Sometimes it’s just in the blood. For Kody Kopp, son of Grand National Champion Joe Kopp, his love of flat track racing started as soon as he threw his leg over a PW50. Although his parents would’ve probably preferred him to take a liking to golf clubs or bass fishing, Kopp’s passion for the sport had the family all-in behind him.
Hailing from Mica, Washington, Kopp manages a pretty well-balanced life for an amateur motorcycle racer. He still goes to school, puts in the hours to keep his grades up and has played other youth sports, but really, it’s racing that he loves. At the age of 14, the Latus Motors/Estenson Racing-backed rider has already established himself as one of the sport’s top up-and-coming riders with four National Championships to his credit, as well as being last year’s Fast Brain Award recipient.
Fresh off another solid performance at the AMA Flat Track Grand Championships in Ohio, we had a chance to sit down with the young Kopp to get to know him a little better.
How old were you when you started riding?
I started riding a motorcycle when I was three and a half, and then I had my first race after I had just turned four. I raced my little PW50 at our little local track. From there, I just fell in love with it because I traveled with Dad a lot all over on the [American Flat Track] circuit, just hanging out with all the up-and-coming riders. I’d hang out with Bronson Bauman and people like that, when he was still in amateur, so I kind of just realized how much I love it, too. Then, I just fell in love with it from there, and we started getting into it really heavy when I went to 85cc’s. That was when I was about nine or ten. We started really getting big into traveling with it because I loved it, and so did Dad. He didn’t really ever want me to become a racer because he knows how many risks you have to take doing it, but I loved it so much, he didn’t want to take it away from me.
Was he thinking more along the lines of giving you some golf clubs or something?
Yeah. That’s always been Mom and Dad’s joke is either get into some golfing – they always wanted me to golf or be a pro bass fisherman. I was like, oh gosh. No thanks.
Do you remember your dad racing?
I was born in 2004, so that was only four years after his Grand National Championship. The last year, 2010, is what I remember the most. I still think about it and remember back to that last year of his full season. He ended up second. Then I remember a little bit of stuff from younger years, but not when they tell me something that I did back then. I’m like, I don’t remember that at all.
What was it like growing up in that type of atmosphere?
It was fun. It was a lot of traveling. Not really home that much. It made it fun getting to go to a lot of different states with just Mom, Dad, and me. I have a sister, but she wasn’t born until 2008. It was really fun always being on the go. I liked it. Mom would sometimes say otherwise, but I loved it. I had a ton of racing buddies. They weren’t really racers’ sons, like Dad’s class of racers, but just people that were at every race watching. I would just hang out with them. That was always fun just to go see my friends on the East Coast and everywhere.
Who were your racing heroes growing up?
I always loved Brad Baker. He’s from Washington too, originally, so I always got to watch him when we’d go to Castle Rock or something. When he won his championship in 2013, that was when I started really liking him. He was always super-nice to me in the pits. He was kind of always my hero. I liked Dad, but I think I’ve always liked Brad the most.
There are a lot of guys on the East Coast – Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan – but there is quite a scene there in Washington and California, as well. What’s that like growing up racing amongst those guys?
Here in Washington we don’t have a ton of tracks around Spokane on the east side of Washington, but when you travel over to the western side of the state, you can go to a few big tracks over there that get a big turnout. That was always fun to go over there and get some really good competition. Going down to California has always been awesome, too, just going down there and getting a huge turnout to where you have to make a Main Event at an amateur race. That’s always been my favorite thing to do on the West Coast is just going to California to race with my friends down there.
Are you still going to school or are you doing homeschooling?
I still go to school. This year I’ll be starting my freshman year in high school. When I turn 16, we haven’t really decided for sure, but I would like to get homeschooled so I can focus on racing. But maybe when we turn 16, we’ll just work something out that I can get my homework and just go on the circuit when I have to.
What’s it like balancing all of that with racing and school?
School has always been my priority. I love racing, but I love going to school and seeing my friends every day. I always take school really serious. I’ve always had a 4.0, and I have pushed myself to get good grades. That always makes it fun to go to school. I’ve always worked something out with my teachers so that I get my homework ahead of time and usually do it on the trip there. I’ve never really been behind in school. I’m usually on the teacher’s good side just because I’m always ahead on work. That’s always what we try to do.
Are you involved in any other sports besides racing? Do you like any other sports?
I played football when I was growing up for a long time, and then this year we decided we weren’t going to because high school football takes up a lot more time. It’s the whole summer. You’re at football practice every day. So we decided we’re not going to play football anymore, but I used to play football a lot. I still play basketball and sometimes track and field every few years… mainly basketball and racing. I also love to fish in my free time.
What do you do for training?
We have a little track at home, a little short track. Just a small, little flat track. Maybe 200 feet long. Not very wide. We don’t have much acreage, so it’s just a lot of riding outdoors, going out and dirt biking in the woods, or endurocross or motocross. I’m just on my bike as much as I can. I also go to the gym four to five days a week and lift weights.
Do you and your dad ride together a lot?
Yeah, Dad and I ride together a ton. I spend my time working on anything I can and he kind teaches me a lot. It’s always good to have him there, showing me where I could improve and then where I need to slow it down a little. So he helps me a lot with training, for sure.
What’s it like having a dad of his talent level, being a former champion to kind of mentor you?
It helps a ton. Going to the track, even if me and the other kids haven’t been to the track, it almost feels like I have that edge on them already just because he can talk me through some things. Just his experience, he always relays that to me. It really helps me with the mental game of it. That’s something he’s always been strong on. Even if I’m having a bad day, he doesn’t let me get down on myself. He’s learned in the past that that puts you in a deeper hole than you need to be. That always helps me, to just learn from previous mistakes but not sitting there dwelling on it.
Tell me a bit about your week at the amateur nationals.
We went back there and we raced four classes all week. Two 450 classes and then two 250 classes. It was four days of racing straight. A half-mile, a TT, a short track, and another half-mile. Our goal all week was just to go have fun, but of course you enter a championship series like that, and you want to win a championship.
We had a very consistent week. Kept her on two wheels all but one time on the short track, but we were all good. Out of 16 possible Main Events, we made it on the podium 14 times and won 5 races. So, it was a very consistent week, and we ended up winning a 250 national championship, which was amazing.
Do you like the 250 or the 450 better?
I like the 450 a little more. I’ve only been on it since February this year, but I just like the power a little more. Can get through the deep cushion, pea gravel a lot better, and I love that.
Do you have a favorite type of track?
I like them all. At least I like to tell myself I like them all just to kind of have that mental half of it, but I think I like pea gravel half-miles the most.
So far, you have a pretty accomplished career at the amateur level. What are your goals in your amateur career before you go pro?
This year we’re just going to try to keep hitting as many small races as we can, just every other track here and there to get my all-around talents built up. Then, next year, we’re going to go for the Nicky Hayden Horizon Award at the amateur nationals. That’s probably one of my larger goals to accomplish before going pro. And, if not, just win a few national championships next year and go back and have fun on 450’s.