View Full Version : Behind the Wheel with Danny Popp Powered by Optima Batteries

01-15-2016, 10:14 AM

A Man With A Target On His Back
Danny Popp- A Behind the Wheel Feature Powered by Optima Batteries
Written By Brandy Phillips
Pictures By Brandy Phillips, Terry Lysak and Danny Popp

Attend an Optima Ultimate Street Car Series event or a Goodguys autocross and ask yourself why are these people here?
How about SCCA, NASA or any other amateur race series across the nation? Often times there is not a huge cash prize at
the end of a race nor is there the fame and endorsements that could be found in a series like NASCAR. For many it starts
as a hobby. For others it is a way to pass time. There are a handful that get paid to participate in these race events and
some who have obligations to represent a company during a particular race. Yet for a select few it starts at a young age.
The family blood runs thick with racing history passed down from one generation to the next. There are very few families
like this today. The passion to race is in many of us, possibly in some at a very young age, but when you are born into a
racing family that passion is more than just a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.


Herb Popp was a popular name throughout the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the National Council of the
Corvette Club (NCCC). It was in 1960 that Herb Popp purchased his first Corvette. It wasn’t long after the purchase that
the Corvette could be found racing in parking lots across Cincinnati, Ohio. Several years passed before Herb started
winning at these events. Once he started winning he did not stop. Herb eventually won so many races it made him a local
legend. Unfortunately Herb outgrew his 1960 Corvette leaving him to find something more competitive on an autocross

In 1965 Herb purchased a silver coupe. In order to get a competitive edge Herb decided the coupe would serve better
than the previous 1960 Corvette since it came with the upgraded brake package. The four-wheel disc brakes would
definitely make a difference on the autocross track. Herb continued to race the coupe for seven years winning several
events along the way.

Three years after his first child was born Herb purchased a 1972 blue LT-1 coupe. The car was purchased with the intent to
race. Upgrades were made such as bigger wheels and tires along with side pipes. Weekends were spent as a family racing
this car. Not only did Herb Popp race this Corvette, his wife Judy ran the car in the women’s class in both the SCCA and
NCCC series. While Herb dominated his competition, Judy came in a close second to Herb, winning her class as well. Little
did anyone know that several decades later this car would still run strong, becoming an heirloom of the Popp family as well
as setting the foundation for future racing generations.


Danny Popp recalled there always being a Corvette in his life. When he was two he received his first Corvette at Christmas.
At the age of three Danny’s father Herb purchased the 1972 LT-1 that Danny still races today. Throughout his childhood
Danny grew up in parking lots watching his mother and father race the blue coupe. It was only natural that when he
turned sixteen he would get behind the wheel of this Corvette and eventually go on to race this car in several different


Though the 1972 coupe was competitive regionally, Danny realized that more modifications were needed to compete on a
national level. After three decades and seven SCCA National wins, the car was finally parked in 2002. After racing
autocross for sixteen years, Danny decided to try a different form of racing, road course. Herb had not encouraged this
style of racing throughout Danny’s childhood. After a near mishap in the early 80’s with the LT-1, Herb came to the
conclusion that racing cars with little to no safety at those speeds was too dangerous. In 2002, Danny took it upon himself
to try out his first road race during a NCCC National Convention at Putnam Park. “I knew from that point on I had a taste
for this and that this is what I was going to do for the next several years.” (Danny Popp)


Danny moved on to newer platform Corvettes including his C5 that he currently owns and races today. It wasn’t until
2012 when the blue coupe came out of retirement and made its way back into the pro-touring race series. Both the C3
and C5 Vettes can be found at race events across the country including Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car
Series, Goodguys Autocross and Holley’s LS Fest.


