, and John Penny. They’ve also put together a package tour, where supporters of Cooper and their families can tour California for ten days and witness AMA racing virtually as members of Cooper’s team. It’s an effort that strongly resembles the creation of an army of supporters for Hayden Paddon’s WRC campaigns in recent times.
A key driver in the support team is the former world champ King, already the New Zealand distributor of several top motocross clothing and equipment brands, and a man with strong connections to the AMA teams. King will supply the Ohlins suspension for Cooper’s Honda CRF450R and Alpinestars racewear, while legendary American MX engine builder, Mitch Payton, will tune the engine. Cooper should therefore feel absolutely no disadvantage when going for those holeshots.
“My New Zealand championship bike probably isn’t as quick. Here, you need more torque because of the nature of our tracks. Over there, you need all the power you can get.” King says he got behind the campaign because he feels that Cooper is riding at his peak right now, in terms of both fitness and skill.
“He therefore really deserves a chance to give it (the AMA) another shot.”
King is confident that Cooper will give it his best, and may even achieve a result similar to the time when he became the only rider to beat Stewart at Glen Helen back in 2008.
“If we can make sure that Coop is third by the first turn, he is sure to finish the race in the top ten. I’d love it if he gets pinched by another team for the rest of the season. Cody is like our version of Chad Reed (the veteran Australian rider still competing with distinction in both AMA motocross and supercross). By that I mean that he’s still highly passionate about the sport and motivated to win. He’s still in a very good place.”
For Cooper, Glen Helen will be the real test of his mettle.
“It has really steep hills, huge jumps, and the dirt is a little slippery. I have used my NZ setup there before, but it didn’t work out too well. Hangtown has good dirt and a good start straight, some big jumps as well. I’m really looking forward to racing there.”
With the level of support he has received from King and co, Cooper is now in a position where all he has to do is concentrate on his riding.
“I’m not really worried (about being picked up by an AMA team), as I’m simply going there to ride as hard as I can for four 30min motos and have some fun.
For King, there is a further goal to the campaign.
“If it inspires a single kid to take up the sport and go and chase their dreams like Cody and I have, then all the effort will have been worthwhile.”