What a career you had! Is it hard for you to believe the days of chasing a championship title is over?
Yeah it really is, but I think I’m ready. I have known all year long, but my biggest question was am I going to go out with the # 1 plate. Having that # 1 plate to take home would have even made it easier for me to retire. But yea, I am sure I will still be chasing some racing title doing something; just not full time GNC racing.
Most riders turn expert at around 17-18 years old, you first turned expert in 1991 at the age of 22. Why the late start?
I was always into the off-road scene, such as local hare scrambles and x-country races, but I would occasionally throw a leg over a bike at the local flat track races. I remember when I was about 12 one of my first dirt track bikes was an old Yamaha RD250 twin two-stroke and that dang thing about killed me. Then I went to a Maico 490 then a KX500, which both had stock frames. I guess I learned some serious throttle control on those bikes. But I just really enjoyed racing off-road in my younger years, plus my cousins and I grew up here in Mica (WA) at the base of the mountains and trails were everywhere, so that’s what we learned to ride. I always said, if they ever throw a log or some sort of obstacle in the straight at the Springfield mile, those boys are gonna get a good whoopin’ . Then a few years after high school a couple of local guys let me ride a Champion framed 250 liquid cooled Cr250 Honda at a local race and that was probably the first real flattrack framed bike I ever rode. I was like, damn, these things actually handle when you put a good chassis where they can hook up. That year I also got my pro-am license and off we went. So yea I got a late start in flat track, but at the same time it probably helped me out by not getting burned out at an early age.
At what time in your career did you realize you were good enough to win the Grand National Championship series?
I don’t know that I ever thought I was good enough to win the title before I actually won it. I’ve never been a real confident person, like when some people get beat on ten times in row at the races and they still think they are still better than you. I was never like that, however I knew that if I ever got a bunch of confidence from winning a few races or just running up front, then these boys were gonna be in trouble. I have always been pretty confident with my racing, but to have confidence to win at the GNC level versus confidence to just qualify for a main is a whole different thing. It takes forever to build confidence but only an instant to loose it all! But over the last several years I have learned a few tricks…. but I ain’t gonna tell! ha-ha
Throughout your career you have probably raced more different brands of motorcycles than anyone on the series. What did winning the Mile at Prescott, AZ on the Ducati mean to you personally?
You know winning the Arizona Mile on the Ducati didn’t really mean that much to me at the moment. I don’t think I realized the importance of it until the weeks following, then I was amazed at what it stirred up. It was truely awesome and I am very proud to be a part of it. I just have always liked to take on new challenges in my career.
You achieved the flat track Grand Slam by winning short track, TT, Half Mile and Mile. Which discipline did you feel you were the most competitive and why?
I would say TT’s are my favorite to ride, but I think I am the most competitive on the 1/2 miles. I really don’t care if the track is a cushion or clay, I just feel I can adapt to most different conditions faster than the other riders. I think that the slicker or more technical a track gets plays into my cards. I really feel comfortable in situations when you are trying to find every last bit of traction and not just whacking the throttle wide open and going for it. At the same time I have always liked to prove myself on different types of race tracks.
The commitment and challenges to race at your level had to have been overwhelming at times. Was there any other time before now you thought about hanging up the steel shoe?
For the last few years it was just getting harder and harder to make a full commitment each week. But even when I was down on my results, I always had GREAT people around me that kept me going. My family, sponsors and friends I had around me is what allowed me to stay competitive.
You became a crowd favorite at more than your fair share of races with the longest autograph lines. Why do you think the fans picked you as their favorite rider?
I have always made it a point to really try and be fan friendly with the fans but more importantly with the kids at the races and I think that really started to show in the last couple of years. I have young kids at home and I know how much they look up to a racer such as myself, so if you take the time and chat with them while signing an autograph, you would be amazed with what kind of memory it leaves with that young child. I’ve always believed, you should treat someone the way you would like to be treated. Pretty simple really. I just always wanted to be known as a good guy on and off the track and I feel like I have accomplished that.
Although you announced your retirement, you also stated there will be a couple times you may get the bikes dusted off to hit some races next year. Any idea which events you may plan to attend?
I’m thinking somewhere like Daytona and maybe the Springfield TT since those were always two of my favorites. Plus I would like to do something like Pikes Peak, maybe a few Endurocrosses, or what ever else comes along that would be fun to do.
It appeared during your announcement speech at the awards ceremony it all was becoming a reality. That must have been tough.
