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NASCAR Winston Cup Preview

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Winston Cup

NASCAR Winston Cup Preview

Derrike Cope
January 18, 2003


Q. Give us an idea what the 2003 season looks like for Derrike Cope?

DERRIKE COPE: Well, basically, we just announced that Friendly's Ice Cream out of Massachusetts, will sponsor our race team. With Warren Johnson, we have been trying to put together a program over the last two years and finally we have acquired some funding necessary to get us out there to showcase the potential of our race team. We are excited about the opportunity and we also have a number of other things kind of happening within the organization as well. Of course I have a product endorsement with Avacor and we are also going to do some consulting work with a number of younger drivers. I'm going to do some consulting work with Chris Bingham, a two-time Grand American Rolex Series champion.who has a full Busch Series ride this season (with Jay Robertson Racing) as well as five Winston Cup races with my organization. I'm also going to consult for Shelby Howard, the 17-year-old kid, who has been on 20/20 as of late, out of the Indianapolis area. He's going to run a full ARCA schedule. I'm going to be doing some consulting work with him as well trying to give him some insight and try to bring him up through the ranks as well. So that, again, is just a number of things that we're doing. I'm excited about the fact that I have my own Winston Cup team. We are going to run Chevrolets starting with Daytona. We are excited about getting this thing off the ground and have some really good first-class equipment, brand new race cars and hopefully we can go out and start it off right.

Q. How many races?

DERRIKE COPE: The team will perform right at 20 races. So it's a limited schedule.

Q. How difficult is it, once you get out of the limelight, so to speak, to keep your foot in it and have people not forget about you? Does the TV thing, anything you can do to keep your face out there, even if it's not necessarily behind the wheel?

DERRIKE COPE: I think how things transpire was the fact that I elected to go to a team, the Bud Moore situation, that ran out of money right after Daytona. When you get out of sight, out of mind, in this sport, that's pretty much it. So, I was stuck without a ride and really tried to start to look for opportunities to get back into a situation where I could provide good equipment for myself, again showcase what I could do. You know, it just seemed like those things weren't there. The economy started to faulter. Trying to go out and procure the type of funding necessary to go out and run against the higher echelon of this sport is very difficult to do. It's been difficult. I have just tried to very methodically approach this thing from the standpoint of trying to do what I could do to keep my face seen and that's where I felt the platform with television was, the next best thing that I could do to stay in there, be at the race track as well as being seen. So I just worked some other angles to get myself in position to continue to try to be in a position to procure the funding necessary to do my own team.

Q. Do you think having to have eight or nine million to run a full season and be competitive will have some detrimental effect on the sport or is there enough money to go around?

DERRIKE COPE: I think it's certainly detrimental, because right now I think you have to reassess your thoughts on how you are going to procure that type of funding to be in a position to really stay up front. I think you are going to see a number of teams that have the funding at this point succumb to some difficult times here in the next few years especially if they don't run well. I think what I've tried to do this year is I tried to put regional companies in a position where they could be in the highest echelon in sports and piggyback with other entities. That's what we have done with Friendly's. We are basically putting them together in a region which is a regional company, utilize the markets and venues that will make sense for them and then try to marry them with some other entities throughout the U.S. that cohabitate together to make it mutually beneficial. It's more cost-effective, still we get to the same goal and that is to run the full schedule. So those are the things that I think we need to go to because there are not a lot of regional companies that can spend a million dollars from their budgets. But obviously, if you are over $10 million, you become a profit center and that's not what this is about.

Q. Can you expand on your consulting, particularly with Shelby Howard? Is it a hands-on thing, going tests are racetracks or what?

DERRIKE COPE: Obviously, there is a youth movement in our sport. That's just part of the evolution and that's going to continue. I have two nieces, 19-year-old girls, they are twins, they are in Seattle, and we are bringing them up through the ranks to get them in a position to showcase themselves. We know that they have to be very proficient when we bring them along, so we are taking our time there. Shelby, obviously 17-years-old, we are on the brink of really having to bring him in and position him well. He's got a load of talent. This kid is very, very talented in the racecar. He is shy, a little bit quiet, but he is getting a lot more comfortable outside the race car and really this comes about from the standpoint that it was a situation where Shelby Sr. felt that I could bring some things to the table that would help him become more comfortable and understand more of the facets about this business; become more well rounded. In this sport, the more well rounded you can be, the more proficient you are and the better opportunity there for you. So I will be going with him to the majority of his tests. I will be at the racetrack prior to the Winston Cup races to be there for him when he is in the racecar as well as out of the racecar. Try to be in his pits at a majority of the race tracks to oversee some things through pit stops and things like that and then again, to answer questions he may have when he has some opportunities outside the race car. To try and help him become more comfortable in and out of the racecar. I guess maybe in front of the camera, understanding what the needs are of the media, things like that; hopefully I can give him a comfort level with that. Certainly we are going to also put him in our Winston Cup cars at some tests when we go to Kentucky and other racetracks that's on the Winston Cup schedule and to bring him along; which I will also so with Chris Bingham. Basically, we are going to use the Winston Cup platform as a way to get them extra seat time and bring them along in an exponential manner.

Q. It sounds like you have a very creative business approach. Still, how about making the races; it is getting very tough for new teams to make the races when there are more than 43 cars entered in the race?

