Celebrating History: The 50th Anniversary COPO Shootout

In 1969 the COPO Camaro was born when Don Yenko decided he wanted a GM muscle car with big-block power. By skirting the 400 cubic-inch rule GM had in place at the time, Yenko set off a chain of events that would throw more high-octane gas on the pony wars fire. The NMCA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the COPO program during the All-American Nationals with the largest gathering of COPO Camaros ever assembled.

When Yenko discovered he could use the Central Office Purchase Order system to stuff 427 cubic-inch engines into a Camaro, he took full advantage of the back door to create the first 201 cars. Other dealerships like Gibb Chevrolet jumped onboard to create its own version of the car with an even more powerful aluminum 427 cubic-inch engine, dubbed the ZL-1. Chevrolet brought the iconic name back at SEMA in 2011 with a modern COPO Camaro concept that attracted so much attention that it was carried into production in 2012.

The NMCA has provided a home for COPO racers to make laps in their cars as a part of their Factory Supercars class for some time. According to the NMCA’s Steve Wolcott it made sense to have the 50th-anniversary celebration during the All-American Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park.

“One year ago we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cobra Jet and we met with the Chevrolet Performance team and talked about how in 2019 the COPO would be turning 50 and celebrating its golden anniversary. Chevrolet Performance, COPO Parts Direct, and the NMCA got together to develop a plan to move forward on this event.”

That hard work and planning paid off, because the pits were flooded with over 80 COPO Camaros. There were several vintage COPO Camaros and plenty of the modern machines, as well. These cars weren’t at the event to just hold down some pavement — many of them took to the track to be a part of the COPO Shootout that was part of the All-American Nationals.

The NMCA wanted to ensure the COPO Shootout would be something all of these different cars could participate in. To make this happen, the NMCA used the same format as the Cobra Jet Showdown to base the rules on. It allows for Stock and Super Stock style cars to get in on the action while using an Open Comp-style, dial-in system to even the playing field. In the final round, Aaron Allison defeated Todd Patterson for the COPO Shootout title.

Looking back on the event, Wolcott and his team are pleased with how it was received and the level of participation they saw from the racers.

“We thought that if we were able to get 50 COPO’s here it would be a homerun, and to have over 80 is just an out-of-the-park homerun. This was the largest gathering of COPO Camaros ever. All of the big players are here, from our Factory Supercars racers to the cars and competitors you normally don’t see at our events. There are a lot of cars that came out that have only raced a few times and they brought the cars out to the 50th COPO anniversary. There was an orange Hot Wheels edition COPO here that I don’t think has ever been raced before, and that’s a big deal for a lot of people to see it here in person,” Wolcott says.

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With the COPO Shootout being so successful, the question must be asked: would this event be back just like the Cobra Jet Showdown? If Wolcott and the NMCA have any say in the matter it will become an annual event as a part of the All-American Nationals.

“I had a wonderful conversation with Rich Rinke, the owner of COPO Parts Direct, and we’re already talking about having a second annual COPO Shootout in 2020. When you have this many people come out to try the NMCA for this first time, and they had fun, there’s no doubt we can follow up with another event. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had 40 or 50 cars come out next year to join us,” Wolcott says.

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About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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