Cooper Webb is That Kid Who Never Settles
By Donn Maeda
You know the type: tough as nails and as determined as all hell to get his way. Cooper Webb is a racer through and through and what he may lack in natural talent, he more than makes up for with raw aggression and a never-say-die attitude that’s carried him to multiple race wins and one major championship thus far in his professional career. Some mistake his confidence for cockiness because he’s never been one to mask his distaste for defeat or downplay his intentions of winning, but Webb doesn’t have time to worry about such formalities; he’s too busy trying to figure out how to get better at his craft, and that craft is racing…
You spent a lot of time during this off-season on the 450, which is great for 2017. Does it make you really anxious knowing that you have one more year on a 250?
Yeah, it does! We’ve definitely been doing things differently during this off-season with riding and racing on the 450. Basically, I feel that every kind of riding is ultimately benefiting me in my overall career. For me, the ultimate goal is moving up to the 450s in 2017. Obviously, racing 250s is one thing, but the 450 guys are the elite of the sport. I’m definitely getting anxious for 2016, though, as I’ve been doing all these races and am ready to race for another title. Everything’s been going great so far, so now I’m just waiting to hear if I’m racing the East or defending my title in the West.
It must feel like you’re being teased, being able to play around that much on a 450…
Yeah, it is a little bit, but it’s good to know that when I decide to make the switch it’ll be a much easier transition. Eventually when I’m on the 450 full-time, I’ll know what to expect. A 450 is a completely different bike, and I learned that during my short time on one. Racing against all these other guys in Europe and Japan kind of makes me want to race a 450 in the United States now, but I have a little bit of unfinished business in the 250 class.
I heard that instead of defending your championship, you’d rather bookend it with an East Coast Championship…
Yeah, it’s a tough decision. I would love to race on the West Coast to defend my title and also because it’s nice being in California and you basically get to drive to all of the rounds, but I’ve never done the East Coast and I feel like since I’m moving up to the 450 in 2017 it would be a good idea to at least be familiar with those rounds. And obviously, it would be nice to get an East Coast Supercross championship. I obviously don’t know from experience, but I’ve heard that the tracks in the East are a lot different. You never know which series you’ll be racing until the last minute though, because injuries always come into play. Either way I go, though, I’ll be ready.
You always seem to develop rivalries on the track, most recently with MXGP World Champion Romain Febvre. Growing up, you were always pitted against Adam Cianciarulo and were often in his shadow. Why has your transition into the pro class been more successful than his?
It’s actually hard to say. I’ve obviously been surrounded by great people, but I also think it’s the way that I was brought up. I was told that no matter what I am doing, to fight for what’s mine and to never settle! I mean not just with dirt bikes, but life in general, too. That’s how it’s always been for me. If somebody is better than me or has something I don’t; I don’t sit there and cry about it. I get up and work my ass off for it. Maybe that’s why everything I do turns into a rivalry. I think that’s how it is with all sports in general, though. You’re going to have two people that want the same thing, and it’s not going to be handed to either one. I think it’s good for the competition. Like I said, if you settle then you’re done. That’s just my opinion.
I remember that Kevin Windham told me that on the track, he had no friends and that he hated everyone. Is that how you are?
Honestly, you have to have a respect for everybody on the track, but you also don’t want to have any friends. You have to be able to race against a teammate or your friend like they were anyone else. I’ve dedicated my entire life and worked so hard for a reason, and it’s definitely not to cruise around in 12th. I just think that every racer wants to win, but it’s going out there and actually working for it that counts.
With you, what you see is what you get. You want to win and you’re pissed if you don’t win. You don’t make excuses or get mad at other people you just get mad at yourself. It’s pretty evident how bad you want to win.
Yeah, it’s a good thing for me, but it can also come up to bite me. Like you said, I try to be straight up because I have nothing to hide with my personality. If I’m pissed off, you’re going to know about it. That’s just who I am, though: a redneck from North Carolina. [Laughs]
Have you ever encountered a situation where a sponsor has told you to tone it down?
No, nobody has. But in my opinion, that’s what kind of kills the sport. You don’t want to be known as the punk-kid that says whatever he wants, but you need to show your true emotions and not be so cookie cutter. At the same time, you have to be respectful, which I feel I am. I don’t take anything away from my sponsors with my actions. I feel like I can relate to the fans so much more because I kind of tell it how it is, and I think that’s the way it should be. Whether I finish in fifth place or DNF the race, I constantly get people coming up to tell me that they appreciate my podium speeches. That makes me feel good because I don’t want to feel like a robot.