I knew it was going to be tough! I really could not even think too much about it in the days leading up to the awards ceremony without getting choked up. There were so many more things I wanted to say but I couldn’t because I just was not able to talk. I wanted to congratulate Jake and his crew because I saw how hard they worked all year. I also wanted to thank all of my fans, friends and sponsors over the years. It was an emotional moment, but I guess people understood just what flat track has meant to me over the years. It is and has been my life and my family’s life!
The saying goes…behind every great man, is a great woman. How has Deedee played a role in your racing?
Where do I start? DeeDee has always played a major role in my career. Non stop, week in and week out she has helped me through the good and bad times. Now it’s time for me to join her in doing things she loves to do like horse back riding or what ever she has planned. For years we have talked about maybe getting into team roping together. All I can say, if that is the direction we want to go…. those cowboys better watch out. DeeDee gets as serious as I do when it comes to being competitive. I really look forward to all the new things we will do together.
Are the kids and Deedee ready to have you home?
This is something we have all discussed over time, so I think everyone is ready. With all the traveling we have done over the years we will probably get ants in our pants to get back on the road and go somewhere. I don’t see us just sitting home.
Many sports figures have a hard time adjusting after retiring. How is Joe Kopp going to handle the slower pace and less stress?
I’m not sure if I will slow down that much as I have lots of ideas. I can’t financially retire, so I will need to find something fun and rewarding to do. But yea, I am not sure about less stress or slower pace, but I would say that safer is more like the word for the job I am looking for. ha-ha
Any regrets along the way that stands out?
I have no regrets along the way. Sure there are the things here or there that you think about, but really I have had such a GREAT time out there racing full time on the AMA GNC circuit, I would not trade it for anything! There were some battles on the track that were maybe left unfinished, but ya know what comes around goes around in my book. I love good karma and bad karma! ha-ha
Congratulations on your successful racing career and we look forward to seeing you with your induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
WOW! The Hall of Fame would be amazing! I’m not sure if I will fall into that group, but if I do, I guess that would be like winning another championship. Thank you!
EVENT: Grand Prix of Valencia
WHERE: Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo, Cheste, Spain. Circuit is 2.489 miles (4.005 km), with 14 turns. Race is 30 laps.
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 7. It is the 18th of 18 events this season.
2009 RACE WINNER: Dani Pedrosa, by 2.630 seconds over Valentino Rossi
2009 POLE WINNER: Casey Stoner, 1 minute, 32.256 seconds
U.S. TV: MotoGP race, 8-9 a.m. (ET), Sunday, Nov. 7, SPEED (live). Moto2: 5-6 p.m. (ET), Sunday, Nov. 7, SPEED (delayed). 125cc: 1:30-2:30 p.m. (ET), Tuesday, Nov. 9, SPEED (delayed).
THE AMERICANS: U.S. riders Ben Spies (Longview, Texas, Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Nicky Hayden (Owensboro, Ky., Ducati Team) and Colin Edwards (Houston, Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will compete in the MotoGP race. Spies and Hayden are tied for sixth in the MotoGP World Championship standings, with Edwards 11th. Kenny Noyes (Borrego Springs, Calif., Jack&Jones by Antonio Banderas) will compete in the Moto2 race. Noyes is tied for 25th in the Moto2 World Championship standings.
•Ben Spies (after practice Friday): “I’m happy with the way today ended because I’m sixth, but really close to Colin in third. I felt good this morning before I crashed. I was on the soft front tire, and it is the one I don’t like so much. I was happy to make it through the whole session on it, but I got a bit too greedy and lost the front going into the second corner. I knew if I’d have swallowed some pride and slowed down or come in for the hard tire, it wouldn’t have happened. At least I didn’t aggravate the ankle, which is getting better as each day passes. Earlier this week it was really painful, and I’m having a couple of issues back-shifting gears. But it is not going to be a problem for the race. I’m having lots of physio, and when I’m not on the bike I’m using an ice pack a lot. But after the crash in Estoril and what happened this morning, I needed to have a good session this afternoon just to build up some confidence, and that’s what I managed. I’m really happy too because my fastest lap was on the 25th lap on the hard rear tire option, so we’ve obviously got a good race setting already. Every change we made to the bike made it a bit better, so with a few more tweaks overnight we should be looking even stronger.”
