On Saturday October 16, 2021, Wester Steven “Wes” Cooley, two-time AMA Superbike champion, died at his home in Twin Falls Idaho, of complications from diabetes. He is survived by his long time partner Melody Rose, his sister Lisa Cohen, and his three children Wester (“Wes Jr.”) Cooley, Alexis Halpert, and Nikita Cooley. He was 65 years old.
Wes Cooley rode the Yoshimura Suzuki GS1000 to AMA Superbike Championships in 1979 and 1980. He helped popularize the superbikes of the day. Legends like Cooley and his contemporaries (and rivals) Eddie Lawson and Freddie Spencer helped shape the world of motorcycle racing into what it is today.
Cooley was born in in 1956 in Los Angeles where his father, a former racer, ran a club-racing organization. Yoshimura hired the 20-year-old Cooley to ride their KZ1000. He rode that bike to fourth place in the first-ever AMA Superbike Series race at Daytona International Speedway in March of 1976.
Three years later he rode the big GS to a championship. Cooley did it again in 1980, though not without controversy. He won in 1980, but Lawson, who was riding a Kawasaki, protested the win. He claimed Cooley’s bike had an illegally-modified frame. On further investigation, it turned out Lawson had ridden the race on a teammate’s bike. Officials ruled that Lawson was not a legal race entrant and had no standing to protest Cooley’s win. Just to rub it in, the modifications to Cooley’s bike were deemed officially legal in the end. His championship stands.
After those championships, he continued to race the Yoshimura Suzuki in California. He also had a second, simultaneous contract to race AMA Formula One for Honda. Cooley sustained life-threatening injuries during a crash at Sears Point Raceway after leaving the track and running the bike into a hill at speed. It was during his long recovery from this crash that he decided to enroll in nursing school.
Cooley also participated in, and won, endurance races for Suzuka in Japan. He has died a roadracing legend in Japan as well as the United States.
All of us at Adventure Rider send our condolences to his loved ones for this great loss.