List of Events Danny Popp has competed in over his racing career:
SCCA Solo2/ Pro Solo (’86-’06)
One Lap of America ('05,'06,'08,'10)
NASA Timed Trials and Road Racing (‘06-’12)
Optima Series (’11-present)
Goodguys (’12-present)
Various others including: LS Fest, American Streetcar Series Events, Corvette Museum Shootouts, etc
10/10ths Motorsports Chief Instructor (’08-’14)


Notable Finishes/ Awards:
SCCA National Champion 1994,1996,1999,2003
ProSolo National Champion 1997,2000,2004
NASA TTU National Champion 2007,2008,2009
NASA ST1 National Champion 2007
NASA TTS National Champion 2008
Optima OUSCI Champion 2011, 2014, 2015
GoodGuys Columbus Sponsor Shootout winner 2014,2015
Holley LS FEST Grand Champion 2013,2015
GoodGuys Autocross Shootout Champion 2013, 2015


For many the racing lifestyle is 365 days of the year. Several of the racers you see at a Goodguys event race to support
their business. They might be trying to prove suspension products or exercising branding opportunities for their company.
Then there’s another group of racers. These people usually have a day job and come out to have fun on weekends. Danny
Popp technically has both. By day he is a full time certified Corvette specialist/ technician at McCluskey Chevrolet in
Cincinnati, Ohio. On weekends he can be found at a track racing or at home working on several different cars. All other
hours of the week are spent as the owner, proprietor and sole employee of RAFT Motorsports Inc.


What is RAFT? I have been told several definitions for the acronym, many which would not be appropriate to state in this
feature. Let’s just say it’s a group that includes several drivers that do very well out on track. As the main man and only
employee of RAFT, when you hear RAFT you think Danny Popp, but if you look you can find RAFT decal scattered
throughout the country. Racers like Todd Rumpke, Dan Ballard, Larry Woo, Jordan Priestley, and Jake Rozelle all have
RAFT decals on their cars. This list only includes a small handful of those in the pro-touring world. The RAFT name spreads
far beyond our small pro-touring group into several different race series and types of cars.


For those that have been beaten by these RAFT cars, they would probably consider RAFT to be more like a plague. It
started with Danny and has spread to several other drivers. RAFT stickers are growing in number and typically it’s these
drivers that you need to watch out for. On the flip side, for those who are part of RAFT you could say it’s an exclusive club
where only a select few are chosen to represent the name. What we know for sure is that RAFT is constantly evolving. As
you might see in the vehicle specs at the end of this feature, the RAFT name is behind several parts that were created
and or customized to fit Danny’s needs. Many can relate to making customized parts to fit the needs of our vehicles. This
is exactly what Danny did that helped him gain the competitive edge over his other competition.


So what inspires Danny to maintain all these roles? Not only does he have a day job as well as RAFT, he races on behalf of
several sponsors, attends quite a few race events each year and still finds time to be a father of three children. Add on the
expectation to win every event and that equates to a lot of responsibility and stress. So why does Danny Popp continue to
race in events like Goodguys and Optima?

“I do it mainly because it's fun and I enjoy it. I have goals and expectations. The goal is to have fun and my expectations
are to do as well as possible, but I also enjoy the travel, camaraderie and competition. Sharing the passion for what we do
with our friends, participants and customers is what this sport is all about. My absolute favorite part is being able to
nurture, help and make a proper evolution of mods for newbie euphoric gear heads.” (Danny)


Some may state that this racing lifestyle is all Danny knows. This is why he continues to race. When you are born into
racing family it is hard not to follow in those footsteps. Though there are people who do not continue their family’s racing
legacy and move on to other hobbies, there are some that mold their future around the racing lifestyle. Danny grew up
around both his mother and father racing autocross. As a teenager, Danny had the help of his father as he started racing.
Herb Popp is still present in Danny’s life today attending events such as Goodguys Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. The
support of a family can make or break a racing hobby. The racing lifestyle did not stop with Herb Popp. It continued on to
Danny and will be passed down to Nathan, Danny’s only son.


To say that racing is in the Popp family bloodline is an understatement. Just as Danny was brought into this world with
the influence of cars, Nathan has followed the same legacy. Nathan’s passion for cars and racing is growing each day.
After recently getting his learning permit and a car of his own, Nathan has joined the generation of racers in his family.
Herb took the role to guide and teach Danny the proper techniques and a solid foundation. Danny learned, practiced and
applied those teachings to become an extremely good driver. Now Danny is in the position to guide and teach Nathan,
laying the foundation once again for another generation of racers to be born.


