Digging Deep With Denise: Visiting With Chris Kopec

“Digging Deep With Denise” is a semi-regular question and answer feature with local racers and racing personalities produced by RaceDayCT’s Denise DuPont

Chris Kopex (Photo: Jim DuPont/RaceDayCT)

Chris Kopec – Number One Race Fan is Hooked for Life … 

Chris Kopec’s passion for racing began on his fifth birthday with his dad at Stafford Motor Speedway looking through the pit fence.

His dad worked on local race cars and brought his family to the race track to share his love of racing. Kopec, of Palmer, Mass., was allowed to sit in the driver’s seat while his dad worked on cars. There he dreamed of the day he would drive a race car. Kopec went from dirt to asphalt, from Sportsman to Street Stock to Pro Stock to Modified. His career as a driver came to an abrupt end after a crash in turn two at Thompson Speedway in 2005. The incident left him with post-concussion symptoms and other injuries. But Kopec’s love for racing did not stop there, he continues his racing passion building modifieds for his son Dylan and working with young drivers in the Kart series. And yes, Chris Kopec is hooked for on racing ….  

What got you get interested in racing?

“My dad. When I was a kid, for my fifth birthday my dad brought me to Stafford and I remember it to this day. It was just the coolest thing and I remember it all. Driving in and seeing the big billboard and getting to watch all the race cars. From then I was hooked.

“My dad worked on a couple of local race cars. A guy by the name of Frank Brodack and my dad used to build a car in our garage that he ran at Stafford Speedway. They were a backmarker in their modified coupe. I believe that it was #190. After Frank stopped racing my dad got involved with some other people. One was Dave LaPierre, a shop teacher from Pathfinder Vocational High School in Palmer. I would go with my dad when they worked on his car. They ran Thompson, Westboro and Stafford with the all-American Sportsman (#11X). LaPierre ran good with that division until he got the bright idea to go run modifieds which was more than he could afford. They all had a good time and they built everything over his dad’s house in West Warren. It was a lot of fun over the years.

“I grew up watching Fred Desarro, who was probably my biggest hero, Ron Bouchard, Dick Casso, and then Geoff Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, Richie Evan and Ed Flemke came along. They all ran the Sunday afternoons at Thompson (Speedway) and they also ran Westboro. At Westboro I also saw Jeff and Bobby Fuller, and Ken Bouchard. It was cool to see all of them while growing up. There were a lot of others whose names we forget, but we were all big fans of. It was a lot of fun for me. I was just hooked!” 

When did you get a ride or did you start working on cars?

“I grew up working on cars. I remember being with my dad and sitting in a car while he was building it in the garage. .I remember my dad saying: “Someday you will drive one of these.” And that was something that I never forgot. The first time I actually sat in a race car as a driver I was eighteen. One of my real good friends Chip Balicki let me take his street stock out at Thompson (Speedway). He let me try the car out. He was starting to wind his career down and I was giving him a hand. We then built a dirt car after friends who raced at Lebanon encouraged us to join them.  It was an old sportsman car that was like a modified with a small motor. We raced it for about half a season until we wrecked it. I knew asphalt was what I wanted to do. Dirt was a lot of fun but in my race circle did not know a lot about it. So I chose the path of the asphalt which was what I saw first in life at Stafford.”

Where did racing bring you next?

“We bought a used street stock from Bob Slater, one of Jimmy Ward’s old cars. We ran at Thompson (Speedway) the first year. Then we raced in the red #04 street stock some at Stafford around 1986. The second year I bought Balicki’s Monte Carlo and re-did it. I started working for a guy in town here (Palmer) by the name of Gary Moore. Gary got me involved in racing and helped me for several years after. Gary kept the car at the shop where I worked. His guys did all the body work on it after we knocked the fenders in on it every week. We won a lot with the car, our first win coming at Stafford. Also helping me at that time was Mickey Como, Brian Scofield and Bill Bissonette (who works for Kyle Busch Motorsports now). It was the same group of guys I grew up with who also earlier helped my dad. I had a lot of good guys helping me and we had a lot of good fun. We ran most of the season at Stafford in the Monte Carlo. I bought two tires when I was got paid every week so we could go race.  There were weeks when I had to pay the rent, so I had to balance my family and race life.

