Cope hopes to show 'new' series a 'new' man By Brett Borden
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (Dec. 28, 1999) It's not your typical love story. Boy meets racing series. Racing series jilts boy. Boy goes back home. Boy comes back and courts racing series again.
At 37 years of age, Mike Cope is hardly a boy, but boy he sure would like to show the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series how good he can be this time around. Taking over one of the top rides, he'll have that chance. When Stacy Compton decided to throw his helmet in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series ring, that left a cherry ride available - the No. 86 Royal Crown Cola Dodge.
Enter Mike Cope ... again.
Cope is hoping for better luck than he had in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series back in 1997, when his best finish in seven starts was a 12th at Louisville Motor Speedway. Only one of the other six was a top-20 finish.
Cope tried his hand in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1998, where he had two top-10s in 17 starts. He finished second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings behind Andy Santerre. But again he found himself in much higher supply of hope than horsepower, so it was back to more comfortable territory this past season -- the Slim Jim All Pro Series, NASCAR Touring.
Cope, a two-time champion in the Slim Jim All Pro Series, did try his hand in one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event -- finishing 14th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the majority of his time was spent in his native Southeast (Cope hails from this West Coast town in the Tampa area). He said getting the sweet seat in the RC truck was a matter of who he knew as much as it was what he knew.
"It was just a whole bunch of people knowing people and mass communication, not confusion," Cope said. "Whenever we had figured out that Stacy was looking to go Cup racing, I knew there was going to be an opening there. I'd been looking to go truck racing, and I gave Cal (Lawson, team manager) a call up at Impact Motorsports. I've known Cal for quite a few years, and one thing led to another."
Cope has already had a chance to take a few spins in his new ride, most notably in testing at Daytona International Speedway. It wasn't a full-blown competitive situation, but it did provide a glimpse of the 'new' NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. And Cope likes what he sees.
"It's grown," he said. "It's a whole lot different having had the opportunity to run some Busch races. I believe they (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the NASCAR Busch Series) have become parallel. The level of professionalism from the officials to the racers has definitely increased since '97. And in 2000 I can only see it get better and better under the showcase of these race tracks that we're going to be going to."
Cope hopes he is on track for a smooth transition from the Slim Jim All Pro Series. According to the two-time champion in that series, it should be.
"They run the same motors," he said. "And if you do the math on them -- with what they put out in horsepower and their total weight, the Slim Jim cars and the trucks -- they're comparable.
"It's a good place to learn, I just wish those (Slim Jim) cars were a lot heavier. If the cars were heavier I think it would make the transition from one to the other not as difficult. But the trucks drive real well. They do have horsepower, unlike a Busch car.
"They've got a lot of stability built in them, because you don't run them as free as a Busch car, because they do have horsepower, and then the wheelbase helps you, too. So I think we've found a home in the truck series and I'm looking forward to it."
He won't be making the move all alone. Coming with him is crew chief Bryan Berry, with whom Cope has worked before. It will help, because Compton & Co. left behind a very good ride, but not too many notebooks in the team's shop.
"It's a situation that Bryan and I have created ourselves," Cope said. "Chemistry is the key to any business, and racing's business -- racing's a big business, as everyone knows. You've got to have total belief and trust in your people, starting at the top, and Bryan has that with myself and me with him.
"Bryan is one of those guys who if he tells you it's raining outside, you don't have to go look. If Bryan tells me a vehicle is going to do a certain thing -- to trust it -- I'll do that.
"It's going to take us a few races to get going. We don't have anything to go off of -- contrary to popular belief - note wise. But if there's anything that I want in a truck, I think Bryan will be able to give it to me."
And in the season of giving, Cope hopes to give his new series a run for their money.