What do you think about the fans that misinterpret your attitude and think you’re cocky?
Yeah, there’s a fine line between being cocky and competitive. It’s tough because you don’t always have diehard fans that watch every race and see what goes on. I am very confident in what I do and I don’t think I’m cocky because I don’t want to be cocky. Like you said, I’m just very competitive and that’s just how I am. Any real racer who loses isn’t happy afterwards, whether they try to hide it or not. I don’t hide it! [Laughs] I’m also young, so maybe that will change as I get older.
If you had to choose one word for yourself to describe you as a racer, what would it be?
[Silence] That’s a good one. Hmmm…I don’t know…
The one word that comes to my mind is scrapper…
Yeah, scrapper for sure! To me, that’s what makes racing so cool…watching guys fight for position and never settle. You never know what you’re going to get in racing, and I’ve had issues with getting good starts and I have had to battle for every position. It may not always be for the win, but I’ll always have a battle with somebody along the way. Scrapper, though, I like that!
What do you think about running it in and slamming somebody mid race? Everyone is on even bikes, taking the same lines over the same obstacles these days, so you have to get creative and aggressive. I feel like people are getting a little soft or too sensitive about hard racing these days.
There’s a difference between being aggressive and being a dirty rider. Rider safety is number one priority and if you’re going out there to T-bone somebody, that’s just not cool. For me, I love aggressive racing and aggressive passes. For a guy to cut into the corner and aim for your leg or your front end, though, that’s just dirty racing. It’s not right. I think running somebody high or making block passes is completely acceptable. There is a fine line between dirty and aggressive, but dirty is when you put a rider’s safety at risk. Obviously we’re all competitive, but safety should be everyone’s number one priority. That’s the one thing I think everyone should be careful of.
How does it feel to know that during the last year of your 250-class contract, you’re one of the most sought after 450 guys?
It’s exciting! I’m blessed and it’s a dream come true to be in this situation, but it’s what we’ve worked for. For 2017, I don’t know what I’m doing yet and that’s cool because it’s one of those situations were I can improve myself and possibly make myself even more sought after. The obvious goal is to win another 250 Supercross championship and to get an outdoor title, too. The good thing about riding a 450 so much lately is that I’ve shown everyone that I’m fully capable of winning on a big bike. But on the other hand, we took a chance doing this because I could’ve sucked at all of these races and made myself look very bad. I think doing all of this has not only given me that chance to get used to the 450 before I officially move up, but it’s helped my market value. I’ve definitely proved myself!
Okay, so you literally went around the world this off-season!
Yeah we’ve been busy, but it’s pretty awesome when you can sit back and really look at what we’ve been doing. I turned 20 during my trip to Italy and it’s crazy to think that I’m only 20-years-old and I’ve visited all of these countries just to race my dirt bike. It’s something that undoubtedly many people dream about. It’s been an awesome ride as far as my off-season goes, but also getting to race against all of these different people was the best part. After this next trip to Australia, I can arguably say that I’ve raced against almost all of the fastest riders in the world. It’s been crazy. Obviously the Motocross of Nations was a huge race for me; probably the wildest race I’ve ever done. The fans were wild and seeing people representing their countries was incredible. We’re obviously racing against the Euros, but to go there and really line up with the world’s fastest was amazing. For me, Jeremy Martin was my number one competition at home this year, and then in France we lined up together on the same team and raced with each other towards the same goal. Crazy! Everything’s been pretty spectacular. I also went back to Japan and everything over there was just so cool. The people are great and everything over there is just so laid back. It wasn’t a huge pressure race, but a lot of fast guys showed up and I got to race against Febvre again.
Did you have to sit anywhere near him on the plane?
[Laughs] No, but it’s funny because we actually got to know each other a lot more during that trip. When he and I were ultimately thrown into the pit to race against each other at all of those races, we didn’t have a lot of time to hang out and be friends. In Japan, we spent a lot of time together at Yamaha for media type of stuff and we actually got to talk a lot. We still battled during the race and I thought that was the last I’d see of him, but then showed up at the Lille Supercross! [Laughs] I guess he hasn’t had that much time on a Supercross track, so he seemed to struggle a little bit, but they ended up pitting us right next to each other. So, again we got to know each other some more. He seemed to have a really hard time in the whoops, so I was able to help him with some things. To be able to put the competitive nature of everything to the side and actually get to know one another was really cool.
