Derek Hopkinson Quietly Making his Mark in Wall Modified Division
Photo by Randall Farhy
The Derek Hopkinson Wall Modified is as plain a car as you will ever see on a race track anywhere. There are no flashy colors, or flames. Just a white car with a red number 17, and no sponsors.
Talk to Derek for a few minutes, like we did late last week, and you see how fitting the car is for this driver. Hopkinson is a quiet individual who is more comfortable giving praise, and thanks to others, than he is talking about his own accomplishments. He is the ultimate example of a driver who does all his talking on the race track.
Walking through the pits at Wall Stadium Speedway you would be hard pressed to find Hopkinson. He tends to stay close to his car. On the track it is an entirely different story. Want to find the number 17, just keep an eye out for the car making it's way to the front with clean, calculated passes. Hopkinson rarely forces the issue, instead looking to take advantage of others mistakes, or just relying on his own talent to get by.
His driving style comes from both his personality, and out of necessity. Hopkinson doesn't race with deep pockets. In fact, the decision by himself, and his family, to go Wall Modified racing was actually made in regards to saving money.
While it may seem odd to choose the headlining division of the Jersey Shore oval as a way to keep expenses down, the choice was clear after watching the Sportsman division compete. Originally their choice was to compete in the Sportsman division after a controversial end to a very successful few years in a Legend car. However, the large number of wrecked cars, on a weekly basis in that division, lead them to choose to put money into a Modified motor over what they felt would be an endless amount of suspension parts.
Since they could use the same car in both the Sportsman or Modified division, Hopkinson, and his family decided to give themselves half a season in Modified, and if it didn't work out financially, they would drop down to the Sportsman division.
When it came time for them to purchase a car Hopkinson turned to a friend, who just happened to be Wall Modified Champion Anthony Sesely. He, and his crew chief, Jerry Moran, helped him get a car they had built, but sold to someone else. The car came with a spec motor that many, including well-known motor builder Frank Boardwick, felt would leave him at a disadvantage to many of the other Wall Mods.
However, when time trials came Hopkinson surprised everyone by turning a 12.5 second lap during qualifying for a Twin-35 night, his first night out. In fact, Boardwick was so impressed with the youngster, Derek is only 20 years old, he loaned him a better motor which he used to finish second to Sesely in a race in October.
When the season ended, Boardwick offered to sell him that motor to use for the 2014 season, and it has since been freshened, and made ready for the new season.
As the conversation turned to his driving skills Hopkinson immediately credited much of his success to others saying, "Besides Sesely, Moran, and Boardwick, I really need to thank Robert and Dick Barney, and Rick, and Eric Mauriello. The Barneys let me bring the car to their shop, and they and the Mauriello's basically set it up for us."
He continued, "They pretty much allow me to come to their shop any time, and use their tools or machines. They have been an incredible help."
When we finally were able to get him to talk about his racing career, the Rowan University student told us he started racing at the age of 5 in the Quarter Midgets. He moved to the Legend cars when he turned 14, running on the flat inner track at Wall. He finished third in points, and moved to Mountain Speedway when the track closed.
He returned in 2009, picking up a handful of top-fives, before breaking through in the last two races of 2010 with a pair of wins. Unfortunately, that car was totaled at a race at Langley Speedway.
Undaunted, Hopkinson returned to Wall in a big way capturing both the 2011 and 2012 Legends track championships. In 2012 he won 9 of the 15 feature events run, and rumors started to spread about an illegal motor.
The sanctioning body took the motor to it's North Carolina headquarters, and returned it saying it was completely legal. However, once reinstalled in the car the motor was now significantly slower. The motor was sent back four times to be checked for problems, but each time it was returned and put back into the car it was still a full second slower than before the inspection.
This was when the decision to move up was made.
As we look ahead to the 2014 season at Wall Township Speedway, Hopkinson not only has to be considered a favorite to pick up the first Modified win of his career, but could also be a contender for the track title. His racing style is very much like that of this past season's champion, Chas Okerson, who has proven a finish first style can be very successful at Wall.
The Hopkinson number 17 will again be white with a red number 17. Derek has considered adding a black stripe to the bottom of the car for the upcoming season.
If he has the kind of success we at RacingAroundJersey.com feel he could have this season he may have to make a few more changes. Namely, adding some sponsor names to that plain car, and giving interviews in victory lane.
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