Youth Movement: Dowling, Kopcik Succeeding Together On Mod Tour With Rob Fuller Motorsports And LFR

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Chase Dowling (left) and his crew chief Stephen Kopcik

STAFFORD – Last June, Rob Fuller Motorsports driver Chase Dowling called longtime friend and Modified competitor Stephen Kopcik and asked him if he wanted to help out at an upcoming NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Thompson Speedway.

“I never went home,” Kopcik said.

At Rob Fuller Motorsports, “15-40 Connection” is the sponsor that keeps Dowling rolling on the Whelen Modified Tour, but of late it’s the “20-20 Connection” that is turning heads across the series.

After five Whelen Modified Tour events this season, the pairing of 20-year old driver Dowling with 20-year old crew chief Kopcik has put their Rob Fuller Motorsports team squarely in contention for a series championship.

“It’s funny because a lot of the guys that help us from the outside, they’re constantly telling me that it’s hard to believe that they are 20 years old,” said team owner Rob Fuller, who employs Dowling and Kopcik both with Rob Fuller Motorsports and his chassis company LFR. “How far they’ve come … is a real testament to the equipment that we’ve got, the surrounding that we provide them and to be honest, there’s got be some guidance, the figure at the top that will make sure things are going straight and make sure these guys are doing things the right way and prioritizing jobs correctly.”

Dowling currently sits second in the Whelen Modified Tour standings, 19 points behind leader Justin Bonsignore. In five events this year Dowling has a pair of second place finishes, a fourth place and hasn’t finished worse than ninth.

“I went up there a few times and their camaraderie and how they work together it’s just unbelievable,” said Bonsignore, who is in his first season driving an LFR chassis for his M3 Motorsports team on the Whelen Modified Tour. “For them to be that young and be that successful – obviously they have Robbie right there on their shoulders keeping them in check – I love seeing them guys have success. They’re great dudes. … They’re really good kids and I’m really happy to see it because they work hard and they’re deserving of what they’re doing right now.”

Stephen Kopcik (left) and team owner Rob Fuller last week at Thompson Speedway

Dowling and Kopcik met as freshmen in high school and both were standouts as teenagers in the SK Light Modified division at Stafford Motor Speedway. Dowling won in his SK Light Modified debut at Stafford in 2013. Kopcik got his first SK Light Modified win at Stafford the next season.

Dowling cut a deal to run for Rob Fuller Motorsports part-time on the Whelen Modified Tour in 2017 while working for LFR. Dowling asked Kopcik to help the team at the Thompson 125 on June 14, 2017.

“We ended up wrecking that night, we went home that night and tore it apart and the next day brought it to the chassis shop and the next day put it together and it was all done,” Kopcik said. “Rob came up to me and asked if he could get me there full-time. Just one thing led to another. I literally just never went home. We went to the next race and we were doing well and the work was getting done and the shop was running well. We did more races than planned. And then going into the winter, gearing up for a full-time full season we built another car. … There was always work. We were always busy. And there was enough work for me to stay there and here we are. Chase and I actually live together and all we do is eat, sleep and breath racing. I think that makes us strong as a team. … I think it excels our program. It excels LFR. Everything about it really looks good.”

Dowling, of Roxbury, and Kopcik, of Newtown, now share an apartment in Shrewsbury, Mass., close to the LFR/Rob Fuller Motorsports shop in West Boylston, Mass.

“I kind of wanted to sink my claws into him if you would because we just needed a lot of help,” Fuller said of Kopcik. “There’s a lot of stuff going on outside of LFR for me and to have Chase try to do everything himself and think we were going to have any success was just crazy. It worked out good.

“The way that we have the company structured is that Chase is in charge of the race team and Stephen is in charge of the company. So it’s company first, it always has been at LFR and always will be. And Chase’s priority is organizing the guys and making sure that the licenses are turned in and making sure travel is taken care of. He’s basically the general manager of his own race team. And then Stephen’s priority is making sure that all the customers are taken care of on Monday mornings and making sure all the parts ship out on Tuesday and then when he’s got some spare time he helps Chase at night. Usually after three or four o’clock we’re all hands on deck with the race cars.”

