Hall of Fame News Racing

Did You Know? Ten Facts About Road Racer Wes Cooley

Road racer Wes Cooley was a driving force behind the increased popularity of AMA Superbike racing while on his way to earning two Superbike championships, in 1979 and 1980. Here are a few facts you may not know about Cooley, who was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2004.

  1. Cooley’s name is Wester Steven Cooley. He was born in Los Angeles in 1956 and came out of Southern California club racing where his father, a former racer, ran a club-racing organization.
  2. Yoshimura hired Cooley in 1976 to compete in Superbike racing aboard a big four-stroke, Kawasaki’s KZ1000. In the very first AMA Superbike Series race at Daytona International Speedway in March of that year, he rode the Kawasaki to fourth place.
  3. In 1979, riding for Suzuki, Cooley was part of the company’s sweep of the Daytona Superbike event. Ron Pierce won, Cooley was second, and future Hall of Famer David Emde was third, all riding Suzuki GS1000s.
  4. Cooley earned Suzuki its first AMA Superbike title in 1979.
  5. In 1980, Cooley won, then lost, then won the AMA Superbike title. Going into the final race of the year at Daytona in October, future Hall of Famers Eddie Lawson aboard a Kawasaki and Freddie Spencer on a Honda each had three wins, while Cooley and his Suzuki had two. But, if Cooley could win this final race, he would win the championship. Cooley beat Spencer by half a bike-length and was declared the winner. But Lawson protested Cooley’s bike, saying the frame was illegally modified. Officials on the scene upheld the protest, and Lawson was declared the champion. Then Cooley said Lawson had started the race illegally, having taken teammate and future Hall of Famer Dave Aldana’s machine when his own engine blew up. Eventually, the whole matter went to an appeal board, which ruled that Lawson was not a legal entrant in the race and, therefore, not in a position to protest Cooley. The board also ruled that the modifications to Cooley’s machine were legal. It took until December for a final determination that Cooley had won his second Superbike title.
  6. In 1984, Cooley signed a “California only” Superbike contract with Yoshimura Suzuki. That year, he also raced AMA Formula One with Honda support, so he had two factory contracts.
  7. In May of 1985, at Sears Point in California, Cooley sustained life-threatening injuries. He crashed at speed into a hillside that rose up on the outside Turn One. Cooley made a slow, steady recovery from the horrible crash.
  8. Cooley went on to teach in a popular riding school for a few years and, later, earned a nursing degree. He said he decided to work in the medical field during his recovery from the 1985 incident.
  9. He was a fan favorite throughout his racing career. He often took the time after a hard day of racing to sit down and chat with fans.
  10. Not only had Cooley become a racing icon in America, his reputation also grew internationally when he and teammate and future Hall of Famer Mike Baldwin rode a Suzuki GS1000 to victory in the inaugural Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance race in 1978. Cooley came back two years later and won the famous race again for Suzuki, this time with New Zealander Graeme Crosby. Cooley is considered a motorcycle racing legend in Japan for his accomplishments at Suzuka.