“Even though we won a couple of races in the Monte Carlo in 1986-1987 timeframe, I knew that was not where I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to get to a modified somewhere.

“We raced about three years total in the street stock bouncing between Stafford and Thompson, and visiting Monadnock once or twice. Then Ted Hebert gave us an old chassis that he had ran at Riverside. Billy Bissonette, my dad and I used it to build our first Pro Stock. We raced the car as much as we could afford at Riverside and Thompson. It had the first motor I built.  Beebe (Anthony Zalenski) was around and he was bouncing around helping other guys. I remember once when we were running the street stock at Stafford, Beebe came over to me and said: ‘Someday when you stop running these taxi cabs, if you want to run a real race car, I will start helping you.’

“We ran that Pro Stock for a couple of years and got our first win at the Park (Riverside) with it. Then Chip Chapin wanted to get involved. He had a Pro Stock chassis built by Mark Smith who was with Teddy Hebert at that time. And Beebe had built the motor. We won a couple of races with that car – the M6 Pro Stock. We ran Riverside every Saturday night and had a couple of wins there and at Stafford. We raced as much as we could afford at Thompson (Speedway), but had no wins there. Andy Johnson, Jr. started helping us out and he got the car going better and better. He was so smart and we were young and just learning. We listened, paid attention and did as much as we could on our own. We kept notes and tried not to make a mistake twice. We ran the Pro Stock for a couple of years and one night Charlie McClean, who owned the #85 modified, came walking over with Billy and he said bring your helmet. We went over to the #85 and Charlie said get in this thing and try it in practice. I will never forget it. I was all over the track. It was so different with rack and pinion steering versus a Pro Stock steering box in the back. I will never forget that night. In the heat race I bounced off Bob Polverari a couple of times. After the heat race Polverari came walking over and put his arm around me and said: “Son, we need to take a walk. If you are going to be around this sport for a while, you need to figure this out.” After that, Polverari gave me help when I needed it.

“After driving the #85 for a couple of years, we built a car.  Andy Johnson, Sr. built us a new chassis in his shop and we set it up. He worked with us and got us whatever we needed. We ran that car (M6) for one season and then Stefanik (Mike) was selling one of his old chassis so we grabbed one of those. He had built the big red and the old Evan’s chassis.  We (Gary Moore, Billy B and I) started running that chassis with his (Stefanik’s) help. Beebe built our motors. They were all so much fun to be around and they were with me forever.

“We just kept building cars with Beebe building the motors, rear ends and then the transmissions. He just knew what worked and bought parts from different sources. We bought another Stefanik car so we had an 81 and a 91 (Paul Les still has the M6) car.  We kept running and finally winning races. Cliff Hanks, Sly and Bear also got involved with us and we won more races. We kept building things and winning (1992-1994). In 1994 when we won the Riverside Park Championship.  The purse was $10,000 for the Riverside Championship. It was fun and we kept pushing, but I wanted to go further.  The energy that was at the park and the race show that Ben Dodge would put on will never be matched. Times have changed. Other tracks do a good job for racing today but the history with Riverside Park Speedway was special and every race put on was for the fans.

“In 1995, Flamingo Motorsports starting sponsoring me. Jim (Ruby) Pascoe introduced me to Eric Sanderson. We bought a brand new Troyer for a new car. Everything was different than what we were used to and pricier. Eric wanted to get involved more and more and in the end he wanted to own it all for us. So, that was how he formed Flamingo Motorsports. The team was associated with his Florida address because Eric did not want everyone from his other business know he was sponsoring a race car. If it was not for Ruby coming along and bringing us to that level things would have been different. I also met Brad Lafontaine through Brian Scofield.

