Derrike Cope made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the final race of the 1982 season at Riverside International Raceway. Since that race, he’s experienced both highs and lows in the sport and watched stock car racing evolve throughout his career.
Cope, a Spanaway, Wash. native, has started 409 Sprint Cup races and 260 XFINITY events to date. He has one career XFINITY win and two career Cup wins, one of which was the 1990 Daytona 500.
Cope said winning the Daytona 500 is the biggest thing that can happen to a NASCAR driver and felt his expectations were raised after the victory.
“It was my first win, so I knew that I was capable of winning,” Cope told POPULAR SPEED. “Later that year, I think we enforced the fact that we can win at the highest level at Dover. My expectations were, ‘yeah I feel like I should go on to win more races,’ but I was also realistic — the teams I drove for were all middle-of-the-pack teams.”
Cope drove the No. 10 Purolator Chevrolet for Bob Whitcomb in 1990. He notched his two career Cup Series victories that year and finished the season 18th in the points standings. After 1990, he scored four more top-5 finishes in the rest of his Cup Series career.
Today, the 57-year-old racer is the owner and driver of the No. 70 Chevrolet for his team, Derrike Cope Racing, in the XFINITY Series. The single-car team has raced full time since 2014 with Cope at the wheel, but the team struggles with finding adequate sponsorship and has not averaged a finish better than 31st the last two seasons.
“We’re still in a relative infancy of the program — it started by doing driver development outside the XFINITY Series and then it escalated to [that series],” Cope said. “It’s been a building process to find the necessary funding to really put yourself in a position to showcase your potential in a proper manner. I feel like we’ve been making some inroads, and we’re definitely starting to give ourselves an opportunity to become more consistent.”
Cope understands the changes NASCAR has made since he began racing and that the progression of the sport has caused his race team to change their approach to building and preparing racecars.
“I’ve been in the sport a long time — about 35 years, so I’ve certainly seen a lot of change in both the Cup cars and the Busch Series cars, which are now XFINITY cars,” Cope said. “The [cars] all have technology changes. A lot of things have transpired so that we approach these cars more from the platform for aerodynamics, which maybe overweighs the actual mechanical and grip side.”
Cope wonders how making different decisions over the years would have affected his 35-year career.
“When people say that they have no regrets, that’s not what I would [agree with],” Cope said. “I think it’s how you learn and never stop learning. When you make choices that you feel like you could have altered or have a chance to go back and change, I would certainly change a lot of things, and I think I could have made some better decisions.”
Cope knows that at this point in his career, some opportunities are no longer available to him, so he hires team members that give him a sense of confidence.
“It takes a lot of money and a lot of good people,” Cope said. “You have to surround yourself with good people, just like any other good business.”
EMAIL JOHN AT firstname.lastname@example.org
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.