Yamalube Star Racing Yamaha’s Cooper Webb may only be 20 years old, but he channels the soul of an old-school motocross racer.
Just when race fans might think that the last of the larger-than-life, old-school MX heroes have all died off, along comes Cooper Webb.
The North Carolinian, who just turned 20 in November, only stands about 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 140 lbs. soaking wet, yet he displays the intensity of someone twice his size, on and off the track. A successful amateur racer with over 100 championship titles to his credit, the Yamalube Star Racing Yamaha rider landed the 2015 Monster Energy AMA 250SX West Championship in just his second year as a professional, and if not for an injury at the tail-end of the supercross season, he might well have added a Lucas Oil 250cc Pro Motocross Championship to his list of accomplishments as well.
However, it was his two big-bike rides in 2015 that really showed the stuff Webb is made of, and it gave fans a glimpse into just what kind of a future he has as long as he remains healthy. Racing on an unfamiliar factory Yamaha YZ450F in an unfamiliar series, Webb battled head to head with FIM World Motocross World Champion Romain Febvre and the best motocross racers from Europe and finished third overall in the 2015 Monster Energy MXGP of USA, debut. He then went to Europe as part of Team USA and helped the team put up a valiant battle for the overall win at the 2015 Motocross of Nations in Ernee, France, the team coming up just one point shy of the victory. It’s clear that Webb is proud to be a part of Team USA, and he desires to help put America back on top in the Motocross of Nations, something old-school motocross fans should appreciate.
But the real reason to like Webb is that he is a true cowboy in the motocross world. He shoots from the hip and says what he thinks without concern for how it might sound or whose feelings it might hurt. He may not be as brash as such Yamaha legends as Bob Hannah or Ricky Johnson…yet…but he is clearly cut from the same cloth. Sitting down to speak with him about 2015 and his goals in 2016, it is clear that Webb has his sights set on more championships, particularly in the outdoor arena.
Talk about your 2015 season. Pretty successful year, huh?
Yeah, 2015 was awesome. I won a lot of races and won my very first championship, but the low point was that I got hurt at the final round in Las Vegas, and then I tried to race Hangtown and re-injured my ankle, so I missed, I think it was five races. After that, I came back and was able to win some races, which was cool. Then I was able to end the year by doing the U.S. Grand Prix and finishing on the podium there—which was awesome—then going to the Motocross of Nations. We got second, but it was a hard-fought day, and we were there. I also went to Japan and raced in the motocross national over there. I won it the year before, and this year Trey Canard came over, and he won and I got second, but it was cool. Then I went over to the supercross in Genoa [Italy], and I won there. Then I went to Lille and got third there. Then, at the last minute I went to Australia, and I got fourth the first night and was able to win the second night—I had a great race with Chad Reed. You know, it has been a long 2015 season but it has been really good, and I am looking forward to 2016.
You come off as a very intense personality on and off the track. Whether you are racing or whether you are addressing the crowd on the microphone, most people get a sense that what they get from you is real and unfiltered. Is that a fair assessment?
For sure. There’s some calculation there, but as far as the way I race and the way I am off the track, it’s no different than would be around my friends or around people I don’t like. I try to be real with myself and true to the fans and eveyrbody. I just say how I feel, and I don’t really try to hide my true emotions. Obviously, sometimes people don’t like that, but it makes me part of who I am.
Some would say that type of emotion is too often missing in this sport anymore.
I agree. Some people are just too politically correct and are so worried about plugging their sponsors that they sound like robots. As a kid, growing up, I hated listening to a lot of people’s interviews. I only listened to the guys who spoke the truth. There are a lot of guys who get up there and the fans already know what they’re going to say. You have to be able to relate to the fans. I want to be that guy who people see when they are watching on television at home or whatever, and I might not win but at least they’ll be able to say, ‘Man, he tells it like it is.’
