Cooper Webb gives thanks (as always) for being on verge of another Supercross title
Cooper Webb never stumbles or slips while confidently and stridently seizing the moment whenever he is (again) at the center of the AMA Monster Energy Supercross Series.
That has happened often this year -- though this isn’t a reference to his sublime riding (the KTM Red Bull star has shown to be remarkably resilient this season, particularly in the second half of races).
We’re talking, of course, about the presumptive 2021 450 champion’s remarkably smooth postrace podium interviews.
Webb, who carries a virtually insurmountable 22-point lead over Ken Roczen into Saturday night’s season finale in Salt Lake City, Utah, always wraps up by nailing every sponsor mention along with the shoutouts to his wife, Mariah, and mechanic, Carlos Rivera, without fail.
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“No, not really, I just always obviously want to give back to the people that have supported me, and continue to support me,” Webb told NBC Sports with a chuckle when asked if he ever practices his pitch-perfect delivery of gratitude. “I think the sponsors are always important, but those individualized positions with my mechanic, my wife, the team managers or whoever it may be, there’s just certain people that it takes an army to make this all happen.
“But you always have those really tight people in your inner circle that got your back through thick and thin, so it’s always nice to just thank them and make them feel special. And I try to give back to my sponsors, because I know how much it means to them and without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I try to let the fans know how the race was and be honest about how I felt and then give it up to the people that helped me.”
Webb has finished on the podium in 12 of 16 races and has seven victories –the most recent being a testament to the determination and grit that attracted him to KTM.
After a disappointing sixth in the April 13 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (where Roczen had won to narrow the points gap), Webb made a nine-hour round trip with KTM director of motorsports Roger De Coster, mechanic Carlos Rivera and suspension technician Ryo Okuda to the rider’s home base near Orlando, Florida.
After testing for a full day, Webb and the team drove back Friday to Atlanta, and Webb won the following night to extend his lead again over Roczen.
“It was definitely a busy and eventful week, but I’ve got to give it up to my team for being that committed and focused and willing to take that extra step to ensure a good result,” Webb said. “And obviously it paid off mentally getting the win. It was pretty rewarding. Not everyone is willing to do that. I’ve been on teams where it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, sorry. You’ve got to figure it out.’ So it was super cool.”
It also was a good reminder of why Webb signed three years ago with KTM, which delivered a title in their first year together and a runner-up finish to Eli Tomac last year.
“They’re the best team in the pits,” Webb said. “I knew that coming in, their mentality of winning. Just being able to adapt and change stuff on the bike to the rider’s liking is huge in our sport. Comfort is super key. That was really the main reason I came here.
“I used to ride for Yamaha, and coming to this brand with guys like Roger De Coster, who is known as the man in our sport for not only his race results but winning championship after championship as a team manager. My mechanic, Carlos, is one of the most winning mechanics there is. Just a really good group of people that we all share that common goal, which is to go win and try to win a championship. They’re super awesome. We work super well together.”
Though De Coster (who was instrumental in the career of four-time champion Ryan Dungey) is the most famous member of the support team, Webb’s constant praise has helped the profile of Rivera (who also worked with Dungey).
“Man, he’s just by far the smartest guy and pays the most attention to detail than anyone that I’ve ever worked with,” Webb said of his mechanic. “It’s honestly incredible. When I came here, I was really keen on working with him. It’s important in our sport to have that relationship with your mechanic. Not only he’s the last person touching your bike before you go out to risk your life essentially but also just that connection. He’s the last person that you talk to before you race.
“He’s the only one communicating with me with the pit board each lap. It’s very important to have that awesome relationship with the mechanic on a personal end but as well as the business end. He’s taught me just so much -- with attitude, with bike setup, with technique, with starts. Whatever it may be, I owe a lot to him. I don’t think I would be quite where I’m at without him.
“I think for these guys, too, they bust their butts. (Riders) travel a lot, but they travel even more. Having to be here two to three days longer with building the bikes. They change every single part on these motorcycles every single weekend before I race again. It’s a lot of work. He has a family. He sacrifices a lot to be with me.”
Here are four more things to know about Webb before his likely coronation as a two-time Supercross 450 champion Saturday night in Salt Lake City (which also is the focus of a new Moto Spy Supercross Season 5 episode):
--He learned his trade in an unconventional place: Webb was raised in Morehead City, North Carolina, a surfing and fishing town on the North Carolina coast between Wilmington and the Outer Banks. Far from a motorcycle hotbed, Webb learned to race by making daily laps at the same track for a decade (until leaving for California on a professional motocross contract at 16). He got into Supercross because of his father, Bob, a former professional surfer who shapes surfboards for a living.
