Kody Kopp: Out of the Shadows and Into the Limelight

Still a week short of his 18th birthday, Kody Kopp has already assembled the achievements many Progressive American Flat Track racers could only dream of attaining over the full breadth of a career.

Consider just the last three years alone: Kopp concluded a sensational amateur run that culminated in being named the 2020 Nicky Hayden AMA Flat Track Horizon Award recipient. He then made a seamless transition to the pro ranks, earning 2021 Progressive AFT Rookie of the Year honors. And in 2022, he orchestrated one of the greatest seasons in Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER history, winning seven races among ten podiums en route to a blowout championship triumph.

And yet, it’s only now that it feels as if Kopp has truly emerged from a long shadow to become thought of first and foremost as the Kody Kopp, as opposed to the ‘son of 2000 Grand National Champion Joe Kopp’, or, more recently, the ‘next Dallas Daniels.’

It would be all too easy for one to drown under those sorts of expectations and the ever-increasing hype. But Kopp has largely thrived, readily welcoming the comparisons.

Kody said, “There's a ton of positives that come out of growing up in what I did, being around the sport. For me, it's kinda all I knew. I grew up at the track. I was born in November and that next March, we were in Daytona watching Dad race.

“When I was coming up and starting to race, there was always a little bit of a shadow – naysayers and haters, I guess you could call them, who said, ‘Oh this kid has everything handed to him...blah, blah, blah.’

“But for me, it was just motivation, honestly. You can only provide so much and then the rest has to be on the rider and actually performing.

As Kopp has progressed, his father’s role has necessarily evolved over the years, particularly this year when Kody joined the powerful Red Bull KTM Factory Racing outfit while Joe continued his long association with Latus Motors. Still, the aspiring champion was still able to benefit from the experience of the established champion, whose insight is actively sought by riders up and down the paddock.

“Dad has a ton of knowledge in this sport. I think he's one of the best at tuning a bike, and that's helped us in our amateur career and transitioning to the pro ranks. Over the years, he was always my mechanic and my travel buddy. This year he actually worked for Latus Motors Harley-Davidson to help under that tent, but he was still over in my pits almost as much, talking about what the bike is doing and giving me feedback.

“In flat track, it's so crucial to have eyes on the track, seeing what the bike is doing and what the rider is doing. He's one of the very best at noticing stuff that others might not, and this year, there was a ton of that. There were days where he would come to me with a change that he thought would help, and it would in fact help me put it together and get it done.”

Despite more than a half-foot difference in height, the taller Kody is able to effectively integrate the advice of his father in large part due to a shared temperament and riding style, shaped by both nurture and nature.

“Here at the house we have a bunch of old VHS tapes of a lot of his old races. I played a few of those. I've studied his style and I think we’re quite similar. There were a lot of things that he did… he was really smooth on the bike. He wasn't an aggressive rider who was going to put someone into the Air Fence, and that's how I am. I feel like I'm super calculated with my maneuvers, and I'm never out there to put someone else's life at risk with a move I would do.

“And I think as far as the statistics show – in my first two seasons and throughout his career – Half-Miles kind of suit our style best, which is kinda weird, especially the clay Half-Miles since we don't have many of them up here in Washington.”

Despite that strong familial bond and associated famous last name, the comparisons have shifted in recent years as the sport’s fans and observers attempted to identify the next ‘Next Big Thing,’ especially after the previous one hit it so big right out of the gate.

Burdened with similar levels of potentially crushing advance hype, Kopp has managed to live up to the early storming success posted by the aforementioned Daniels. In fact, they’ve enjoyed eerily identical career trajectories, just two years removed, from Horizon Award to Rookie of the Year to dominant title runs in their second attempts.

Again, rather viewing the comparisons as negative, Kody is more than happy to tread neatly inside the championship-winning path blazed by Dallas.

Despite both still being teenagers, their history actually goes back nearly a decade to when Dallas’ father, Nick, worked for the Latus Motors Triumph squad that Joe managed with Johnny Lewis at the controls.

“Nick and Dallas came up and stayed with us in Washington state for a while, and we did some riding. As amateurs, we were from two separate ends of the country, so that makes it hard to keep track of what everyone is doing.

