Wes Cooley, a pioneering force behind the rising popularity of AMA Superbike racing in the 1970s and early ’80s passed away earlier this week at age 65.
Wester Steven Cooley was born in Los Angeles on June 28, 1956, and was a product of the Southern California road racing scene. When he entered his first AMA Superbike Series event at Daytona International Speedway in March of 1976 on a Kawasaki KZ1000, he was a young, hard-charging rider who differed in several ways from the old-school roadracer mentality that had been the norm in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Along with some of his 1970s contemporaries, Cooley helped change the face of the then-new Superbike class by stepping up the level of competition, eventually winning two AMA Superbike Championships in 1979 and 1980. He gave Suzuki its first AMA Superbike title in 1979.
Cooley was also a visitor to Australia and raced at Bathurst in the late 1970s.
In addition to his Superbike exploits, Cooley also made history by becoming the first rider to win an AMA Formula One National on a four-stroke.
Not only did Cooley become a racing icon in America, he was also a legend in Japan for winning the inaugural Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance race in 1978 and again 1980.
In May of 1985 at Sears Point Raceway, Cooley sustained life-threatening injuries in an ugly crash. Cooley made a slow but steady recovery from that horrible accident, and went on to teach in the Team Hammer Advanced Riding School for a few years, eventually earning a nursing degree and working as a medical professional in Idaho. When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, he acknowledged that his 1985 accident is what propelled him into the medical field.
Cooley will always be remembered for changing the face of AMA Superbike racing in its formative years, but he was also a fan favorite throughout his racing career, a guy who always took the time to connect with fans.
In 2016, Cooley served as Grand Marshal for the AMA’s Vintage Motorcycle Days and drew an expansive crowd.
Cooley is survived by Melody Rose, his partner of many years, along with son Wes Jr. and daughter Alexis.
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