Lawrence `Larry' A. Kopp, 56, national drag racing champion

July 16, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Lawrence "Larry" Albert Kopp, a national drag racing champion who began as a Rosedale tow-truck operator and mechanic, died of pancreatic cancer Monday at his Rosedale home. He was 56.

For the past three decades, he rebuilt Chevrolets for racing, including Corvettes, and drove a quarter-mile in 7.594 seconds. He won the 1976 National Hot Rod Association Modified Eliminator Championship in Ontario, Calif., and the 1998 Pro Stock Truck title in Pomona, Calif.

Mr. Kopp also appeared in Chevrolet advertising for its 1999 S-10, a small version of a pickup truck.

Born in Baltimore and raised alongside Ted's Towing Service, his parents' McCormick Avenue towing business, he was a 1966 Overlea High School graduate. As a teen, he had a passion for fast vehicles.

"We were always fooling with something -- go carts and motor scooters," said his brother, Eugene "Gene" Kopp, who lives in Joppatowne. "There were a lot of good cars around and you [could] get one for less than $50. We just tinkered with stuff."

One of his first drag racing strips was a section of road in Chase in eastern Baltimore County, but he soon moved to other roads.

"Even in high school, he was drag racing along Pulaski Highway," said his daughter, Sherry Mobley of Elkridge. "He was into cars 24-7. He always had grease on his hands. He lived in the garage."

Mr. Kopp graduated to the Cecil County Dragway near North East, where he "wanted to blow the other guy's doors off," an expression drag racers use to mean they are leaving their competitors in the dust.

"He had what it took to be a good driver," said Albert Clark, a friend for 32 years and an auto dealer who lives in Cayuga, Ind. "He had concentration and dedication. He was well-liked by his competitors and the fans, too."

Mr. Kopp first gained attention when he rebuilt a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon. It had "Mad Man" written on the side and housed a powerful, 302-cubic-inch engine he had installed. In April 1972, he set a national speed record in a drag racing category at Suffolk International Raceway in Virginia. For the next three decades, he drove all over the country.

"Drag racing places the emphasis on the driver's reflexes and the car's ability to accelerate, rather than on the driver's ability to corner or maneuver in traffic," he told a Sun reporter in 1973. "You're always racin' against someone else except in time trials. So it's really competitive. It's a lot of mental strain because you gotta concentrate on what you're doin'."

The same 1973 article about him said, "The cars spurt from a standing start with a wailing of tires. Depending on the track, 5,000 to 25,000 spectators cheer for their favorites. Betting (under the table) is brisk and Kopp is usually a favorite. By the time a boxing referee would count down a knockout the race is over."

Mr. Kopp gave up the towing business several years ago. He turned professional in 1998, when he drove a modified new Chevrolet truck and took a national championship. He drove General Motors products, including an Opel, Beretta and an Oldsmobile Cutlass. Over the years, he filled several rooms in his house with the trophies he had won.

Graveside services will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Gardens of Faith Cemetery, 5598 Trumps Mill Road.

In addition to his daughter and brother, survivors include his wife of 15 years, the former Susan Abel, and a granddaughter.

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