Courtesy of Sharon Cox / MX Link
NZ’s iconic Motocross legend Josh Coppins, known as ‘The Lizzard’ has stamped his mark on post International Motocross career as Team Manger/Owner of Altherm JCR Yamaha. Overseeing the Team’s operations competing in NZ’s annual Motocross National Championship Series along with managing Women Motocross World Championship rider Courtney Duncan, Coppins has but paid to ‘seeing what the future brings post International MX career’.
Putting Josh’s career in perspective, this article I wrote in 2013 highlights the challenges Josh faced racing in Europe’s World Motocross Championships for 15 years, the highs and lows which have formed the character to achieve successful transition to Team Owner of Altherm JCR Yamaha in NZ.
Article printed in NZ’s DRD magazine 2013:
‘To dream racing the Grand Prix circuit in Europe is something, sustaining it for 15 years is something else. That is what makes Josh Coppin’s Motocross career so remarkable. With around 150 Grand Prix races, 31 Podiums and ‘Former double World Championship runner-up’ the ‘Lizzard’ has sealed his place in New Zealand’s motocross history.
Living the dream at 17 years to race in Europe meant tough years, financially, mentally and physically. From always needing ‘new clutch, new clutch, new clutch…’ to financing lease of factory bikes, to learning a little at a time- physically and mentally, to chipping away at end of season rankings tested JC. Results of 41st in 1995, 23rd in 1996, 17th in 1997, 13th in 1998 and 4th in 1999-2001 showed challenges had been met.
2002 broke new ground with the move to Honda after 21 year partnership with Suzuki. The next 5 years made Josh the legend he is- testing his ‘never-say-die attitude that won him many friends and admirers’ over the years. Not least was Josh’s come back from a massive crash at SX practice in Phoenix, from which he overcame all odds and finished # 3 on his plate the following season.
2003 through to 2007 were pinnacle years for the ‘Lizzard’s career. 2nd MX2, 3rd MX1 2004, 2nd MX1 2005, 7th MX1 2006 and 2007 5x GP victories 9 GP Podiums, 107 point lead only to watch his lead slip away due to injury completing the season 3rd MX1. 2008 Josh held 5th MX1 and 2009 6th MX1 rounding out an astounding 15 years at the top end of Grand Prix racing in Europe.
I asked Josh for snapshots of the 15 years, fulfilling a dream, the experiences, challenges and rewards. This is his take on what it all meant…
SC: 1995, you were 17 years of age in Europe, fulfilling a dream to race the Grand Prix circuit, what was it like?
Josh: I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing at first… but I soon realized it was harder than I thought! Step by step and day by day I got better but it was hard to handle all the pressure. The pressure of day to day stuff when you were on a budget and didn’t speak the language was the hardest part the racing was the fun part!
SC: Those early years 1995-1997 were tough, financially, mentally and physically, how did you manage the challenges faced on and off the track?
Josh: I didn’t! that’s why the first years were so tough, I didn’t improve, in fact for a while there my speed and riding went backwards, it wasn’t until I matured as a person and was able to deal with the day to day things that my riding improved… the first years I didn’t leave the tracks thinking where was I good where was I bad what must I do to improve- it was more about survival.
SC: The desire to keep the dream alive, to train, to line-up against peers talented and competitive as would test any character. What strengths do you draw on to keep at it, as gruelling as this would be?
Josh: I didn’t want to give up, I wanted to be successful and I had already put so much in financially and physically it simply wasn’t an option not to make it. At times I wondered if I would get there and at times it was hard, but there were many good times and times when I felt I could do it and it was important to focus on the strong points not the bad ones. I think that my strength was my never give up attitude.
SC: In 2004 Grand Prix’s reverted to a 2 race format, qualifying of 20 minutes and 2 motos of 35 plus 2 laps. Undoubtedly a demanding schedule over 15 Rounds, and quite different from what New Zealand riders are used to. How did you adapt to the European Grand Prix schedule?
Josh: At first you don’t have enough base fitness to do the full weekend, you have to build on it year by year, and work really hard. It’s a long weekend if you ride all the time through all the sessions then the races you do a tad over 3 hours that’s a lot of time in the saddle over a weekend. Then you have to do 16 Rounds by the end of the season your body is starting to hang! You have to learn to listen to your body know when to push know when to rest and take care of yourself, but most of all you need a good work ethic because its bloody tough.
SC: Chipping away at end of season rankings from 41st in 1995 to # 4 in 1999-2001 must have been satisfying for all the hard work previous. However, the crash at SX practice in Phoenix prior to opening of Grand Prix season would have been a massive set-back. What motivated you to over-come injuries sustained to gain GP victory, British Champion and 3rd MX1 the following season in 2004?
Josh: I never realized at the time how hard it would be to come back from those injuries. I was in bad shape and still suffer from those injuries today, but it never entered my mind that I wouldn’t come back and do well… I just thought oh well it’s another hurdle. But no hurdle was going to be as hard as the first few years in Europe. So step by step I chipped away and worked my way back to fitness. It was a long road and I ended up having 3 surgeries but got there in the end. It was satisfying. A lot of people had written me off including sponsors so it was a great feeling to prove them wrong.
SC: The double-race success in 2005, along with the end of season Podium 2nd MX1, with best mate Ben Townley 3rd must have been great feeling. Your thoughts…
Josh: BT and I were really good that year. We both had some great races and he was in his first MX1 season so he was really impressive. It was a cool time for NZMX as we were both getting the sport a lot of coverage back in NZ and we were giving Mr Everts a run for his money. The European press loved it because they couldn’t believe we were great mates living together training together and then battling for a World Title on Sundays. We went 4 GP’s in a row winning. That was pretty cool.
SC: The challenges of 2006, your shoulder injury and waiting for Dr Claus to say ‘more bad news…’ may in some unusual way contributed to a ‘rare sight’ in GP motocross. At the Irish GP Round 13 the ‘Lizzard defeated Stefan Everts winning streak of 12 GP wins to go 2-1 for the Round. You have credited that this was ‘probably the best won race of my career…’ do you still think that?
Josh: 100% I was the only guy to beat Stefan that year, not Stewart, only me. It was a straight up win. I ran him down and pulled away and in the process lapped up to fourth. I remember Ken de Dyker was on the podium with us and I lapped him! I don’t think I have ever gone as fast as on that day again.
SC: 2007, 107 point lead over Ramon, then side-lined with injury followed by an agonising watch of your leadership standing and all out MX1 World Championship Title slip away. Devastating, how do you deal with something like this?
Josh: Well there wasn’t a lot I could do. I did my best to get fit to be able to ride but I couldn’t. It was hard to accept but that’s life and you have to tell yourself to come back stronger.
SC: Finishing 2008 5th MX1 and 2009 6th MX1, followed by the move to Aprillia in 2010 has capped off an amazing 15 years Motocross career in Europe for Josh Coppins. What lies ahead for the ‘Lizzard’ in the future?
Josh: I hope to win a few more NZ Titles and an OZ one and call it a day after that. Hopefully then I’ll be able to chill out a bit with my family and find a job in the industry… but I’m not planning too much just taking it one day at a time’.