“I realized the first year of the tour (NWMT) in the #16 modified, that I had raced Riverside too long. It took me a couple of years of banging around on the big tracks to figure it out. We were not going good. When Brad came along he commanded the best out of us – either do it right or we are going to change something. Brad was able to bring the whole team up a notch. He stayed with us a couple of years during which we won a pole and race with him. We kept working at it until after a couple of years we parted ways. Brad wanted to do other things but he was there when we needed technical help. For the first few years the business was just the race shop and preparing the cars for racing. The shop then started the motorcycles and snow mobile business side when Eric wanted something to do during the winter down time. Sly (Szaban) was hired for the business and then he became involved in the race car somewhat full time.

“We raced for a few years and then I was hurt at Thompson Speedway in 2005 coming out of turn two where the pit gate is. It was a restart, so we were in the back. Cars shuffled three or four rows in front of us and a kid on our outside turned left and it hooked us in the right rear. The car shot into the pit gate and just stopped. We lost the car and I have been suffering from the race injuries to this day.  It was all part of racing and it is what it is. I had a lot of fun and got to enjoy it a lot of years. I made a lot of cool connections and friends and I would not trade any of those years for anything. I got to work with my dad for all those years and Beebe of who I cannot say enough of. He even did our first tour motor He knew a lot and what a grandfather to us all. And Bear was always there to help us. He is another smart guy like Brad. They were all real good in their own ways. Eric is a super cool guy and because of him and Ruby I met a lot of people over the years.

“We took a year off when I got hurt and Rob Summers jumped in the car. I tried to come back the year after. I ran four or five races and then we were bounced around at Stafford. After that I had the nasty headaches and vertigo again. I did not tell anyone and I went to Seekonk (Speedway) where I usually ran real well. We were dead last in practice, the times were terrible. The guys wanted to know what’s up. I finally had to tell the team after we went to Richmond and I was absolutely no good. I knew it was time. I fought with myself over it because we had worked so hard over the years to get where we were. Eric had been gracious enough to give us all the means of what we wanted or needed. But we parted ways and I went back to turning the wrenches here at my repair shop, and those guys went on to bigger things. It was really cools to see the success that Mike Stefanik and Ryan Preece had with the team. Mike was my hero growing up watching him build his own stuff. He was smart and a thinker. When he raced with us he was not always easy to get along with because he knew what he wanted and how to get there. We had gotten Eric his first tour win, but the Flamingo team went on and won two NWMT Championships with Mike and then Ryan.”

Which type of racing do you like the best?

“Definitely the Modified. There is nothing compared to driving a Modified at Loudon. I always wanted to get to the [NASCAR Whelen Modified] Tour and that is the place that you wanted to be and to race with the guys up front. Once we got there we worked hard earning their driver’s respect that were already there, such as Teddy and Mike Stefanik. We were learning to race up front with those guys at the high speed tracks and also returning to our home track of Stafford racing and competing.

“I now enjoy seeing the younger racers coming up through the divisions such as Ronnie Williams, Tyler Hines and others.  It is fun to watch the drivers that came up through the go karts, even those that grew up when Dylan was racing. Also watching Keith Rocco pick cars off or Ryan Preece drive the outside both putting on a good show. Or Mike Christopher, Jr. just look at him and what he and his dad have done.”

Would you say racing is your hobby?

“I want to say that I am the biggest race fan. I am as big a race fan as I am when involved in it. But if we are not racing, I tend to not want to go to the races because it is not fun to sit there and not do anything. When we were not racing I do show up at Stafford every week and watch the features.

“I still feel like I am that five year old big eyes watching through the fence. I will probably still be there by the fence until the day I cannot breathe anymore. “ 

What is your goal for 2021?

“Build a notebook with the new car (SK Modified #16). And hopefully run better and better to get where we are competitive. I know that it is not going to be easy. There is some of the best racing in the country right there (Stafford Speedway) and some of the best drivers in the country. We also need to get as much seat time as we can for Dylan. He has not raced a lot in the last three year so he will have to learn to communicate again his needs. I will be happy to get some top ten.  But in the end we are just doing our best to just finish and learn. And especially learn who you are racing with again.”

