Each year thousands of talented drivers compete against the clock and one another in autocross and road racing events, perhaps the ultimate tests of driving prowess. Yet, one name has become synonymous with the disciplines: Danny Popp.
Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Popp and his Corvettes are fixtures at major automotive events from coast to coast.
He campaigns a heavily modified 1972 Corvette Stingray with a destroked LS7 engine in Goodguys competitions and a few SCCA events. It’s known as “The Real McCoy” and has been in his family for decades. He also drives a 2003 Corvette Z06 dubbed “Blue Rocket.” It too has a destroked Ls7 and is a staple in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Association and at SCCA races. Finally, his 16-year-old son, Nathan, has been driving a second Z06 called “Jr. Achiever” in various events, including a strong showing in this year’s Holley LS Fest.
Like so many other automotive stories, Popp’s began soon after he was born when his father, well-known competitor Herb Popp, passed down his love of autocross and Corvettes to his son. When Popp was 16, he began driving in autocross and SCCA events with his dad. Popp’s mother, Judy, was also a pretty decent shoe in SCCA competition herself.
The familial feel is still a major part of what drives Popp today.
“I like the competition, but with all these events, you see the same people every weekend, or every other weekend,” Danny Popp says of his love for the sport. “The racing family and the camaraderie that goes on is awesome. We half do it because we enjoy the people … but the main reason we do it is because it’s fun.”
Popp, a father of three, is a Corvette technician at McCluskey Chevrolet in Cincinnati, meaning his life quite literally revolves around Corvettes.
Popp’s list of accomplishments includes seven SCCA national championships, five NASA national titles and four wins in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, including three victories in a row after winning the 2016 event. He’s also won the Goodguys Autocrosser of the Year Shootout in Scottsdale, Arizona, three of the four years it’s been run, has two Holley LS Fest wins and wide-ranging event wins in a variety of disciplines.
“I’ve been very lucky, we’ve had more than our fair share of favorable results,” he says in a major understatement.
Popp explains he doesn’t run for points, instead choosing events with the toughest competition, largest purses and greatest media exposure for his sponsors. He’s obviously a fan of all types of motorsports, but his heart is fully engaged in exactly the competition he pursues on so many weekends.
“I’m kind of more into road race and autocross,” he says. “If I was going to do anything bigger than what I do, I’d like to do Trans-Am or something like that. Roundy round stuff kind of pays the most and has the most notoriety. I know it’s competitive and I know it takes a lot of talent, but I would be bored turning left all the time.
“I have done drag racing, but drag racing in a manual transmission street car is all about abuse. We have to run drag strips as part of event[s] and I like it, but I don’t want to do that all the time.”
Popp’s skill behind the wheel and natural feel for driving is not lost on motorsports companies who strive to outlast and outperform their competition. The COMP Performance Group’s clutch brand, Quarter Master, is one notable example. Popp has done development work and tested the brand’s LS clutches as part of a long relationship.
He utilizes a Quarter Master 7.25” Optimum-RR Clutch in both his ’72 Stingray and ’03 Z06. Meanwhile, Nathan Popp runs the driveline brand’s 10.4” Optimum-SR Single-Disc LS Clutch in his own 2003 Z06 Corvette.
The elder Popp also has a COMP Cams camshaft in each car, with his Z06 featuring COMP LS rocker shafts and pushrods, too. He is planning to upgrade to a new FAST LSXR 102mm intake manifold with interchangeable runners as well. His ’72 Corvette runs a COMP LS rocker trunnion upgrade kit and pushrods.
For all of his success, Danny Popp remains grounded. He gives much credit to his partners, engine builder Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, and the team affiliated with his company, RAFT Motorsports, where he also tunes cars and provides driving lessons and mentorship.
“I say this a lot and I’m quoted as saying so, ‘extraordinary results are more easily accomplished through the efforts of many,’” he says. “I’m just the lucky fool who gets to drive these blue Corvettes around and knock their headlights out.”