Reprint from Racer Media & Marketing Erin Cechal / Images by Richard Prince
Newest factory Cadillac driver Michael Cooper did not expect to see the SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned Pirelli World Challenge podium in his first race with Cadillac Racing. But after the first two rounds of the 2016 World Challenge season, Cooper found himself leading the GT Drivers' Championship on the strength of three podium finishes. He has a funny habit of underestimating himself. He might be the only one.
Cooper doesn't come from a dynasty of racers, he didn't start racing karts when he was 5, and he's working on his second degree just in case this whole racing thing doesn't work out, but it's pretty clear Cooper was born to be behind the wheel. His natural ability in a car combined with a knack for quick learning has gotten him noticed by all the right people.
Cooper didn't delve into racing until a friend convinced him to take a Skip Barber school at Lime Rock Park. In his late teens at the time, Cooper didn't sign up with a plan to become a professional driver. In fact, after doing two Skippy schools, he tried the race series and didn't really like it.
He didn't pursue racing any further until a phone call from Cadillac in 2010. Apparently, he'd signed up for the Bob Lutz Cadillac CTS-V Challenge, where former GM Vice Chairman challenged drivers to beat him at a racetrack in their car versus his CTS-V. "I hadn't heard about the Cadillac Challenge at all," Cooper laughs. "My brother saw it on a car site, and he signed me up for it in my dad's four-door M3 unbeknownst to me! I still lived at home and I just walked over to my brother's room and asked if he knew what it was about and he filled me in while they were talking."
Cooper was the quickest amateur on a damp Monticello Motor Club, and although he wasn't able to beat ace-in-the-hole drivers John Heinricy or Johnny O'Connell, he did beat Lutz and a slew of automotive journalists who each got their chance in the CTS-V.
The challenge was filmed for Speedvision. Cooper got to be on camera with O'Connell, who praised the young kid from Long Island.
"I didn't read too much into it," Cooper says. "I thought he was just being a good TV personality and being nice for the camera. Afterward, when they shut the cameras off, he continued telling me that he was serious and I should pursue racing."
"He blew me away with how quick he was going," O'Connell recalls about Cooper's performance. "He was very smooth. It's rare to see a young guy do that well, and when I heard how little experience he had, I remember going up to his dad and saying, 'Your kid has really great natural ability.'"
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