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Cope-ing just fine, thank you

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

Racing is all Amber and Angela Cope have ever known.

However, NASCAR, America's most popular brand of racing, had never itself known twins in its three major series -- that is, until last October, when the striking, platinum blonde 27-year-old Cope girls of Puyallup, Wash., became the first set of twins, male or female, to break into the sport's highest ranks at a Camping World Truck Series race in Martinsville, Va.

And now this year, NASCAR is getting more acquainted with the ground-breaking duo.

After making more history as the first twins to compete in the second-tier Nationwide Series in Iowa in May, Amber and Angela attempted to further establish themselves just two weeks ago on July 16 when Angela participated in the New England 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.

"It's something we always wanted to do growing up," Amber told The Herald in a telephone interview with sister Angela by her side earlier this month. "To obviously have a shot at it, to have not just one of us, but both of us in it pursuing a dream, all these wonderful things are really coming together for us."

Angela's start and subsequent 25th-place finish in the New England 200 was the second in what the identical twins hope will be a six- to 10-race effort with their racing team Tri-Star Motorsports, continuing a climb of more than 10 years grinding it out through the stock car ranks.

"We haven't really been able to run in the races that we've been hoping for, but this year will definitely be the first year (we get extensive seat time)," Angela said. "It's going to be a great year for us."

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A FAMILY ORDEAL

The racing world might not have known twins before Amber and Angela, but it did know their family name. The twins' uncle, Derrike Cope, won the 1990 Daytona 500 and has been a fixture in NASCAR for years.

But while Derrike Cope was a mainstay on both the top-level Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series, as they are known today, the girls' father, Darren Cope, competed in drag racing at the influence of their grandfather, Donald Cope, who became a regular in NHRA after drag-racing to support his family.

It seemed fitting, then, that Amber and Angela would begin pursuing racing careers of their own at nine years of age.

"All we really wanted to do was travel and race full time," Angela recalled. "I remember still watching these clips of us (when we were young) saying we wanted to race one day."

They received their first go-kart for Christmas in 1993. Over time, that gift would translate into 50 wins between the two girls in local Northwest karting competition.

The twins ultimately decided to stick with closed-circuit racing -- instead of drag racing like their father and grandfather competed in -- and followed their uncle's lead in pursuing NASCAR.

Amber and Angela even moved in with Derrike in Charlotte for five years after their high school graduation in hopes of advancing through the stock car ranks.

While the twins eventually found they could act independently of their uncle, whose lone Sprint Cup victory came in NASCAR's biggest race, they still cite him as their strongest influence in racing.

"Uncle Derrike, I think he has always supported everything that we do," Amber said. "We're just thankful because he's done a lot for us, and if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be where we are."

Angela then added: "He's like a dad to us. It's been tough the past six years because uncle Derrike's still trying to have a career and he's trying to make a living and he's still doing what he loves to do. We can't take that away from him."

Beyond the support of their uncle, though, things got tough.

The twins eventually aspired to compete in ARCA, one of the lesser-tier sanctioning bodies of stock-car racing in America, but lack of sufficient sponsorship and financial backing kept them off the track far more than they would have liked.

Both girls made three ARCA starts between 2006 and 2008, often switching between driving and spotting with the crew.

In addition, the Copes were unable to land the quality rides they thought would maximize their abilities. Angela posted an average finish of 27.7 in her three starts, and Amber managed an average result of 31.3, according to Racing-reference.info.

"It takes money. That's the tough part," Amber said of the twins' situation. "There's not one of us. There's two of us. Everything is times two at that point, so it's hard."

Fortunately for the twins -- and for women in motorsports, in general, they said -- one female driver's success could open doors in that regard.

Danica Patrick, the first woman to win a major open-wheel race and lead the Indianapolis 500, has seen her accomplishments develop a lucrative brand that has ultimately landed her a strong ride with JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.

The twins said while they were focused on themselves and not Patrick, they added that Patrick's success could most certainly pave the way to further opportunities for them and for other women trying to make it in NASCAR.

"I think Danica's definitely opening the door for women in general," Amber said. "She's getting people to believe, and sponsors are coming in who believe that there is a woman who's going to make it happen. You're seeing it."

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A DREAM -- AND HISTORY -- REALIZED

Ten years of the girls paying dues in stock car racing's minor leagues reached its end Oct. 23, 2010, when Amber and Angela landed rides for a Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway.

The event was historic not only in that the Copes became the first twins to compete in a major NASCAR series, but a record four women started the race, including the Cope twins and Jennifer Jo Cobb and Johanna Long.

The Copes didn't post spectacular finishes in their debut -- Amber finished 26th and Angela placed 30th -- but keep in mind they weren't operating on the most bountiful of budgets that other more prominent race teams have.

"I think the tough part for us at that time in the Truck race was that we weren't able to run competitive," Angela said. "We were in lesser equipment. You're not able to compete. That's the tough part that we're up against."

It was a similar story in May when the twins made their Nationwide Series debuts -- Angela finished 28th, while Amber wound up 32nd.

Both, however, feel more confident than ever with their new sponsor they hooked up with recently, Horizon Entertainment. Horizon, which has offices in Atlanta and New Orleans, made its NASCAR debut sponsoring Angela's Chevrolet.

"Everybody's just anxious," Angela said. "They really believe in us, and it's all about building a team and getting everybody excited and getting everybody on the same page as they go in one direction.

"It's really the key point in building a relationship, getting people on board and seeing what you see."

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MARKETABILITY BEYOND THE TRACK

While the Copes agree they have plans to stay active on the track for years to come, it's their pursuits off the track that have also turned heads around the NASCAR garage.

The twins have maintained an interest in fashion and clothing and have been able to parlay those interests into their own line -- Pink Candy Boutique -- as a hobby.

"We love making women look beautiful and feel good about themselves," Amber said. "The clothing we have in our clothing boutique line is kind of what Angela and I pick out, what we love, what we wear.

"It's fun. We kind of do it just for fun."

The Copes, who have also posed for numerous spreads in various magazines -- sometimes in their racing suits, others in bathing suits, like they did for a photo shoot in May in Los Angeles -- say they would love to open a fashion franchise themselves one day, but their immediate focus is on advancing in the field they've always known.

While the twins are excited at the prospect of competing in as many as 10 Nationwide Series races this year, they hope their current opportunities with Tri-Star Motorsports translate into full schedules in the future.

Their current setup and financial restrictions have them doing what they did from time to time during their ARCA days: one sister drives, and the other handles spotting duties, like when Angela hopped in the cockpit of the Horizon Entertainment-sponsored Chevrolet at Loudon.

"(My big thing) personally is to make no mistakes," Angela said. "We made a few mistakes out there in the first race (at Iowa), but it all comes with experience."

Amber added with a laugh: "Just be competitive -- and beat uncle Derrike."

And at least on that day, she did -- Angela finished 25th at Loudon, while Derrike finished 31st.