By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — Vernon’s Cory Roper and the entire No. 04 Roper Racing team are currently living the dream as a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series competitor.
From watching the races at the campsite of Texas Motor Speedway, the site of Friday’s SpeedyCash.com 400, to now racing in his own equipment. The Texas operated team, consisting of Cory’s family members, Chris (engineer), Chad (truck chief), Craig (spotter), and close friends, voluntarily work on the truck after finishing with their regular jobs. Not only is it done under that fashion, they also pay out of their own pockets including traveling.
“We had camping spots out at this place when it first opened. I grew up about 150 miles West of here and we’ve always came here as a family,” said Roper. “If we weren’t working or had the chance to go when the track was open, we came here. We’re going to keep doing that. It’s just a place that we always came, and we’ve been on the other side of the fence, so this is a blessing and a dream come true to be on this side of the fence. It’s a heaven.
“Everybody has spent their own money, getting their own rooms and do what we can as a team. If we can’t take in on the racing side, these guys jump in and cover the cost themselves. It’s just a family ordeal and this what we do to have fun.”
After years of attending the races at the 1.5-mile circuit and competing in late models and traveling series, Roper and the gang made the decision to turn their dream into a reality last year. Now, they’re competing with the likes of ThorSport Racing, GMS Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports, even out qualifying some of those trucks.
“We’ve sat at this track for 20 years, watching and dream about being able to be down here in these garages one day,” said Roper. “A couple of years ago, we said ‘You know what, let’s try.’ It might be only a few races, but let’s go see what we can do. I think we’ve proven that we may belong here. I know we can do it – we got good speed, but we just need a little help to stay here and I think we can run with these guys.
“I’m still learning how to race. This is my fourth or fifth 1.5-mile track and I’ve had some bad luck on them and it’s my fault. The truck has been great, but I got to figure it out and hopefully we can run in the top-five and running for some wins.”
Roper has shown tremendous qualifying runs at Las Vegas and Charlotte, qualifying fifth and seventh respectively. Additionally, he’s one of only four Ford trucks (three from ThorSport, who’ve all set the fastest times on Thursday) this weekend and after 12 races under his belt, a 12th place result at Texas earlier this season is his career best.
However, the 167-lap race could be their last race for a period of time until they acquire a sponsor. They’ve already scaling back on their schedule last month and missed two races. Not only that, Roper’s last race at Charlotte Motor Speedway didn’t help his cause either after damaging his truck and ended up a lap down in 20th.
“It’s extremely hard right now. We’ve wrecked the truck at Charlotte and we’re still trying to build a race program,” said Roper on the struggles he’s dealt with this season. “As far as all the templates that we need to put these things back together, we’re guessing a lot. It causes a lot of more work, but we’re hoping to just keep building a race team and getting all the tools we need.
“We’re so far away from Charlotte. We got to do the bodies ourselves in-house and it’s a learning curve. This is all new to us. We’ve hung the nose in tail on the truck. It got through tech. We got a few little minor then and there, but nothing serious. We’re going to keep at it until we get it all figured out.”
During Thursday’s triple practice sessions, there was a sign of optimism as Roper’s Ford F-150 cracked the top-10 in the last two sessions, including a sixth during second practice, where he clocked in at 29.673 seconds.
“We got to find a little bit more speed. I might’ve left a little bit out on that mock qualifying run, but we want to race this truck. I don’t want to back it in the fence, but it’s encouraging,” Roper added after second practice. “These guys have worked so hard, donating their own time and to be able to come here and be in the top-10 in the speed charts is just unreal for us. It gives everybody that much more love and care and wanting to do it more. Hopefully we can have a good finish and have some momentum going to whichever race weekend we can make next.”
While dealing with immense turmoil this season, it hasn’t damped anybody’s spirits. More so after setting his personal best at 29.596 seconds during final practice, which was seventh fastest.
Roper also credited his crew chief, Shane Whitbeck, for being the mastermind behind the truck setups that’s proven to be successful during qualifying and often races. Furthermore, Roper express his gratitude towards a talented group of people, who are willing to pour the effort in the shop after their regular afternoons wrap up. Even some stepping up and try finishing what’s already started, including the mechanical and chassis side of the race truck.
“Shane is the mastermind behind the setups. As far as building the trucks, me and my brothers and friends – this is what we do at night,” Roper explained. “We don’t pay anybody to work on these things. We have full-time jobs and we all meet up at the shop at night. We work on these things until we get done for the night or get tired. It’s a lot of work for our guys. It’s a family deal and we’re unsponsored, so we’re funding this out of our own pockets and it’s extremely difficult.
“We come in there and we’ll work to get to one spot on the truck, whether it’s the body, the engine, the mechanical or chassis side of it – even building our own chassis. We’re fixing our own clips in-house and wherever we left off, whoever can come in the shop, when they’re done from work, can pick up right where somebody left off.
“Everybody on here is so talented and all craftsmen. They can just do anything, from the engine to suspension. That helps everybody because not everybody has one particular job. Everybody can just jump in there and go for it.
“I love racing. I’ve always wanted to be at this level and thought we go for it, so here we are. I think we’re doing okay with what we have.”
Qualifying will commence at 6:45 pm EST, where Roper is eyeing for a third top-10 start this season. Live coverage of the truck race will begin at 9:00pm EST on FOX Sports 1.