What racing memory stands out for you above all others?

“Winning the Riverside Park Championship in 1994 with all those guys that were with us and are not here now. Getting a win with Beebe. Being at the banquet with Beebe, my family and Charlie Mclean.  We had the best bunch of guys back then and they came with us to the Modified Tour. 1994 was definitely the most fun year, we did not let the points get to us until the end. We were competing against Dan Avery for the Championship. Avery is gentleman to race against.  We could race 100 laps side by side and you did not wreck each other. Jerry Marquis, Reggie, Steve Park were all there and you raced hard against one another – bumping, banging and grinding which was just short track racing. Those years had some cool memories with some great people. It was hard to top that. Getting to run good of the tour was next. We were just starting to figure it all out when I got hurt.” 

What challenges do race car drivers have now compared to your earlier racing years?

“How much money they bring to the plate. If you do not bring a sponsor to the bigger teams, even the smaller deals cover tires, motors and other race parts. One thing that has changed over the years is that a lot of drivers do not work on their own cars. A lot of dads work on cars doing most of the work and they enjoy it. I always wished Dylan was more interested in turning the wrenches, but he is what he is. He has come a long way.”

If you had to do it all over again, would you?

“There is no doubt that I would do it all over again .I have enjoyed racing with my family being there all the time. I enjoy my family life and friends racing with me. I would not do anything different,”

After the accident at Thompson do you ever think of what might have been different if it did not happen?

“Yes, things definitely would have been different. First of all I would be able to breathe, I cannot breathe any more after the accident. Things happened the way that they did and things were not easy for me for a long time because I was kind if bitter about it. I was battling inside myself until I could accept that I was getting older and it was now an opportunity to do stuff for other people and help others race. So I help Dylan and Todd be as competitive as they can be and hopefully win some races

“The racer is still inside me and I would jump in that thing tomorrow if I knew I could breathe for forty laps, but I run out of air quick. My one lung that took all the damage just does not function like it needs to. That is my biggest problem that took a long time for doctors to find. I do not worry about it much anymore. I just realign my focus I am enjoying where we ae and I want to win again. And I want Dylan and Todd to win and hopefully I can help the enough to get there.”  

“When I went to work at Flamingo about 1995, Paul and Terry Les bought the M6. When I was hurt Paul and Terry were there for me. They were a huge help when I was raising Dylan. There are a lot of days that I am thankful that I have them as friends and to have them around racing for a long time with us.”

Would you have done anything differently?

“I would not change anything. I enjoy racing.  I enjoyed my children growing up and raising them. They are close and they do everything together”.  

 “I have been fortunate forever to have good people always around me. And whoever it was they gave and gave from Billy, Rico, Ruby, Eric Sanderson, Flamingo Race Team, Paul and Terry Les, Don Mayo, David Hill, Seth and Eric Wesson, and the list could go on and on… I have a great bunch of people helping me then and also right now – Todd Douillard, Paul Schlesinger, Notebook, Bear… We always had a good crew with us including my family (especially my dad and brothers). I could not have done a lot of what I did without everyone. Racers are the nicest people and would give you the shirt off their back if needed. I have been fortunate that a lot of the people have been like that and we have had so much fun racing.” 


  1. Brian Caron says

    Being a little kid on my bike over to Kopec’s in west brookfield to hear chris fire up his car. I thought he was so cool! Or delivering newspapers to Frank Brodiaks house That 427 was so load! Class act Chris Kopec you made us proud🏁

  2. To this day I have an image of this guy ingrained in my brain flying by me and a number of other cars on a restart in the Streets at Stafford a long time ago. I thought he was completely crazy at the time the move was so reckless. In the long run he proved that whatever he had was pretty good as a race car driver.

  3. Great read. I’ve known Chris for many many years he’s a great guy. We actually attempted to race in the SK division back in the 90’s with one of chris’s old Johnson cars. He is definitely a class act, and it’s a shame his racing career was cut short after that horrifying wreck at Thompson.

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