Derrike Cope, 58, hasn’t raced in a NASCAR Cup event since 2009, but he’ll drive Sunday in Georgia. The winner of the 1990 Daytona 500 said, “I wasn’t really sure I’d ever get back. But it feels really good and I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
HAMPTON, Ga. – When driver Derrike Cope of Spanaway climbs out of the No. 55 car, his work is just beginning.
He jogs about the garage with the urgency of a crew member, paying special attention to the shocks he built himself.
Then, checking the time, Cope hustles to the hauler to change out of his racing suit. Emerging a short time later like Superman through a revolving door, he is off to sign autographs at a local tractor company, which chipped in some bucks to his bare-bones operation.
When that is done, Cope rushes back to Atlanta Motor Speedway for evening qualifying.
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It’s hardly a glamorous life, certainly not what one would expect from a racer who has been to the NASCAR mountaintop.
Cope doesn’t find any of this beneath him.
It’s all about passion, not pride.
“I feel like a kid again,” Cope said Friday, relaxing in his hauler during a few minutes of down time.
He’s hardly a kid.
At age 58, he’ll be the oldest driver in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race by more than a decade, competing against a bunch of 20-somethings and even a teenager (18-year-old Gray Gaulding). Driving for underfunded Premium Motorsports, his car adorned with sponsors such as Wade Tractor and Equipment, Cope has virtually no chance of keeping up with big-name teams and their millions in funding.
“You know when you make a good lap,” Cope said. “You know when you’re driving the car, when you’re manipulating the car and making good things happen with whatever equipment you have. So, the mindset is just to go out there and be proficient as you can, still drive within yourself and…