You seem to be in a good place, then, because your team is backed by a company that has historically supported racers who display a lot of attitude. And even when they weren’t winning, you know who they were. What has it been like for you to be associated with them?
It has been unreal. I started riding with Star in 2012, but at first I never really dealt with Keith [McCarty] or anyone at Yamaha, but then in 2014 I re-signed my contract with Star, and Yamaha also really stepped up their involvement in the team, so I started dealing with Mike [Guerra] and Keith more directly every year, and its has been awesome. They’re one company that isn’t going to tell you, ‘Hey, you have to do it like this or this.’ They’re there to back you up. If you win, they are there, and if you lose, they are there to try to get you back on your feet. Obviously, with me and Jeremy [Martin], we’ve had a great past couple years.
One thing I was curious about was the FIM races that you ran on the 450. For as little time as you had to get ready for them on the bigger bike, you pretty impressive. Talk about your battles with Romain Febvre both in the U.S. GP and the Motocross of Nations last year. He got the better of you both times, which I’m guessing didn’t sit real well with you.
Well, Romain is good. Obviously he is the World Champion, and he has done really well this year. For me, I just got on a 450 and had to get ready as soon as I could. He was definitely in his prime when I had to race him. We had some great battles and, yeah, he beat me. He was cool off the track, but on the track you knew he was going to give it 100 percent. It sucks that he he beat me, but that’s what makes racin’ racin’.
At the Motocross of Nations, you seemed to really step up your game on the 450. Team USA lost by only a single point, but are you satisfied with the work you and your team put into that race.
Absolutely. I mean, I only got the call right before Unadilla. They told me, ‘Hey, we want you to ride a 450.’ I’ve ridden 450s obviously, but I don’t ride them much, and it was one of those things where I wanted to finish out the 250 outdoor series strong, so even then I was only riding the 450 once a week, and we had four weeks before the GP and five weeks before the Motocross of Nations. So, it was like, ‘Alright, this is an opportunity. Let’s do this.’ But it was tough—not riding the 450, but figuring it out. I had to learn that you can’t really ride it like a 250, and with me being small, it was just a matter of figuring out suspension settings and chassis settings.
So, I went to the U.S. GP with really no hopes, really. I just wanted to learn the format and get a feel for how the Europeans raced. Really, it was just a warm-up for the Motocross of Nations, but I am glad that I did it. Personally, I think everyone should race it. Anyway we got the nerves out of the way, understood how the format works. It was quite different, even the track. I’ve ridden at Glen Helen quite a bit, and I’ve never seen it like that. But it was cool. I finished third overall there, and I learned some things. Going to the Motocross of Nations, I knew what to expect as far as the format, but the track was really different. We figured it out, and we had some good battles, but in that last one we got bad starts, and then I stalled it. But we still got second, and there were a lot of people who didn’t expect us to do anything. There was a lot of shit-talking, for sure.
What are your thoughts on the 2016 season?
It’s going to be cool to defend my [250X West Supercross ]. I was fortunate enough to win it in my second year, so I have another year to defend it. I think it is going to be really cool, but it’s going to be tough. I know that everyone is coming into it healthy, and it’s a new year and everyone has goals they want to achieve. For me, obviously my goal is to try to defend the supercross title and to try to win the outdoor title, which I haven’t been able to do yet.
If you hadn’t hurt your ankle at the start of the year, it’s likely that the Lucas Oil 250cc Pro Motocross Championship could have taken on a very different complexion.
Yeah. It was for sure a bummer deal. After I won the supercross title I was confident. I’d had a great outdoor year in 2014, and my goal was to go out and win the outdoor title, so that definitely stung a bit, but it’s just one of those things where I thought to myself, ‘Let’s just get healed up. You’re young, and there’s no point in jacking it up for the rest of your career.’ It definitely stung, though, when we came back and were on the podium and winning races. I made a lot of points up on those guys.
So, it sounds like you have unfinished business when it comes to the outdoors, both here and in Europe.