DERRIKE COPE: That obviously is the biggest problem that any team is faced with right now. The way the sport is structured right now with provisionals, obviously a lot of guys get in not on their merit but the fact they are running the full schedule. This is one of the few sports that does that. But at the same time, those are the parameters and the guidelines that are set, so you have to work within those. Last year, I think I showed them when I got in somebody else's car we were able to make races, so that's not an issue in my opinion. With the amount of tests that they have taken away, it's increasingly difficult for small teams to make the grade when you only test four times other than Daytona. It becomes very difficult. Hopefully the experience that I have, I have been to all of the racetracks; I know what I'm looking for in a racecar. I think I got brand new equipment. I think we're going to have sufficient power and obviously with the new change in the cars there is lot more parity there. Hopefully we'll make up for that. Obviously that's yet to be seen. I feel relatively confident we can make that happen.

Q. Derrike, guys like Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott have all done the owner/driver thing and we have seen the pitfalls. You're going into that area now. Are you worried about the kind of things that these guys have talked about as owner/driver?

DERRIKE COPE: Worried, no. I mean, certainly, you're thrust in this position first of all. You have to remember that you can make choices or you are forced into making choices. And certainly this is more one of necessity than it has been the fact of my desires. So I think that you have to assess what is before you; make conscious choices and then move forward in a very productive manner. I've tried to surround myself with the best people I can and can afford. I obviously have some family around me that I think is key because they have a vested interest in what you do and how you do it. And I have been in this business a long time. I have brought a lot of money to this sport. I have had to pay my way, to serve my apprenticeship to get to this point so I felt at this point now, when nobody wants to put you in a higher echelon type of ride, you might as well utilize those funds for yourself and try to put yourself in position to bring other people along, find a young kid or young girls that can make the grade and then move along. I feel like I'm proficient in the racecar. I know I can go to Daytona and win the Daytona 500 again. I know I'm capable of being successful, but at this point, you have to find the money to be able to do that. So I have to look for other outside areas and things that I can do to make the team grow. Yes, it's going to be a struggle trying to run the race team. You know, deal with the sponsorships. I'm very involved in the marketing deal with the deal with Friendly's. I like the creative side of the business. Did it take away? Yes, it absolutely does. And it's going to be a tough field to try to manage the time and do that. I have a shock absorber company as well. I have a lot of things that are on my plate. This is what I want to do. I'm going to make the best of it and if it becomes a problem or if I see Chris comes a long very well or maybe Shelby and there are ways to integrate them into the program and I am willing to bow out, I am willing to do that as well.

Q. Warren Johnson's drag race record is impeccable. What does he bring to the team, what kind of input does he have?

DERRIKE COPE: First of all we have the same work methods. He turns the lights on and turns them off and right now I'm doing the same. Warren is a very unique individual. Right now Warren is not much in the limelight. Warren is a very hard-core racer. What he has done, he has put me in a position to, I think, step up when I can procure enough funding to take us to the next level from the engine side of things. In this sport right now, as you can see with common templates, and all of the things that are being done to the racecars, you are creating a lot of parity. The engine side becomes the most important aspect. I think it increasingly shows that with Robert Yates and the Penske organization and what they have. I felt like that through Warren's expertise, we are going to utilize Warren in a capacity like that. Obviously, he is coming to the later stages of his career as well. I think we compliment each other at that point because when we can both get to the point where we have to put somebody else in the car, then his aerodynamic capabilities as far as his design work that he does for all the pro stock cars, will compliment this as well. It's a building process. We are under the infancy of it. We compliment each other and both have the same work ethic.

Q. Derrike, you talked about being a consultant for the young guys. What is the toughest adjustment that you feel they have to make when they start to get into this level of racing?

DERRIKE COPE: Well, I think that first of all, obviously, it's just gaining the experience in the racecars. They are very aggressive. They seem to have a good feel of the racecars. It's like anything, they are starting to get into different types of racing vehicles at a very young age. They are in quads at 5 and 6 and on to go-karts and quarter midgets and things like that. They are in racecars and they are used to driving racecars. I have seen it with my nieces. They didn't know how to drive a stick on the road but they were proficient in the racecar, but not as proficient on the road. They seem to have a feel for racecars. The key is to handle the pressures, the things that come along with that. You see a lot of cockiness; you see a lot of outspoken things which I think are a detriment to what our sport is about, but you are going to have that with youth and you have to be able to channel that. You don't want to take that out of them. Those are the kind of things that I'm looking to do is try to give them -- you know, not try to downplay all of those things, but use those, channel them in a way but maybe try to help grow them as individuals. I think that's the key, the toughest part that you have to deal with right now. It's not the fact they can't drive, or the talent is not there. It's just channeling their energy and their focus. That's the most difficult thing with kids and that's going to hold true with what I have to do and with what these guys are doing right now in the sport.

Q. Derrike, this may have occurred informally but from the standpoint of your capacity as a consultant, is this new to NASCAR, new to Winston Cup in the role that you are trying to fill as a Winston Cup consultant?

DERRIKE COPE: I really don't know. I haven't paid a lot of attention to what other people are doing. I'm pretty involved with what I'm doing. I don't worry about what other people think and what they assess I'm trying to do. Really, I love this sport. I always have. I want to be in this sport long term. I want to find something that I feel that I can be an enhancement to, whether it's to Shelby or Chris or my nieces, or just the sport in general. Again, you have to look to reinvent yourself at times. You have to look for niches, you have to look for things. If you want to be involved with something, you have to find out where you fit in. Obviously I have had a good career in my opinion. I have a lot of things I want to do and are still capable of doing those things. Sometimes you have to reassess and as I go, I'll make those choices, but I don't know if it's new or not. There are lots of guys that helped people. Jeff certainly helped Jimmie Johnson in their sharing knowledge and things like that. You want to see kids succeed. I guess I have a soft spot in my heart for my nieces. I want to see them go. When you see Shelby and other people needing help, you just want to be as helpful as you can.

Q. What are your nieces's names?

DERRIKE COPE: Amber and Angela Cope.

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