While Dowling and Kopcik spend the bulk of their hours each week trying to work together, for at least 40 laps of competition each week they’re looking to beat the other. Both compete in the SK Modified division weekly at Stafford Motor Speedway.

“Some Mondays we don’t talk to each other, but it’s all good,” Kopcik said. “If he’s got a better car than me and he goes by me it’s all cool. If I have a better car than him and I go by him it’s cool too. We’re all just having fun. … We’ve got great people behind us that make it possible. We’re having fun and we’re loving every minute of it.”

Said Dowling: “His crew and my crew, we’re kind of the same stable. If he’s going for a win and I’m going for a win there will obviously probably be some contact. But that’s why we’re competing in racing. It’s a competitive sport and at the end of the day you want to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved me on the last lap at Stafford to go for a win. It’s just how it is. If you’re not competitive, why would you do it?”

Fuller is hoping to see both cut back on their efforts with SK Modified racing.

“There’s a reason why Justin Bonsignore and Doug Coby and Ron Silk and all the real successful [Whelen Modified Tour drivers] don’t do it,” Fuller said. “It’s extremely extremely challenging to have a winning race car at Stafford. The competition is very tough. Those guys, they do it every Friday night. Then on top of that to think you’re going to run competitive on the Tour, you’re fooling yourself.

“We’re fooling ourselves if we think it’s a recipe for success. The driving side is cool and everything and it’s funny because Stephen reminds me a lot of myself because I raced up until I was smart enough to basically stop and know that there are other things out there and you’ve got to put food on the table for the next 30 years of your life. Racing is taking food off the table. What I’m trying to provide for these kids is to put them in an environment where they don’t look at the clock. They don’t think it’s a job, they do it because they’re passionate about it, they do it because they enjoy doing it. In my eyes they’ll never work a day in their lives. LFR has a very good customer base and it’s something that we are at a great level right now as far as customers and the revenue that the business does is more than ample for these two to make a good career out of it. I’ve told Stephen and Chase both that it’s going to theirs until they don’t want it.”

Stephen Kopcik with his SK Modified at Stafford Speedway 

Kopcik said taking on a role as a crew chief in racing was always something that has been on his radar.

“I always kind of had a dream of doing it,” Kopcik said. “… I started working at [Chassis Dynamics] and building my own stuff, and I was always interested in how we could go faster and how a racecar could work better. Then I met Rob Fuller and learned of all his accomplishments designing the LFR chassis. … I was put together with him and together we worked really really well. What I’ve learned is awesome. I can’t trade it for anything. … I’m thankful for all the opportunities.”

Said Fuller: “You could tell that he had a great upbringing. He’s got a lot of respect. He’s a hard worker. He’s somebody that really wants to learn. He doesn’t complain about the hours that we have to work to be successful. It’s just something that I’ve always looked for. I can’t tell you how happy I’ve been with him, just with his attitude toward racing and his attitude toward the business in general. It’s honestly a pleasure bringing somebody like that under your wing and knowing that your company is going to be in good hands when you can’t be there all the time.”

When it comes to the relationship of driver and crew chief, Dowling and Kopcik believe their friendship off the track over the last six years has helped them blossom together in competition.

“There’s a lot involved with getting to know a driver and how they say words over the radio during a practice,” Dowling said. “He can tell if I’m feeling something in the car and I explain it to the crew, he can put an emphasis on it, he knows what he’s hearing. Some crew chiefs and drivers are in a battle together. A driver will give feedback and the crew will make changes to the car and the car will go slower. For me and him it’s a communication thing. When I say something over the radio he knows before I can really put it all together. He can just click it together quick and make the changes and we get back out.”

Said Kopcik: “We know each other’s languages. The car, what it’s doing. Stupid little things that probably people would never understand, we just get it and I think everything just works well together.”

Fuller is confident that the pairing of Dowling and Kopcik has what it takes to contend to the final race of the season in the battle for the Whelen Modified Tour title. Fuller looks to events like this Saturday’s race at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va. as the key to for his team in fighting for the title.