“He used to ride for fun and race back in the day,” Cooper said of Bob Webb. “When I was born, he’d gotten a motorcycle again to enjoy riding and racing. He was the one who got me into it. There’s actually quite a bit of professional racers from North Carolina. There is a racing presence there, but on the coast, it was definitely not very known, and not a lot of people did it.
“So I feel like I kind of put motorcycle racing and Supercross racing on the map for a lot of people back home. And I have so many fans back home who watch it and never knew what it was, but because I’m a hometown kid. They turn it on and support me, so it’s pretty cool.”
After his career has ended, Webb plans to return to North Carolina (he also lived in the Charlotte area from 2016-18 while riding for Joe Gibbs Racing). “North Carolina is home for me,” he said. “When I retire, I’ll definitely go back.”
--He takes pride in being a Southern boy: After his Atlanta victory, Webb had a special dedication to fans in the South for supporting Supercross. That stems from having been a fan attending the annual Supercross event at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
“Obviously, this year was different being at the speedway, but just all day, seeing fans and the Southern hospitality that they have, and a lot of people from North Carolina that I saw,” Webb said. “As a North Carolinian, we’re very prideful of where we came from, and there’s not really a lot of professional racers from there, and especially very successful ones.
“I’m super prideful of it, and I try to make it known. It is super special to have those fans that are really embracing you and connect on that level of just being from the South. I can always relate to that, and it always feels special when I can have a good result on places more east or south.”
He also has NASCAR connections through his time in the Charlotte area. Before the Atlanta races, Webb and defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott did an amusing Instagram video that Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief, helped arrange.
“I’ve met him before one time,” Webb said of Elliott. “I actually have a ton of friends still that live in North Carolina, and more in that Mooresville area, so they kind of connected with his crew chief, AG, who I’ve met before.
“I knew Chase, that’s his home speedway and stuff. So it was pretty cool. I know he follows Supercross a little bit, but I’m sure he probably can’t get out and ride too much, but yeah, it was pretty funny to hear his words of encouragement. Yeah, it’s cool to interact. He’s at the pinnacle of NASCAR, and so it was really cool to have him collab and us try to reach out to the fans and get something different going.”
--He celebrates getting under the skin of his rivals: NBC Sports analyst Ricky Carmichael recently said on the NASCAR America MotorMouths show that “Cooper Webb is a warrior, a fighter. He will wear you down. He plays games with you and just irritates you. He’s got every facet of the game figured out, and that’s what makes him so tough.
“It always seems like he races with a chip on his shoulder. If his bike isn’t working right, he doesn’t let that faze him.”
Webb’s reaction to that description?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in that for sure. I feel like I have really good race strategies, and I just feel I have a lot of confidence in myself. Whether practice doesn’t go well, or I have a bad heat race or gate pick, or whatever the consequences are, I just feel like every time I line up on the starting line for a main event, I have a chance to go win.
“I think that’s hard to do at our level. It’s such a physically demanding sport, but it’s more even mentally demanding sport. Yeah, I feel like that’s a fair statement (by Carmichael). I’m not always the fastest, I’m not always the flashiest, but I feel like no matter what, when I’m on that starting line that I have a shot to win a race and be on the podium, so that’s what I try to pride myself and remind myself.
“This year, I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a racer and racecraft but also with my speed and technique. I think it’s all experience, too. Every season you complete you learn more, and I’m only 25, so I’m kind of just hitting those golden years.”
--He believes this could have been his third consecutive title: A nasty tumble in the Arlington, Texas, round last year briefly left Webb without feeling in his lower extremities, but he still finished 12th in the triple-moto event and rebounded to win three of the final seven races after a two-month break for the pandemic.
Webb said “the crazy crash I had, in my opinion, kind of took me away from (the 202 Supercross) championship” and a back injury later sidelined him from the motocross season.
“That’s racing, and you have those adversities,” said Webb, who overcame a 16-point deficit to Roczen through six races this year. “I always feel super rewarded when I can fight back from adversity and not lose that faith not only in myself but just that things are going to work out. This one has been a very trying year. It’s been a great year to obviously claw my way back into the points lead, but then be able to take the red plate and lead. If I can execute and keep things going as planned and win another (title), it would mean the world.”