We not only love meeting new folks at races and other events throughout the year, but we also love running into familiar faces, especially those individuals that are racing their cars and are passionate about the sport. Like Dick Bierie, owner and driver of a 2016 COPO Camaro (#028). We first met Dick last year during Chevrolet Performance's annual “COPO Dinner” at the 2016 NHRA U.S. Nationals where he was one of the lucky few to take receipt of a 2016 COPO Camaro.
At this very dinner, as Dick told us, is where he first met David Barton. Barton is a guy we’ve covered several times on The BLOCK. We were interviewing Dick at the COPO Dinner when our conversation was cut short because Dick told us he saw, ‘The drag racing king” (referring to David Barton). Now, just months later, Dick and David are good friends and David even works on and tunes Dick’s COPO. Read more about David’s thoughts on COPO here.
Thousands of folks enter for their chance to purchase one of only sixty-nine COPO Camaros. Chevrolet Performance then picks (via a third-party service) at random who will continue through the purchase process. We always hope the finalists are enthusiasts like Dick Bierie since Chevrolet Performance built these cars with one thing in mind - drag racing. The COPO was built to compete in NHRA’s Stock Eliminator classes, as well as the NMCA’s new Factory Super Cars class. You can read more about the 2016 COPO on Chevrolet Performance’s site here.
We made it a point to meet up with Dick recently at the 2017 NHRA Four-Wide Nationals to catch up with him on COPO, racing and life. Dick’s COPO Camaro features the optional supercharged 350, which helped power him to a Wally Friday evening at Four-Wide. We’d say he’s doing pretty well in a new car as a self-proclaimed rookie driver, but don’t take it from us, check out our interview with Dick below.
The BLOCK: When did you first get into drag racing, and why?
Bierie: My first experience with drag racing was in 1965. The World Series of Drag racing was coming to Cordova, Illinois (about 60 miles south of my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa). I was 10-years-old and reading every drag racing magazine I could get my hands on. I pleaded/whined/begged my dad to take me (and being the youngest of 5 boys that was not acceptable behavior). He finally gave in. We went, had a great time and it started a lifelong addiction to the sport. Quite frankly, it is one of the only times I remember just he and I doing something alone – just him and me.
I continued being a fan for the next 50+ years attending many events as a spectator. I love the sights, the sound, the smell, the feeling in your gut - all of it. Then last August/September I took possession of Roxie (the name my kids/grandkids have given COPO #028) at the banquet for the COPO racers at the U.S. Nationals. That was the very first time I ever even sat in a drag car, let alone raced one!
My first drag race as a participant was 6 months ago at Silver Dollar Raceway in Reynolds, GA. I was a 61-year-old rookie.
The BLOCK: Tell us about U.S. Nationals last year. What was it like when Chevrolet Performance uncovered your new COPO?
Bierie: The whole experience was unbelievable. One of the best things I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of. I owe a lot to Curt Collins of Chevrolet Performance. Curt approached me and asked if I would be willing to take possession of the car at the driver’s banquet in Indianapolis. I immediately said yes even though I didn’t have a trailer, tow vehicle or know-how to drive the car. I’m not real emotional but when they uncovered her and I fired her up I got pretty choked up. Beyond that night, I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with many of the other COPO drivers/owners and I actually think I gained about a year of experience from that week in Indianapolis.
The BLOCK: What led you to purchase a COPO?
Bierie: My now Crew Chief, Ken Thygesen, sent me an article on the COPO program in late 2014. I was impressed and did more research. I was recently retired and knew I wanted to get involved in drag racing, and running a COPO looked like a good way to get started. I entered the lottery and got a call from Curt Collins in April of 2016 and we were off to the races so to speak.
The BLOCK: Who do you entrust to work on and tune your car?
Bierie: Really only two people. My Crew Chief, Ken Thygesen, a lifelong friend, is invaluable as he preps the car before races, works on the car between rounds and maintains it between events. He also works on me to keep my head and wallet going in the right direction. The other key person is David Barton. I was introduced to David by Victor Cagnazzi at the banquet in Indy. I knew I needed someone to tune the car and David is the best. I feel fortunate to have developed a relationship with David as he knows all things racing and he’s a great guy to hang out with.
The BLOCK: What’s it like to race a COPO?
Bierie: It is a beast. I’ve told the Chevrolet Performance guys many times that they should be really proud of their program. We have learned that we are unique because virtually everyone else in drag racing grew up in “the business”. And here you have a couple of 62-year-old rookies that have taken a stock car straight out of the box and consistently run in the mid 8-second range at 160 mph+ with very few issues.
The car is extremely well built, fairly easy to maintain, handles great and runs like a cheetah. It is a blast to drive!
The BLOCK: What races have you attended this year? How’s the season going?
Bierie: I would have to say at this point we have far exceeded our expectations. Of course our expectations were extremely low – like learn how to register, get through tech, stage the car, do a burnout, run down the track and service it properly to do it again. We have raced at Orlando, Gainesville, South Georgia and Charlotte. We’ve won several rounds of eliminations (very surprising) and we were fortunate to actually win a Wally in Charlotte at the Four-Wide Nationals. We won the FS/XX Class which is the highlight of our very short career.
The BLOCK: What are your future plans for the car? For racing?
Bierie: We have been careful to keep the car virtually stock/standard as I received it from Chevrolet Performance. I think with a little David Barton magic and Ken’s guidance we can probably shave another .100 off the times and if the rookie grandpa driver (speaking of myself) can get more competent, maybe we can compete a little more consistently. We plan on racing in 10-12 more races this year in both National and Divisional events. And of course, we would love to get to Indy in 4 months where it all started.
The BLOCK: Any advice for other folks looking at getting into competitive drag racing?
Bierie: There is so much to learn and figure out. The first step I would recommend for a novice is to go see Frank Hawley. Before I ever got in the COPO I went to Frank’s drag racing school. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My recommendation for a veteran racer – go see Frank Hawley. He is one of the best teachers I’ve ever been around.
The BLOCK: Would you recommend a COPO Camaro?
Bierie: (laughs) Are you kidding me? It’s a great way for folks out there just like me to live out their dream of drag racing, and be fast.
The BLOCK: Anything else you’d like to add?
Bierie: Yes – thank you to Roxie’s owner – Denise Bierie (my wife). She’s letting me live my dream and that’s pretty cool.
Keep it locked to The BLOCK for all the latest on COPO Camaro and NHRA and Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series drag racing. Hope to meet you on a racetrack soon.