Cooper Webb | Summer Is Second Chance For A Championship
Cooper Webb did everything he could to keep his rank as the top rider in the Monster Energy Supercross Series, but it was not to be. The issues started when the Red Bull KTM rider came down with a serious illness the night before Anaheim One, something that was understood to be the flu, and he fought the symptoms for weeks and scored podium finishes. A win at the San Diego Supercross and the move to the East Coast made it seem like things were going to go Webb’s way, but a body-jarring impact at the Arlington round put Webb in the most difficult situation of his pro career.
The Arlington crash gets more gruesome every time you see it, as you notice how his lower back took the full brunt of the blow, that the hot exhaust pipe caught him on the back of the head and neck, and the pain he was in as the medics loaded him onto the cart. Webb knows that moment changed the rest of his year. “I look at that race, unfortunately, as the one that cost me my season. I think I was 11 points down at Dallas and that was definitely the nail in the coffin,” he said with a shrug.
Sitting out Atlanta never crossed his mind and he left the Texas hospital early Sunday morning, boarded a flight back to Orlando, and spent the days between doing all he could to recover and manage the pain. “When it first happened, I was just trying to figure out what was going on and get a direction of how my body felt as days went on. I was planning on racing (Atlanta, the following round), or at least trying. I knew that if I didn’t race, that was any title hope that I had. That is what kept me going and to find that grit was to line up and go for it,” he noted. “I didn’t start walking until Wednesday of that week, didn’t ride once, and showed up at Atlanta not sure what was going to happen, but we were going to give it a go. I’m glad I did because it was a crazy night of racing and I was able to get on the podium and keep Eli behind me for that race. It was a good feeling afterward, I was still hurting and had to take a few days, didn’t ride again until Daytona.” The third-place finish in Atlanta didn’t completely fix the damage; It was just another instance of Webb rising to the challenge in a high-pressure situation.
The pandemic-caused pause helped Webb in more ways than one. The first, obviously, was that the extended time off allowed him the chance to truly get over the Arlington injury. “I think what helped in Utah was that I was healthy again. The back thing at Dallas took a lot out of me and that was what really helped the most,” he said of the unexpected break. After the Supercross Restart plan in Utah was announced, Webb decided to use the last three weeks of the break as a chance to test with the Red Bull KTM team and to perfect the bike’s setup for seven races on hard-packed dirt in California, which isn’t Webb’s forte. “KTM and I did quite a bit of testing when we were in California and adapted to the hard pack and made some changes. One of the things I felt like we improved in was the whoops. It was a mixture of everything, but I think it was a benefit to go to California and spend that extra time,” he noted of the West Coast work.
The last thing? Webb watched The Last Dance documentaries on the Chicago Bulls, a series that was rushed to release during the long weeks of lockdown, and drew inspiration from Michael Jordan’s competitive nature. “How much grit and that winning attitude, I connected with it. His mentality was, ‘Whatever it takes,’ and that’s how I try to be towards racing,” Webb stated. “Whatever it takes to get a win is what you have to go do, adversity or not, that’s what our job is. I really enjoyed it and I think it helped me a lot. I love those high-pressure situations and I could really relate with that.”
Webb was the most successful rider at the Salt Lake City races, as a look at the results sheet will show the three Main Event wins (all three came at the races run on Wednesday nights) and three podium finishes that earned him the most points of anyone in the 450 Class through that same stretch. “I liked the format. I liked going racing in a different situation, with no fans and all of that, and I thought it was cool to race every few days. I really enjoyed it and once I did the first one, it felt like we were racing a lot. I had great results, three firsts and three seconds, and I was stoked that we were able to race with the madness that we had going on,” he summarized of the month spent in Utah.
“I was riding with good confidence in Utah. It was cool to be able to battle with Eli, Ken, and Zach, really with totally different guys throughout the seven races. Eli was on it this year and one of the best battles we had was in the mud that day, when it was just us two going for it. It’s a cool feeling when you know that you are clicking, you are confident, the bike feels good, the track suits your style. I don’t know how to describe it, but everything clicks, and you know it’s going to be a good night,” he noted. The mental aspect of racing has always been important to Webb and just like Jordan, he used the moments before the gate dropped as the last chance to get into the minds of out the competition, a successful tactic that included plenty of expletives. “Sometimes the mental battles are wins over physical battles. You have to do what you have to do to get the best out of yourself and the worst out of your competitors,” he said with a laugh.
The effort was too little and too late, as Webb ended the season ranked second overall to Eli Tomac, but Webb doesn’t view it as a failure in any way. “They were so different, between the two seasons, 2019 and 2020. This year was tougher by far. Last year I felt like I could do no wrong. I was getting holeshots, I was saving things that I should have probably crashed on, and things were going my way. This year I battled a lot more adversity, like the sickness at the first few and the crash at Dallas,” he detailed. “It was a totally different year and I think everyone stepped it up a lot. It was one of those things where I started the season behind and it’s not ideal. Last year I got the point lead by round five or six, but I dug that hole at the beginning, and it was hard to climb out, especially with the guys riding as good as they were. It was a lot more challenging this year, but it was a learning year. I think that when we did go to Utah, I was able to put everything in perspective and work on what I needed to work on. I was able to come into the last seven swinging and was able to get second in the series. That was cool because at one point I think I had gone all the way back to fifth in the points. To be able to claw back and get second in the series was good. I obviously always want that number one, but all things considered, I felt like I did everything I could this year.”
As soon as Supercross was over, Webb went back to Florida and put his attention on the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. In a normal year, the Nationals start soon after Supercross ends, but the nine-round series that has gone through its share of delays due to the ongoing health crisis and is set to start on August 15. The time between SX and MX races has given riders a chance to put in training days and to further perfect their bikes, which Webb feels will make for an even-more intense summer. “I think everyone is in the same boat and has had time now to get proper motos in for outdoors, some testing, stuff like that,” he shared. Now in his second year following Aldon Baker’s program, Webb has more of a say in what happens at the Baker’s Factory and convinced the renounced trainer to change some things at the Florida facility, including the part-time inclusion of Blake Baggett and field trips to Baggett’s nearby property. “That’s something I was able to talk to Aldon about, exploring some other places here and there. His facility is so nice and sometimes you don’t want to leave,” Webb explained. “We have Blake right down the road, have been able to ride at his place quite a bit, and he’s ridden with us at Aldon. Having four really gnarly 450 riders, plus all the great 250 riders we have, it feels like a National every day. That’s the best replication that we can do.”
Webb isn’t letting a lack of experience at the front of the field in the 450 MX alter his expectations. He considers himself to be one of the few guys with a chance to win the title and says just as much. “I think this is my second chance for the year. Eli is incredible and outdoors he’s won the last three, so he is going to be gnarly. We’re going to have new guys coming in and stuff like that, so it’s an exciting year for sure,” he said with respect to the rest of the riders in the class. “I want to be a contender. I was able to win a race last year before I got hurt and I want to keep that momentum going,” he noted of his overall win at Spring Creek and a knee injury at Unadilla last summer. “I’d love to go after this championship. I feel good. It’s going to be a long season, still doing nine races, which is a full season in my books, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be able to have some prep and we’re all in the same situation, racing nine weekends in a row pretty much.”