How does it feel to make your parents as proud as you have? Every ounce of effort that your parents put into your program has paid off.
Like I’ve said before, all of this really is a dream come true. When you’re racing, the only thing you think about is winning and when you don’t, you’re pissed at yourself. But when I actually get to sit back and look at all that I have accomplished, it’s awesome. I was just a little kid from a small town in North Carolina that started riding at four-years-old and loved it more than anything. I had no intentions of being a professional racer. It was strictly just for fun. My parents and I obviously traveled around the country for amateur races, and they spent a lot of time and money on me just to have a hobby. So to see everything come around like this is incredible, especially when I see kids my age going to college or working, while I race my dirt bike for a living.
Talk about your mechanic Eric Gass.
I turned pro with my amateur mechanic, but he eventually went to KTM. I called up Eric and told him that I had heard a lot of good things about him, and that I would like to speak with him. It’s funny because he used to wrench for my trainer Gareth Swanepoel back when he was racing for Star, too. I told Eric what I had to bring to the table and I showed him what I could do. He took a leap of faith and came to work with me and everything’s been really good ever since. His personality is one-of-a-kind and it tends to rub off on you, too.
So does your mechanic play a bigger role than just a guy to wrench on the bike?
Absolutely! I think a lot of people underestimate the relationship between rider and mechanic because you ultimately have to trust this guy with your life. You’re trusting that that bike is ready to ride and completely safe. Not to mention the fact that we spend nearly every day together. Your mechanic is the last person to talk to you before the gate drops and that’s a big deal, so it almost seems necessary to have a great relationship with your mechanic. I can’t tell you how many times I was frustrated with my riding or irritated at something in general and he will say something to put me right back in the right state-of-mind.
How did you end up with Swanepoel as your trainer?
Swannie has probably been one of the biggest pieces in my program. We started working together after my first outdoor season, so it’s been a good couple of years. I guess I am his first full-time rider. It’s kind of funny because our two separate journeys in racing ended up coming together perfectly because when he retired, I turned pro. I actually got a call from Bobby Reagan and he said that since I didn’t have a full-time trainer I should give Swannie a try because he was always fit. We hit it off almost immediately and I just like what he’s about. Everything’s been awesome with him.
Is he training just from experience or does he have any kind of credentials?
Both actually. Most of his knowledge is from actually racing but he does have a personal training license. So he did go to school. He’s constantly looking for that next level and always on the lookout for something new. The dude just straight up knows his shit. You have trainers out there that might not know exactly what to say or do, but are still able to get the job done. He puts a lot of time into my program and puts his heart and soul into everything else that we do. A lot of what he does for me seems to be a little underrated. Like I said, I was the first rider he’s ever trained, so to have that immediate success that we had was pretty unreal. Every season gets better and better and in my opinion; he’s really underrated. In all honesty, though, that has worked out for the both of us.
A racer with actual hands-on experience could probably offer more than someone who went to school and only studied books…
Yeah, I agree. That was one of the things I found intriguing about him is that he had both sets of credentials. There are a lot of trainers out there that know a lot of things, but when you find someone who’s willing to put in continuous research regarding the human body, that’s when you know you’ve found someone worth working with. He also has the hands-on experience. He’s done the 30-minute motos; he knows what arm pump is. It’s hard to explain what armpump is to someone that’s never ridden a dirt bike before. That’s one of the things that are so awesome about him: he’s ridden for years and has an eye for things like that. He knows what it’s like to have a bad day at the races or during the week. He understands the frustrations of racing, so this is a really good deal for me and I’m super stoked on all that we’ve accomplished.
What will satisfy you in 2016?
I think this is realistic for me to say…two championships are what I’m looking for. I obviously won a Supercross championship last year and I feel I can do it again. An outdoor championship is going to be something hard to accomplish, but I think I have what it takes. I have plenty of experience battling Jeremy [Martin] and the rest of the fast guys, but I know what it takes to beat the two-time- champion. This next year should be exciting, as it’s my final year in the 250-class. I’m looking to do the best that I can and to have a good transition onto the 450 at the end of the year, and I’ll battle for every position along the way.