Cochran turns pro in motorcycle racing
Coweta resident Todd Cochran is in the upper echelons of motorcycle racing, not only burning the racetracks at speeds of 180 and above, but doing so at the not-so-young age of 42.
He loves “hanging with the best of them who are between the ages of 19-25.” His local employer, Thompson Lift Truck, is a division of Thompson Caterpillar, so co-workers and friends decided on the nickname of “The Cat” for him.
They have been very supportive of his quest to become a pro motorcycle racer.
An avid bike lover, Todd’s journey began in elementary school. His father, Bill Cochran, knew he was envious of a neighbor with a dirt bike, so on his 7th birthday surprised him with one. And not only did Mr. Cochran give him the gift of a lifetime, but got out on the dirt trails with his son on his own dirt bike.
Todd enjoyed the camaraderie with his dad, and they quickly began to mix in a bit of family rivalry by racing one another.
As he approached his teen years and attended Oakwood High School in Marietta, he began bicycle racing and trick riding. Todd enjoyed performing with his “Bicycle Mania” team at circuses and even at Six Flags Over Georgia.
“Back then it wasn’t as popular and glamorous as it is now, but I loved it,” he said. A few accidents resulted in three major concussions, but nothing deterred him from his dream to become a professional racer.
Graduating from high school in 1989, Todd changed his focus from bicycle racing to street bikes. His “need for speed” progressed as he got older, and by 2000, he was into bigger bikes and motorcycles, and would race on country roads.
His favorite was “The Dragon’s Tail,” an 11-mile stretch of mountain roads in which he would ride with good friend Jamin Martindale. The biggest fear for him was not a wreck, but getting caught for speeding by the local law enforcement.
In 2007, a co-worker encouraged him to ride “off track,” which means paying to ride at “track days” at professional racetracks. He immediately bought a Yamaha 1000cc superbike and joined the “Sport Bike Track Time” Club, which took a trek down to Jennings, Fla., to ride on their track.
The experience was exhilarating for him.
“That first time ‘on track’ I knew that I wanted to do this professionally. Recreational racing was fun, but then after one more track day over in Oxford, Ala., I was determined.” His next track day was at Little Talladega, and his instructor was so impressed that he encouraged “The Cat” to go to racing school.
“It all took off right then,” Todd says excitedly. Even in the beginner class, he was taking the lead in speed, and his instructor, Felix Kay, saw something in him, moving him up to the expert class with some of the pro racers.
Until this point, Todd had only ridden on the street. Beginning racers usually run at speeds of close to 80 miles per hour, but Todd was surpassing other racers at much higher speeds.
Felix asked him to go around the track while he followed behind. When Todd hit pro speeds of up to 120 miles per hours, Felix could not keep up with him. He couldn’t believe that Todd was running at top levels and became very excited.
After the racing session ended, Felix approached Todd and his wife, Angela, and encouraged Todd to pursue obtaining a racing license. Angela, as usual, encouraged Todd to go for his dream, so in September 2007, he entered the Ed Bargy Racing School in Alabama.
The course, which cost $375, was an all-day event that took 10 hours. Todd went to Barber Motor Sports in Birmingham to participate. The course included braking, going around corners, speed, riding beside someone – basically important pointers regarding controlling the motorcycle in a racing environment.
Todd obtained his Ed Bargy Racing License and the next weekend entered his first beginner race.
One has to be a beginner for a full racing season before he can go “expert,” and “The Cat” amazed everyone by starting 27th and finishing in second place.
Next he raced around Nashville Super Speedway, winning second place, and then won against 15-20 others at Road Atlanta.
In May 2008, Todd shattered his collarbone at a Track Day at Road Atlanta.
Not easily discouraged, Todd raced on Father’s Day 2008 and won first place – with a broken collarbone. Full of adrenaline, Todd went on to race at Barber, Talladega, Jennings and placed first everywhere he went.
So far this year Todd has competed in five expert races and won three out of five. Last year after racing for two years at the level of “expert,” he finally obtained his professional AMA license, which is not a simple thing to do.
One has to prove to the pro organization of AMA that you have raced for two years at the “expert” level and can ride at a top level and not hurt anyone.
Pro racing is a very costly venture.
“You try to get sponsors, and it is easier for the younger guys. Entry fees of $250 for each race, crew passes at $175 each per member with a minimum of six man crew really adds up quickly,” he said.
A road technician, Todd’s employer, Thompson Lift Trucks, has given him financial backing for new tires, which are costly. Also, cousins Rusty Smith and Jeff Smith from Powder Springs voluntarily serve as crew members and helped get the motorcycle into race trim – all the suspension, all the tires, on and off the motorcycle.
Another big sponsor is Cycle City Power Sports of Newnan who get all parts for Todd at cost. Todd says, “Owner Greg McDonald has helped for at least the past five years.”
His employer has been very understanding when he has to take at least three days off to compete. Even though the races occur on Saturdays and Sundays, the racers have to show up on Thursday, and then qualify on Friday. Some racers go through that and never qualify, but that has never happened to Todd.
Todd realizes how important it is to have a supportive family.
In addition to breaking his collarbone twice when racing, last year he wrecked badly at Barber. While going around a corner, he hit the “high side,” which means that his motorcycle bucked him off at approximately 100.
He was out of work for a week with a leg injury, but recovered quickly.
Wife Angela, daughter Sarah and son Carson were very helpful.
Todd considers himself blessed to have survived this incident since, sadly, he has witnessed many deaths on the racetrack.
Today he will be “pro” racing at Barber Motor Sports Park in Birmingham, which he considers the nicest park in the United States. The park also is home to the world’s largest Motorcycle Museum.
“Being a pro rider, I am not only part of a big show, but a fan first. I really look up to these guys who have inspired me,” he says. “When I am sitting on the grid, about to start a big race, it is very exciting.”
So how much longer will this 42-year-old man race against the younger ones? Todd says maybe one more year.
“My dream is to run the Daytona 200 next March.” Asked how he is able to race in such a huge event, he replied, “Drive there, bring eight thousand dollars, qualify, and be able to race up to 180-190 mph on that track.”
He also enjoys instructing for the AMA Pro Federation in Barber, along with Ed Bargy. Todd has huge respect for Ed, who has been around the federation for years and is renowned as a teacher.
What about his family and motorcycles? Angela, who also has a motorcycle license, and 16-year-old daughter Sarah both love to ride. Son Carson, 5, has – or rather had – a dirt bike.
Taking after his dad, Carson recently hit a fence at full throttle and wrecked it. Not only did it scare Todd and Angela, but Carson has been “gun-shy” ever since.
Time will tell if he plans to walk … or rather “ride”… in his father’s footsteps.