Twins Angela and Amber Cope Make Historic NASCAR Start at Martinsville
For 27-year-old identical twins Amber and Angela Cope, the prime-time debut was a decade in the making.
Amber Cope, driving the No. 6 Dodge, finished 26th, three laps down, while Angela Cope was involved in two incidents within 18 laps of each other early in the race and finished 30th, six laps down. Series veteran Ron Hornaday won the race.
But the Cope twins are far more interested in the future opportunities their debut may create than in the history they made.
The nieces of 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope (shown at right with their uncle) hadn't competed in over a year before Saturday's race, the sagging economy having made it tough to find sponsorship to fund a two-car program.
So while the publicity and headlines can't hurt, the real goal for the Copes Saturday was the more modest: gain of seat time and turning heads.
"The twins are smart, attractive and have talent,'' Derrike Cope said. "And they understand that there is a learning process associated with being successful.
"The girls know this is do-or-die. They have to perform. They have to make it happen.
"Our hopes are that people will stand up and take notice. We're just trying to get in position so this can escalate, to get the opportunities in front of us.''
This weekend's effort was a massive coordination among four race teams. The twins drove Dodge trucks sponsored by ODYSSEY Battery by EnerSys and have guaranteed starting positions thanks to the teams that are fielding the trucks.
The Copes tested an ARCA car at Daytona in February and have completed two successful truck tests in preparation for the notoriously pesky half-mile Martinsville track.
They have four ARCA Series starts between them, with Angela getting a top-10 start at Kentucky in 2008. Neither has a top-20 finish yet.
Derrike Cope says he's been impressed at how well they have taken to the heavier, faster trucks and is confident they will prove themselves worthy of further consideration.
As teenagers growing up in rural Puyallup, Washington, the girls had posters of Dale Earnhardt and their uncle Derrike plastered on their walls, not dreamy pop stars or Teen Vogue cover shots. Racing trophies filled their rooms. They babysat for extra spending money, but not on Saturday nights. That's when they were racing.
Their focus was always on making it in NASCAR. They just never expected their "big chance" would take so long.
"It's always been a dream for us, we just hadn't been given the right opportunity,'' Angela said.
"We're serious racers. And it's our time.''
Angela and Amber were big draws around the Pacific Northwest late model tracks where their uncle Derrike and current NASCAR star Greg Biffle began their stock car careers as well. They won races and championships in go-karts. But when they moved up to stock cars, limited funding often meant the girls shared one car, alternating race starts.
But the idea has always been to race together.
"It's always been the two of us,'' Amber Cope said. "We share something special. We're a team.''
After graduation from high school, the girls moved to Charlotte to live with their uncle, who has become a surrogate father of sorts.
"It's interesting because we really didn't know him that well before since he lived out East,'' Angela said. "He was going through a divorce at the time so it turned out to be good timing for everyone. He's become like a second dad.
"If it wasn't for him, I don't think we'd be here today.''
Cope laughs and pauses when asked what it's been like to suddenly have a pair of young women under his roof. But he is a doting uncle and has clearly enjoyed guiding their career.
And that's not just behind the wheel. He has stressed the need to understand and become proficient on the business side of things too -- the importance of marketing and promotion. He's insisted they hit the pavement and make cold calls searching for sponsorship.
Even though the twins' arrival on the scene has coincided with recent high profile NASCAR debuts of female drivers Erin Crocker and Danica Patrick, it hasn't guaranteed opportunity or directly translated into sponsorship.
"I'm a bit surprised it hasn't happened before now, because we certainly have been looking,'' Derrike Cope said. "But if you look at the track record for women in NASCAR, no one has come in and been proficient enough and proven they can do it on a high level. Yet.
"It is difficult, I don't care who you are, woman or man, if you're not in quality equipment, you're not going to be running up front.
"And for females especially, if you look bad and things don't go well, the perception isn't as forgiving.
"We're trying to do a few things and do it well, to put them in a position to prove their merit."