TULSA, Okla. – It’s said in many circles that it takes a fast race car and a little bit of luck to be successful during the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
That statement was no truer for anyone than Matt Wood Racing’s Colby Copeland on Wednesday night, as he parlayed a miraculous moment of good fortune into an A-main lock-in for the finale.
Copeland appeared to be dead in the water with 13 to go, when third-running Ronnie Gardner spun directly into his path as the pair was dicing through slower traffic.
With nowhere to go, Copeland kept his foot in the throttle, ramped his No. 27w over one of Gardner’s rear tires and somehow kept his machine from stalling out, able to drive on and continue the race.
As it turned out, that moment was the move of the night, at least for Copeland.
On the ensuing restart, Copeland lined up third but was able to make a critical pass when then runner-up Brad Sweet slid wide off the second corner, ceding second – and the final guaranteed position into the Saturday A-main – to Copeland in the process.
From there, even with higher-than-normal water temperatures plaguing him in the closing stages, Copeland never looked back. He drove home to his best-career prelim night finish and guaranteed himself his third appearance in the finale in the last four years.
After the race, Copeland was in near-disbelief at first at what he was ultimately able to accomplish.
“Holy smokes. I can’t believe it man,” Copeland said. “I see why different things happen when the camera’s put in front of you, because this is so emotional. You know, I feel like I won. I know Rico won, but I feel like I won. This thing was a war wagon when I blasted it through Ronnie Gardner over there, but these, these guys were tuning on it all night and got it where it needed to be when it counted.
“We weren’t great all night, but then there in the feature, I was like, ‘Man, you know, we need to get a little better,’ and Shane (Golobic) told me not to worry and that we would be fine,” he added. “But the Golobic brothers, Matt Wood, Elk Grove Ford, NOS Energy Drink; I can’t thank them all enough. That was so awesome. I really thought we might have been out of it, but somehow, we pulled it off.”
In reflecting on the incident with Gardner, Copeland was admittedly nervous at first that his car might have had terminal damage, particularly as he saw the needles on the gauges climb higher and higher.
“Man, I hit Ronnie Gardner so hard, I thought that might’ve been my water that leaked all over the track cause the temp gauge went to 280 there and it was running hot,” Copeland noted. “So I tried to save as much as I could, hoping that it would stay cool, and man … it made it, thankfully.
“We might have to change engines for Saturday, but it was well worth it to put her in the big show.”
With team owner Matt Wood becoming a solo car owner at the Chili Bowl for the first time this year, Copeland was particularly happy to give the veteran businessman and racing enthusiast a guaranteed car in Saturday night’s 55-lap feature, knowing how much the event and midget racing mean to Wood.
“Matt gave all of us an opportunity to be over there this year and has given us shots to race a bunch here over the last couple of months, and that’s something that I really appreciate and I’m glad we can give him a strong run in return,” Copeland said. “This is just a cool event and it’s great to be back in it on Saturday night again.”
Looking ahead to Saturday night, Copeland’s expectations are buoyed more than ever before as he hopes to unseat Christopher Bell from the Chili Bowl throne and take home his first Golden Driller.
“I’m just thankful to be here, honestly,” Copeland said. “Those guys gave me a great car and hopefully I can put it to good use on Saturday. The big show hasn’t been as kind to us yet as we’d hope for it to be, but maybe this year we can buck that trend and go after that Driller.”
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