As Nathan enters the world of racing one might ask how Danny prepares to guide his son and what does he hope for his
Nathan to accomplish in the future, particularly in the world of motorsports and racing.

“Nathan turning 15 ½ and getting his learning permit allowing him to participate in SCCA autocross events has been a
BLAST. Although he is not swinging around a pro-touring car, he is learning and having fun in a safe environment. In the
future I plan for him to continue wherever I leave off. I plan on he and I sharing this passion until he is putting me into
the ground at the end of my era.” (Danny)


As a son who watched his father and mother claim victory on several occasions, a racer who has claimed several wins
himself and now a father teaching his own son about his family’s racing passion, Danny is probably one of the best people
to advise both younger generations and newbies on how to get involved in this sport. He was once a kid himself in this
sport doing everything he could to become the best at what he did. He is now a successful amateur racer not only beating
out his competition in a C5 Vette, but also dominating events in the 1972 blue coupe. So what advice does Danny Popp
have for anyone looking to get into these race events for the first time?

“Try it! I always suggest for any age new hobbyist to try autocross first. It is best to learn how cars work in a low
consequential environment. On any given Sunday across the country there is some automotive event going on. Get out
there, find it and enjoy the cars and the company. Also remember your car needs to be RELIABLE not fast. The driver
makes the car FAST, and the car should only be modified as the skill set of the driver increases. This will save a lot of
money and provide a consistent, reliable platform for the new driver to learn.” (Danny)


By now you might ask why the name of this article is A Man with a Target on his Back. Shouldn’t it have been something
more like the Generations of Racers, Danny Popp a Racing Legend or The Popp Family Legacy? This is where we end with
Danny Popp’s past and start with his future.


The target that rests on Danny Popp’s back could not get much bigger going into the 2016 race season. As winner of the
Goodguys Sponsor Shootout, LS Fest, the Optima’s Ultimate Street Car Invitational, the Duel in the Desert Shootout and
overall points winner in the Goodguys Series during 2015, Danny Popp’s name spread across the country as the man to
beat for 2016.


As we come into the 2016 season there is a lot of talk about Danny Popp. Some may cringe when they see his name on
an event roster. Others will embrace the competition with the goal to beat Danny Popp. If you’re like myself, you might
sit back and watch Danny carefully, taking note of his techniques to better your own driving. Or for some, you might be
asking yourself right now, even after reading this feature, who in the world is Danny Popp? Just know that Danny Popp
is a force to be reckoned with and we will continue to hear his name for a very long time.


The question is can Danny Popp continue his winning spree or will someone else come and take home the win. The were
some events where the competition was extremely close during the 2015 season, but when you are born into a racing
family some things are in your blood. One thing we know for sure is that Danny Popp’s blood runs thick with racing
history and he isn’t going to stop anytime soon.


From Danny Popp- A Special Thanks To:

· Herb & Judy Popp for their proper upbringing, instilling their passion for automobiles, racing & nurturing his early years.
· Herb Popp for teaching Danny at an early age to work on his own cars.
· Paul Lesinski for the long lasting support since the early days at Vette Brakes to the current support from Vansteel
· Richard Winchester and Pete Calhoun at BFGoodrich
· The Schardt Brothers at Forgeline
· JJ from Ultimate Performance
· Jeff Ryan from JRi
· Mike Morrow & staff at K&N
· Hal and Dutch at Baer Brakes
· Mike, Carl and Steve at Wildwood
· Al Noe at Summit Racing
· Ken Lingenfelter, Mike Copeland, Brent Malone & Graham Behan at Lingenfelter Performance Engineering
· Geoff and Jeff at QuarterMaster Art and Dan Dorsett from Vansteel
· Tom, Bill, Blaine and Robin at Holley
· James Forbis, Todd Rumpke & Jeremy Herzberg for EVERYTHING that you do!!
· Finally Danny’s kids and his WAY-BETTER-half girlfriend



Engine: Lingenfelter 388 cu in de-stroked LS7

Engine Details: 4.125x 3.622, custom LPE CNC port profile LS7 cylinder heads, proprietary hydraulic roller camshaft, Lunatic pro-series Crank and rods, GM LS7 single plain carburetor manifold, plumbed for electrical Holley fuel injection.

