When Latus Motors Harley-Davidson’s Joe Kopp won the Hagerstown Half Mile last Saturday night, he accomplished a couple milestones in his career, including earning his 10th career AMA GNC win as well as his first back-to-back GNC wins in a single season. We caught up with Kopp as he was preparing for round 10 of the AMA Ford Quality Checked Certified Flat Track Championship, scheduled to take place in Farley, Iowa, on August 6, to talk about the momentum he has gained in the past few races and what it could mean in the next few and beyond as Kopp attempts to earn a second AMA Flat Track title.CN:
First of all, congratulations on the win. That was actually your 10th win, not your ninth?
Kopp: That was the 10th, Dave Hoenig wrote it as my ninth, but is actually my 10th.
CN: So you’re obviously happy to have reached that milestone then.
Kopp: Exactly. I’m in the double digits now, so that is pretty cool.
CN: And it marked also your first back-to-back wins in a season.
Kopp: Yeah. I’ve gone back to back at Lima in two years, but this was the first time I’ve won two in a row in the same season.
CN: Your confidence level has got to be extremely high right now.
Kopp: It’s really high, and it has been for a while. We were second at Lima, and I was leading Lake Odessa when I broke. Then I won the two after that. The last four races have been really good rides for me, so I’m really excited going into Farley.
CN: What has been the difference, if any, in your approach this year as opposed to the past couple years, where you showed speed but struggled in main events?
Kopp: The biggest thing is that I’m just more laid back this year. I have a pretty laid back team with Larry Zumbrum as my mechanic, and it’s just kind of kick back in the pits. I’m finding this year in the pits that we’re hardly changing anything on the bike. I pretty much have been riding it the way it was when I got there. It usually works out pretty good that way for me.
At Hagerstown I was on a rail all night. I was fast scratch heat winner, and in the heat race we were close. We were fourth fastest, but in the last couple laps of his scratch heat, I saw Chris Carr running a high/low line, and I played with that in my heat race, so that kind of messed up my heat race, but I was still right there on the stopwatch.
In the main event, Chris got off the line, and I was second. I was pretty confident, but then three laps into it he had gapped me about 10 or 12 bike lengths, and that made me nervous. On a track like Hagerstown, where it can get really slick, you can’t get too aggressive and try to make up a bunch of time. But I didn’t give up, and I was able to keep it to where he didn’t get away any more, and I just had to figure out where to catch him. I started running his exact line, and I started catching him little by little. Once he noticed I was catching him, he started looking back, and that gave me a little more confidence.
I passed him on the outside in turns three and four, a real clean pass on the outside, and I took the win.
CN: So now how long do you get to enjoy a win like that before shifting your focus to the next round in Farley, Iowa.
Kopp: About two or three days. I’m already watching tapes of Farley and some other races. It doesn’t seem like you get to enjoy it for very long.
CN: Do you think that you can keep the win streak alive at Farley?
Kopp: I think so. I’ve been looking forward to Farley all year simply because of the fact that last year I was one of the fastest guys in practice there, but then I crashed in my scratch heat, and it was one the harder 750 crashes I’ve ever had, and it kind of wrecked my night.
But I’m looking forward to it. I liked the track, and I’m looking to go there to get a little redemption. With two wins going into it now, that makes it a little bit easier for me, I think.
CN: And after Farley is the Peoria TT, and it’s not impossible to imagine you extending to five in a row because you are a former winner there as well.
Kopp: It’s not impossible at all.
CN: The challenge there is all these kids who like to ride the new motocross-style bikes.
Kopp: Yeah, I agree, but I’m riding a bit more aggressive this year. Like I wrote in my race letter that I sent out, Henry Wiles and I got into a bit of an elbow fight in our heat race at Hagerstown, and while that was happening, I thought back to last year at Peoria, and I thought, ‘I ain’t backin’ down.’ Last year he got me to back down going over the jump in the main event at Peoria, but I’m a different guy this year, and I ain’t gonna back down. I’m going to take the chance this year, go for it.
CN: This is really the best chance you’ve had to reclaim the AMA Ford Quality Checked Flat Track Championship since your 2000 title. What are your thoughts on that?
Kopp: I think so too. I’m sitting better in the points right now than I was last year, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I broke at Lake Odessa, I’d be leading it by one point right now. Everybody is talking about Kenny and Chris, and that’s kind of good because they’re not focusing on me. I’m just kind of inching up on the deal. I’ve got the momentum right now.
AMA FORD QUALITY CHECKED FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIP POINT STANDINGS (After 9 of 16 rounds): 1. Chris Carr (152/2 wins); 2. Ken Coolbeth (143/1 win); 3. Joe Kopp (129/2 wins); 4. Jared Mees (116/1 win); 5. Jake Johnson (99/1 win); 6. Rich King (89/1 win); 7. Bryan Smith (81); 8. Shaun Russell (72); 9. JR Schnabel (71); 10. (TIE) Nick Cummings (68)/Johnny Murphree (68); 12. Henry Wiles (60); 13. Willie McCoy (57); 14. Bryan Bigelow (55); 15. Kevin Varnes (53); 16. Jay Springsteen (39); 17. (TIE) Raun Wood (29)/Geo Roeder (29); 19. Dominic Beaulac (27); 20. Paul Lynch (21).