Cope's dream of a lifetime only served to extend Intimidator's misery
Dale Earnhardt was supposed to win the 1990 Daytona 500. His loss -- and Derrike Cope's amazing win -- still makes for one of the greatest moments in Daytona history, writes Ryan McGee.
Updated: January 21, 2008, 10:58 AM ETBy Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine
Richard Childress still has the tire up at the shop.Honestly, it looks more like a wig from a cheap witch costume than a Goodyear Eagle, with long strands of black rubber hanging off one side. But even now, nearly 20 years later, Childress gets that sour feeling in the pit of his stomach every time he strolls by it.
"We figured out about a dozen ways to lose the Daytona 500," says the man who comes to this year's event as the defending-team winner. "But 1990 was easily the hardest one to live with. The Daytona 499."Dale Earnhardt's career oh-fer streak in the Great American Race was already painful enough entering his 12th 500, but the story of Speedweeks 1990 moved his futility from merely annoying to damn near demoralizing.The Chevy that Earnhardt and Childress brought to the beach looked as though it was running on rails from the time they unloaded it for the first laps of practice. Wherever Earnhardt wanted it to go, it went. Whenever Earnhardt wanted it to make a pass, it did. He won Thursday's 125-mile qualifier with such ease that rivals began to grumble that the boys at Richard Childress Racing secretly had developed some sort of F1-style ground effects to keep their Lumina glued to the bottom of the track.While the racing world remained focused on the Flying Aces, hardly anyone noticed the orange -- or was it pink? -- and white checkered No. 10 Chevy of Whitcomb Racing. The car was driven by some guy named Derrike Cope, a former minor league catcher out of -- where was it? -- Spanaway, Wash."Yeah, you could say that NASCAR hadn't quite reached Spanaway yet," admits Cope, now a part-time racer and sometime TV commentator. "But even though no one noticed, we had a pretty solid car all week. [Crew chief] Buddy Parrott hit on something early, and by the time the race came around, we knew we had a pretty good car."But no one had a car as good as the one Childress had built for Earnhardt. He estimates that he'd sunk a half-million dollars just into the engine, an unheard-of amount at the time. From the moment the green flag was shown, the investment was proving to be worth it."We started second and pretty much jumped into the lead as soon as the race started," recalls then-crew chief, now-driver, Kirk Shelmerdine. "We could have led every lap if we wanted to, but we didn't want to completely show our hand. You never want to draw too much attention from NASCAR, you know?"Earnhardt led 155 of the race's 200 laps, with some drivers claiming they could see him smiling in the cockpit as he went by them. "I think he might have even waved at me one time," 18th-place finisher Harry Gant says with a chuckle.The race itself was a bit of snoozer: a conga line of cars chasing the black No. 3 for the first 2 hours, 45 minutes.
RacingOne/Getty ImagesDerrike Cope said he can still remember the feeling of the warm Florida sun on his face after his first career Cup victory.
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It hung there for eight years, until the team finally won the Great American Race in 1998. The tire is still on display at the shop, but now that shop is a museum and Myers is the curator."Yeah, it's still here," he says with a wince. "It's in the back. And yes, it still stings to look at it."
Ryan McGee, a motorsports writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History."
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