Horsepower / Torque: Never been on the dyno (Adequate)

Transmission: Muncie close ratio 4 Speed 2.20, 1.60, 1.23, 1.00

Clutch: QuarterMaster 7.25 Optimum V 8 leg, 2 disc, Hydraulic clutch conversion

Exhaust: custom built Hooker side mount headers 1.875" primaries, 4" collectors and custom Stainless Works mufflers

Differential: 3.70, 4.11, 4.56 depends. Factory clutch type limited slip. Tom's differential 30 spline output shafts.

Brakes: Wildwood 6 piston front, 4 piston rears & Wildwood "E" pads

Wheels: Forgeline GA3R 18x11 front 18x12 rear

Tires: BFGOODRICH Rival S 315/18 front 335/18 rear

Body & Paint: L88 flares, L88 hood, factory Targa blue color. Body work & paint by Dan Tewell at Corvette TLC, Columbus, Ohio

Interior: Factory, Kirkey race seat, Autopower 4pt roll bar

Gauges: Factory, Autometer recall rach

Seats: Kirkey intermediate road race seat

Any other modifications/ things you would like us to know:
Vansteel upper and lower front control arms
Vansteel offset rear trailing arms
JRI double adjustable coil over shocks
Custom Vansteel front sway bar and lower rear camber control rods
Vansteel delrin bushings.

Car was purchased by my father in April of 1973, 10 months old. The car has been autocrossed primarily since that time. It has been driven by my mother, father and myself, and at some point will be driven by my son Nathan. It has actively competed to this point for 42 years.



Engine: Lingenfelter 388 cu in destroked LS7

Engine Details: 4.125 x 3.625) OEM fuel injection, LS7 engine block, LS7 cylinder head with Lingenfelter custom CNC port profile, Diamond pistons, Callies Dragon Slayer Crankshaft, Callies pro-billet rods. Comp Cams Lingenfelter spec mechanical roller camshaft, Comp Cams rocker shafts, LS7 intake manifold, Lingenfelter C5 90mm throttle body. Dailey 3-stage dry sump system, ATI under drive balancer. Ron Davis radiator and Fluidyne engine oil cooler. Earls hoses and lines.

Horsepower / Torque: 570 rwhp, 480 rwtq

Transmission: Tremec T56 with TR6060 internals, alternate gearset, 30 spline mineshaft/output shaft, integral transmission cooler pump.

Clutch: QuarterMaster 7.25” Optimum V-8 leg, 2 disk rally discs

Exhaust: American Racing 1.875” primaries, 3” exhaust with Borla Stinger mufflers

Differential: OEM C5 Corvette case, stock differential, 3.73 final drive, upgraded pinion carrier and output shafts.

Brakes: Baer 6-piston front and rear with 14” R-spec rotors.

Wheels: Forgeline GS1R , 18x12 rear, 18x11 front

Tires: BFGoodrich Rival “S” tires, 315/18 front, 335/18 rear.

Body & Paint: Custom RAFT front end and fully adjustable front splitter and under tray. BlackDog Speedshop full carbon vented hood, Custom fab aluminum rear spoiler to meet USCA rule set.

Interior: Sparco Evo seats, Sparco 375 steering wheel, removable. Race Technologies DL1 dash.

Gauges: Factory, except for Race Technologies DL1 data-logger dash.

Seats: Sparco Evo

Harnesses / Roll Bar / Cage: Hard Bar Carbon fiber harness bar, Willians 6-point FIA seat belts, JR race cars custom seat mounts.

Any other modifications/ things you would like us to know:
Vansteel Delrin bushings
VetteBrakes and Products custom composite leaf springs,
RAFT custom 3-piece front and rear anti-roll bars
JRi double adjustable shock absorbers
LG Motorsports drop spindles
SKF race wheel bearings
Custom engine and differential mounts
ZIP products bump steer kits, front and rear