But in like 2015, in my first year back at Amateur Nationals, I was on an 85 and he was just on a Yamaha 250 two-stroke. I knew he was winning everything in the upper class. And later in my career, I got to race with him a little in the 450M class at the Steve Nace outlaw races.

“I grew up looking up to him. Once he won the Horizon Award, I realized his potential in the sport. It's crazy.

“We've had very similar careers in a sense. It's been cool. I have a really good relationship with Dallas off the track. We like to ride motos throughout the week together and ride some flat track at the local tracks, especially preseason down in Florida. He's a super cool dude, and I'll try to keep following what he's doing because now he's kicking butt in the SuperTwins class.”

But first, Kopp has set his sights on doing what only Daniels has previously accomplished, claiming back-to-back Parts Unlimited AFT Singles crowns. And if the relevant history is any indication, the title defense will prove even more challenging.

Following Daniels’ landslide ‘20 campaign, his rivals stepped up to their efforts in ‘21, pushing him to the brink. That upset campaign was spearheaded by Kopp’s current KTM teammate, Max Whale, who won more races than Daniels and came up just eight points short of usurping the throne.

Kopp points out that, if not for injury, Whale would have likely pushed him to the final weekend of this season as well. “Max got hurt at the Red Mile and had to skip two rounds. Without those two rounds… I had a few more wins than him, but he was the most consistent rider this season. (KTM team manager) Chris (Fillmore) was telling us, if Max would have just finished fifth or better in those two rounds he missed, he would have been battling me for the championship at Volusia.

“I know Max will obviously be a title contender next year.”

Along with the (other) usual suspects, like Dalton Gauthier, Morgen Mischler, and Trevor Brunner, who will be expected to vie for the title in 2022, Kopp says the world should keep an eye out for the next, next, ‘Next Big Thing’, Chase Saathoff.

Saathoff won the 2021 Nicky Hayden AMA Flat Track Horizon Award, was named 2022 Progressive AFT Rookie of the Year, and now seems poised to take a huge leap à la Kopp and Daniels before him as he approaches his second pro season.

Kopp said, “Look at Dallas and myself, what we did in our rookie seasons. Chase had a crazy rookie season. Honestly, I think it was more consistently front running than Dallas or myself. I would expect him to be a top guy next year for sure.”

While Kopp has successfully escaped the long shadows to the point where he’s now the one being emulated, before long, Kopp will (re)turn his attention to actively chasing the legacies of his father and his friend. Daniels has established himself the full-fledged Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle power that Kopp aspires to soon become, and, of course, the Grand National Championship his dad claimed in 2000 is the ultimate goal.

Those stories will become intertwined as Dallas is likely to be the one standing in his way to complete that quest. All the ingredients exist for this to develop into a rivalry for the ages, one that could easily define the sport for the next two decades.

Kopp recently signed a new two-year deal with KTM. He’s set to defend his Parts Unlimited AFT title in ‘23, but his contract allows for the possibility of stepping up the premier class as early as 2024.

“‘24 has an open clause. We don't know if KTM is developing a twin yet. If they do, they want to come out with something that's capable of winning right from the start. They've obviously invested with Wally Brown and helped him out with the KTM James Rispoli rode this year and it showed really good potential.

“KTM wants a well-rounded package, and I think they're going to keep looking into the possibility. I can't say if it's happening or not because even I don't know. 2024 could be another year in the Singles class if that's how it works out.

“But SuperTwins is where I want to be eventually. I want to be able to battle it out with the big guys. We have some more work to do for sure before then. Those top three or four guys are actually really underrated with how well they can ride a motorcycle compared to the rest of that class. We want to hop up there and be contending for wins, so we have to keep working on ourselves before we can even think about that jump.”

Whenever it happens, flat track fans eagerly look forward to Kopp and Daniels squaring off as they begin to approach their zeniths.

So too does Kopp. “Yeah, for sure. My first pro year, I did get to race him, obviously. But no one's rookie season is perfect, and I wasn't really ever at the front on the days when he was. Really, I was only up there a couple days all season long. I was kinda bummed when I heard he was moving up to SuperTwins, but I figured he would.

“I'm looking forward to getting up there and battling with him for sure. I have at least another year in the Singles class, so we're going to get that done first. After that, we'll see if we can't play with the big boys.”