Like he has done atop his bike on off-road courses across the country, recently-turned nine-year-old Ottawa motocross racer Connor Cooper reached his goal in fantastic time.
Cooper — who began racing at the age of six — has qualified for the Rocky Mountain American Motorcyclist Association Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. on July 29-Aug. 3 after a strong qualifying showing at Byron Motocross Park in mid-June.
"It feels really good," Connor said of qualifying for what his father, Pat Cooper, described as "the world's largest amateur motocross race." "I've wanted to race (at nationals) since three years ago. (When I get there, I want to) be consistent, ride hard and have fun."
A fourth-place finish in the third and final moto (race) at Byron last month lifted Connor to a seventh-place overall finish after 10th- and seventh-place finishes earlier. A clutch holeshot — a fast start to get in front of the field, in motocross lingo — in that do-or-die third moto propelled Connor to fourth, despite a pair of crashes, and a seventh-place finish in the overall standings.
"He kind of knew it was make or break with that one, took everything he's learned and amazed all of us," Connor's mom, Abigail Cooper, said.
It was also good enough to earn one of six spots at the Amateur National Motocross Championship, as one of the top six finishers had already accepted a spot at Nationals at another qualifier.
Connor's dad raced motocross himself as a young man, and was hoping his son would follow in his tire tracks ... though it didn't happen instantaneously.
"I grew up racing them," said Pat. "When (Connor) was 2 1/2 years old, I cooked up a little Yamaha PW50, but at that time my wife said, 'He's a little too young to be riding that, don't you think?' so we waited a couple years until he was five. We had it on training wheels, and he learned to ride that before he rode a bicycle."
After running local events on nearby courses such as Walnut, Byron, Mendota and Joliet, the Coopers began entering in the larger Area competitions, which led to Region events, which — finally — led to Nationals.
"We've been chasing it every year," Pat said. "It's like an addiction. ... We offer him other sports, but this is what he wants to do."
"It's the rush," Connor said about what he enjoys most about racing. "I'm nervous, but I'm also hyped up. I'm in a zone when I ride."
Aside from the thrills, the camaraderie is something the Coopers have enjoyed in their motocross travels as a family.
"The big thing is, it is an individual sport, but so many families come together for it," Abigail said. "It's a huge community that you don't understand unless you're in it.
"You get to meet people from all across the United States, and we get to travel the United states with him to do this. It's exciting."
In fact, Connor said he met his best friend — Owen Shull from downstate Casey, Ill. — riding ... although that friendship and the others he's made are on pause when he's on the track together competing.
"We've got to take a break on friendship," Connor said. "We fist bump before we go out, then when we're on the track, riding side by side, there are no friends. And when we're done, we say, 'Good job!' to each other and then play video games or something."