•Nicky Hayden (after practice Friday): “Obviously, today was not how we hoped to start the last race of the season. We started this morning quite good. I was fastest in the first minutes of the session, I think, and then third, second … at least near the front. But then it was very difficult to really improve from there. I think did a low 34 in my first run, but I didn’t find a lot of time since then, so we have to try and understand why. Anyway, to be honest, the position is not good, for sure. But we are not so far away in the lap times apart from the first two, so we will see what we can do tomorrow to improve. It was nice having two full sessions today. We will regroup tomorrow and try to improve. I love this track; I love this race, so it’s a long way from over. We’ll keep pushing.”
•Colin Edwards (after practice Friday): “I’m really happy to have made such a good start. I was only 11th this morning but knew my guys had a handle on how to improve the bike, and this afternoon it just felt so easy. All the problems I’ve had all year with the bike not turning and running wide disappeared. I could get into the corner hard on the brakes, carry lots of lean angle, open the throttle, and the bike would just turn like it should do. It’s all too little too late, but I didn’t feel like I was out there taking a lot of risks, and I was nearly six-tenths faster this afternoon. Every lap I did was between 33.4 and 33.6, and that’s consistently over half-a-second faster than what I was able to do here last year. I kept the same hard tire for the whole session and just switched it between the bikes and my best time was on the 20th lap, so I’m really happy with the tire performance, too, and think I could be in for a really strong weekend to finish the season.”
THEY SAID IT: “So here we are, my last race with Yamaha, and it will be an emotional weekend for all. Of course, I would really like to try to win this final race because it would be a great end to this partnership, which has had so many beautiful moments.” – Fiat Yamaha Team rider Valentino Rossi, about ending his seven-year stint at Yamaha after this weekend to move to the Ducati Team in 2011
FAST FACTS: This will be the final ride on their current teams for MotoGP standouts Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Ben Spies. Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi is moving to Ducati in 2011 after seven seasons with Yamaha, 2007 MotoGP World Champion Stoner is leaving Ducati for Honda, and American rookie standout is moving from the satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team for the factory Yamaha team … Valencia is one of just three current circuits where new MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo has not won in any class during his Grand Prix career. The others are Sachsenring and Aragon … Lorenzo needs to score 16 points at this race to set a record for the most points in one season, breaking Rossi’s record of 373 in 2008 … 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa is the only rider with victories at Valencia in MotoGP, 250cc and 125cc … The World Championship is available in just one class, 125cc, as Jorge Lorenzo and Toni Elias clinched the title in MotoGP and Moto2, respectively, on Oct. 10 at the Grand Prix of Malaysia. 125cc points leader Marc Marquez must finish eighth or better to clinch the world title. Marquez leads fellow Spaniard Nicolas Terol by 17 points … Marquez can become the second-youngest World Champion in Grand Prix history, at 17 years, 263 days.
2011 tickets: 2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP tickets are on sale now.
To buy tickets, visit www.imstix.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Ticket office and phone hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.
The 2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP is scheduled for Aug. 26-28 at IMS.
Race Day general admission tickets cost $40, with Friday general admission $10 and Saturday general admission $20. A three-day general admission ticket is $60. A Friday-Saturday general admission ticket is $20 if purchased before Sept. 13, 2010, $25 afterward.
Children ages 12 and under will be admitted free any of the three days of the event when accompanied by an adult with a general admission ticket.
Race Day reserved seat prices will start at $70.
I love this AMA press kit photo because it features four great racers and really tells a story. The shot shows defending Daytona 200 winner Gene Romero (3) leading Barry Sheene (7), who would become 500cc world champion that very season, Steve McLaughlin (83), who earlier in the weekend won the first AMA Superbike Championship Series race, and Skip Askland (27), who was starting his second full season as a pro and was considered the up-and-coming young road racer of that era.
This was Sheene’s first race back at Daytona after his career was nearly ended there in a 170-mph crash on the banking in testing the year before. The nerve it took for him to get back on the track and hitting that banking at full throttle again had to be tremendous.
By the photo you can tell that the riders are 12 laps into the 52-lap race. The scoreboard in the background tells you that Kenny Roberts was leading the race over Johnny Cecotto, Pat Evans, Gary Fisher and Gary Nixon.
Venezuelan hero Cecotto went on to win the race. Of the group in the photo Romero finished the best. The former national champ scored fourth.
Also notable in this photo is the massive crowd, one of the biggest ever to see the Daytona 200, estimated at 70,000.