Pope Hot in the Heat by Jeremy Troiano
Young Georgia Native Showing How Teens Do It These Days
Michael Pope is leading the way of the youngsters in the Georgia Asphatl Series. (51 Photos)
And Pope is working hard to stand out from the rest. In fact, he’s working real, real hard at it. And it appears to be paying off.
The 17-year-old Dublin, GA-native recently picked up his first-career Georgia Asphalt Series win in the ultra-competitive Pro Late Model tour. It added to what had already been a very successful season for the relatively unknown driver. In addition to his win, Pope has 13 top-10 finishes in 14 GAS races (more than any other driver in the series) this season and is third in the point standings.
Even more impressive is where Pope has come from. Last year, Pope earned just six top-10 finishes in a full slate of GAS races. The year before, he had only four top-10 finishes in GAS competition.
And even though his nickname is “the Wild Child,” Pope has jumped into the limelight by being anything by wild.
“I really can’t pinpoint where our success has come from,” said Pope. “We’ve started working a lot better together as a team and we’ve started talking better. Plus, I’ve just become a better driver. I see the big picture more. Everything we’ve changed with the car has really gone with my driving style too.”
But Pope’s success isn’t just in his driving style or his setup. It’s in his life as well.
Pope has gone from being a 17-year-old high school student who also races to a 17-year-old racer who also is a student.
On paper, Michael Pope is a number. He’s just one of many, many teenagers in the country today between the ages of 14 and 18 that are hoping to one day make it to the biggest leagues of racing, competing on Sundays around the country.
But Pope, and all of those other teens, are not really just a number. They are drivers, just like those two- and three-times their age, trying to win races and do the best that they can every single time the take to a track, be it in a go-kart, Georgia Asphalt Series Pro Late Model or NASCAR Nextel Cup car.
Pope's recent win has him on a roll that he's not seen in his past GAS experiences.
“Last year was really hard because I attended a regular high school,” added Pope. “This year, I’m getting home schooled. That has really helped me a lot. I go to school from 8-12 in the morning and then start working on the car. I work on the car until about 9 or 10 at night.
“It gives me more time to work on the cars. And, the more I get to work on the cars, the better I become as a driver by learning. I miss the time with my friends from school, but if you want to make it in racing, you have to make sacrifices. I am part of Allied National High School. It’s based out of California. I do all my work on the internet. They give me all my lessons and stuff. I have all my own books I read though.”
That is what the racing business has become today.
With kids like Joey Logano, Landon Cassill, Marc Davis and others getting driver development deals with big NASCAR teams before their 18th birthdays, doing all you
can to make it in the business is what Pope and his fellow hopefuls are doing these days.
That means a drastic change in their personal lives.
“The business is hard. It has gotten a lot harder over the last five or six years with all of the young drivers getting development deals. It’s really become a lot harder.
Pope has also headed to South Alabama Speedway for some VIPER Pro Late Model events as well this season.
“I didn’t believe it when I first started, but you really have to eat, breath and live racing. You can’t really have time to do anything else. You want to do the best and perform the best you can. I’ve seen that more and more in my life over recently. This year has been the big change. My dad has taught me a lot this year and how to work on the car. It’s taken away a bunch of friend time and whatnot. But I don’t look at it as a bad thing. I feel like I’m getting closed to my dream and achieving the goals I want to for my life.
“You get down when you think about what the business is and when you realize that to get to where you really want to get to, its going to be very tough. That just makes you that much more determined to go out there and show people you could do it.”
And Pope has always been determined.
Pope started his racing career in 1997 in the Go-Kart ranks of middle Georgia when he was only eight-years-old. After karts, the next logical step for Michael was to graduate
to Bandoleros. He began racing in the Young Guns division in the spring of 2002. In the very first race that he ran at Cordele Motor Speedway (GA), Michael was able to find his way into victory lane. After becoming victorious so quickly, Michael shifted his focus to the larger Legends cars and traveled all across the Southeast racing at a variety of tracks.
In 2003, it all began to come together for Michael Pope. Michael won the Young Lions Georgia State Points Championship in Legends cars and gained even more experience from racing at tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway, Senoia Speedway and Cordele Motor Speedway. In 2004, Michael moved up yet again to the Legends Semi-Pro Division. His first win the series came at Lanier National Speedway (GA) on May 8th, 2004. Once that first win was under his belt, Michael was on a roll as he went on to win 11 more features during the remainder of the 2004 season.
Then, in 2005, Pope moved to GAS. And the rest is just (young) history.
“I would love to be able to run a Super Late Model at least once by the end of this year,” added Pope. “Then, I would like to run that more next year, and maybe some in the ARCA RE/MAX Series or the Pro Cup Series since I will be 18 and can compete on the bigger tracks.
This year, Pope’s change in lifestyle has worked, which is evident by his results of this year compared to the years past. And all that hard work paid off when he took the checkers at Peachstate Speedway just a couple of weeks ago.
“The win really did come as a surprise. We’ve been getting close to it all year long though. We’ve had a good year with all of the top-five and top-10 runs that we’ve had. That shows that we’ve been doing good this year and just getting better. We knew winning a race would be around the corner.
“The best part of winning was having a bunch of drivers call and tell me congrats. It’s really sunk in now.
“You can’t live off it though. These days, in this business, you are really only as good as your next race.”