Listen to Whelen Modified Tour team owner Rob Fuller this week on Unmuffled talking about the pairing of Chase Dowling and Stephen Kopcik, their roles at LFR, SK Modified racing and much more

“In my eyes we’re racing [Bonsignore] for the rest of the year and we’ve got to take advantage of situations like Langley where Justin doesn’t have ten times more laps than Chase,” Fuller said “… The Thompon’s and the Stafford’s and the other race tracks where Justin has more starts than Chase has aged, we’re already behind the eight-ball. So we’ve got to go Langley guns blazing and expect to make up some points.

“In my eyes this is the most competitive racing there is, and I’ve raced at just about every level. These guys are serious, they race hard and they’ve been doing it a long time. When you’ve got Doug Coby, who is [38] years old and been racing Modifieds for half of his life, and you know you’ve got a driver who is basically half of Doug’s age and has a quarter of the experience, it’s challenging. But Chase has got a lot of talent. These cars are proven. I feel like I’m up on technology. In my eyes I’m a little bit disappointed that we’re not leading the points. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic for Justin obviously, a new customer to LFR and it’s really showcasing what these cars are capable of doing. But the competitor in me really wants to beat him bad. So we’re not going to quit.”

Said Kopcik: “I’m happy and what I’m more happy about than what people see is our notebook and what we’re learning. Every week I think we get better.”

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Comments

  1. Good behind the scene story. Always been a fan of Kopcik

  2. Mod guru says:

    Amazing. Best story of the year. Great job Shawn. Love everything about LFR and these young guns. Great opportunity for Chase.

  3. Would like to see Dowling in an Xfinity ride. Maybe Fury Race Cars could put him in the #61 Xfinity car, but would like to see how good he could do in a top tier ride

  4. Jeffrey says:

    Go coby !!!!
    That tour is either coby or justin.
    The rest are kinda TRYING hard.
    Chase needs aboyt 6 years before he is good

  5. I don’t see why racing at Stafford on Friday’s is a problem for Fuller. The tour is running only 1 Friday night at Stafford this season. Rowan races all over the place and does well wherever he goes.

  6. I think racing at Stafford teaches drivers how to PASS.You don’t come from 15th and win by following

  7. Fuller was left with a bad taste in his mouth after the entire Dowling, Skowyra, LFR deal. Felt the perception as it unfolded was inaccurate and the reality the only logical course and stuck to his guns on it. What a difference 7 months makes and how his reasoning has proven to be the best for all involved.
    And how lucky are we to have an update of the LFR team now that is a gold mine of information and insights that while great for LFR and NWMT fans cannot be viewed as good at all for we SK fans.

  8. I can’t recall any racing article anywhere that so candidly laid bare the brutal reality as Fuller has in saying in so many words that racing is a fantasy. One that conflicts with success in life and that eventually those that seek success must dial back racing and dial up family and career opportunities. “Racing is taking food off the table”. Brutal but true.
    I have been an admirer of the LFR and Fuller story for a while trying to establish a beachhead in the very small world of modified chassis building. My reality is that the guy that I respect the most is the employer and mentor to two of my favorite young drivers in the SK’s. That is telling them that to achieve success in life you need to prioritize opportunities and at this stage SK’s is a distraction from what should be your goals. The goal of the next higher series that you already have achieved. The goal of learning technical and business skills and making money in the industry that you already have the opportunity to build on. Hard to hear but all so true.

  9. Last night Dowling was not at Stafford racing the 36 for reasons unknown. Prioritizing the NWMT race down south this weekend? Just not enough time to allocate for the SK ride then travel. Fuller’s whispers or an employer request to focus on company goals. Who knows. Stephen appearing turning in an outstanding performance in a really fast car muddles the issue. What’s clear is that Fuller is who he is. Employer, mentor and widely respected in the industry. If he’s encouraging Chase and Stephen to de-prioritize the SK’s it seems clear that in the long run it will be so. The only thing that will change it will be a top notch LFR chassied team or teams that can provide these guys a driver only deal that dove tails into yet does not distract from LFR business goals. I’m not sure the 36 LFR deal now in place is that team at all. Maybe others know and can explain.

  10. Just Me says:

    Chase had to drive the trailer to Langley last night.

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