Derrike Cope Talks About New Ownership

Note: Derrike Cope is hoping to turn around his NASCAR Winston Cup fortunes. Two weeks ago, Boston businessman Jack Birmingham purchased the Bahari' Racing team and has made numerous changes. Among them is crew chief Barry Dodson, who...

Note: Derrike Cope is hoping to turn around his NASCAR Winston Cup fortunes. Two weeks ago, Boston businessman Jack Birmingham purchased the Bahari' Racing team and has made numerous changes. Among them is crew chief Barry Dodson, who worked with Cope for Bob Whitcomb's team in 1992. The duo's first race was the Brickyard 400. Cope finished a modest 32nd, but that isn't bad considering his motor developed a miss on the very first lap. He still managed to finish only one lap down. Cope talks about the changes on the Bahari'-Eel River Racing team and the upcoming race at Watkins Glen:

WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON HOW THE TEAM HAS CHANGED? "I think you have to be a realist and put things in perspective. First round practice, we were 25th, and I felt like the car was capable of being in the top-25 (at Indy). We got a little aggressive and got loose in qualifying and backed up a little bit. Still, the car was productive and that was with two days notice. Barry came in on Monday and we left for Indiana on Wednesday. You have to look at that and put it into perspective. The things I see, from the moment we got to the race track, Barry was able to delegate authority effectively. Everybody took his word verbatim and that is what I have never seen before. He knew where he wanted to go, I was able to communicate what the car needed, and we were able to get there relatively quickly, without hesitation."

HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO MAKE THE BRICKYARD 400 FIELD? "We knew coming to Indy that we could miss the race. Barry doesn't know the cars and we have never tested together, so we had no clue what the car really needed. He just looked at data from the wind tunnel tests we did last month. I think it was a key to make the Indy race, not only for the sponsor, because this season has been difficult for them, but for the new car owner, Jack Birmingham. He is trying to turn this thing around. He cut this team off at the knees, letting everybody go with the exception of three to four people. We only have three people back working on the cars. For him to see the variables he chose to rectify, I think it gave him something back. It is very reassuring for the car owner, Barry, the guys that came with us, and for the sponsors, that this team has shown some signs of recovering. We still have a long way to go."

WAS BARRY'S CONFIDENCE A PERFECT FIT TO THE NEEDS OF THIS TEAM? "His decisiveness about his decisions and the way he conducts himself has been positive. You can see by the way he walks at the track that he has a look of self-assurance. He knows he belongs here. He knows what he needs. He was monitoring the weather and the track temperature every 10 minutes. He was making all kinds of decisions based on experience and he was able to correlate all of that and come out on a very decisive choice whether to stand or not to stand, not on a guess, but on actual calculations that he had taken. That's what it takes, somebody that has experience to draw from and the confidence to make the decision."

HOW HAS YOUR CONFIDENCE BEEN AFFECTED THIS SEASON? "Before the sale of our team, I didn't even have the desire to go out to dinner after practice or the race, even if we made the race. I just didn't feel like I wanted to go out because I would have to talk about what was going on or why we were having problems. I really saw no end in sight. The team wasn't making the choice that needed to be made. Now, I kid Barry and tell him that I am going to take a shower and then go out and have dinner by myself. Now I can show my face and that is how good I feel. It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. We have our work cut out for us. I just feel like we are on the mend."

DOES IT FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TAKEN A STEP BACK INTO THE PAST DUE TO ALL THE PAST CONNECTIONS WITH BOB WHITCOMB'S TEAM? "What people don't realize is that it's really like that. We went to T&L motors, where Lloyd McCleary and Rick Bohney worked for us at Bob Whitcomb Racing. T&L, who was our engine builder back then, is the same core of people who are with us now. I have got to give T&L a tremendous amount of gratitude. They'd been working full time with us for four days prior to the Brickyard 400. That's all they had, four days to put a motor together. They did an exceptional job. That qualifying motor really ran. It's probably a big factor for us to get in the show. It took a collective effort on everybody's part. I'm tickled to death with the outcome."

TALK A LITTLE ABOUT WATKINS GLEN AND WHAT CAR YOU PLAN TO USE THERE. "We've got a brand new car. It's a car that Steve Leavitt went through completely by himself. It's a brand new road course car. Barry and the guys have been looking at it. We are optimistic about going there. People didn't think we could make Sears Point and we did. I feel like with that motor, the combination of T&L and what Barry has learned from the trucks, we feel confident about going to Watkins Glen."

ANYTHING YOU CAN DRAW FROM THE ROAD COURSE RACING SCHOOL AT SEARS POINT THAT YOU CAN USE THIS WEEK? "There were some things I was doing, like trying to carry the car more and missing some apexes, that I could improve on. A guy that drives midgets on the West Coast was my tutor. We talked about things, he rode with me and said that I looked fast. He just told me to change a few little things and I felt like I became more productive. It definitely helped. I'm trying to keep those tips in mind when I go to Watkins Glen. Hopefully I will be as equally good there."

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WATKINS GLEN AND SEARS POINT. "Sears Point has a lot of elevation changes. You have to pitch the car a little more and you go through some slow speed stuff. Watkins Glen is a lot faster. You carry more speed. You can drive the car very hard there. T&L motors will make a big difference up there. With the T&L motor, I feel more confident because we have good power to go up there with. I'm looking forward to it."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope