AMA Flat Track: Kopp Retirement Interview

Joe Kopp Interview

In the following interview, AMA Pro Racing discusses the Flat Track career of Joe Kopp, who is retiring from the series. During the 2010 AMA Flat Track Grand National Championship, Kopp, competing on different makes of motorcycles, finished second overall behind Jake Johnson.

Q. What a career you had! Is it hard for you to believe the days of chasing a championship title is over?

Joe Kopp: 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 yeah, I am sure I will still be chasing some racing title doing something, just not full time GNC racing.

Q. 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?

Joe Kopp: I was always into the off-road scene, such as local hare scrambles and x-country races, but I would occasional throw a leg over a bike at the local flattrack 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 thats 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 highschool 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 flattrack, but at the same time it probably helped me out by not getting burned out at an early age.

Q. At what time in your career did you realize you were good enough to win the Grand National Championship series?

Joe Kopp: 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

Q. 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?

Joe Kopp: 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 truly 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.

Q. 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?

Joe Kopp: 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.

Q. 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?

Joe Kopp: 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.

Q. 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?

Joe Kopp: 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.

Q. It appeared during your announcement speech at the awards ceremony it all was becoming a reality. That must have been tough.

Joe Kopp: 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 flattrack has meant to me over the years. It is and has been my life and my family’s life!

Q. The saying goes…behind every great man, is a great woman. How has Deedee played a role in your racing?

Joe Kopp: 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.

Q. Are the kids and Deedee ready to have you home?

Joe Kopp: 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.

Q. Many sports figures have a hard time adjusting after retiring. How is Joe Kopp going to handle the slower pace and less stress?

Joe Kopp: 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

Q. Any regrets along the way that stands out?

Joe Kopp: 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 carma and bad carma! ha-ha

Q. Congratulations on your successful racing career and we look forward to seeing you with your induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Joe Kopp: 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!

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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007 and is currently Editor at Large at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of 365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).