Ever since Todd Cooper can remember, building cars has always been a passion. From the time when building model cars was the "it" thing to do, to tinkering with musclecars as a teenager, the need for speed was always in his blood. Now, 40, Cooper, a drivetrain specialist for Morgan-McClure Racing, a NASCAR Nextel Cup Team based in Abingdon, Virginia, has the car and truck itch worse than he has ever had before.
This time it is on a much bigger stage. Working on race cars every day has carried over to his home life; Cooper owns nine different vehicles that keep him on his toes when he is away from work.
His collection of cars ranges in variety from a '31 Model A Ford, to a '39 Ford Pickup, to a '57 Chevrolet Wagon, to a '67 Volkswagen Bug, to a '71 Land Cruiser, to a '72 Chevy Nova, to a '78 Dualie, to a '94 Chevrolet Caprice, to an '04 Chevy Tahoe. But, his daily driver is his pride and joy-a '63 Ford F-100, which he just bought three years ago. Cooper fell in love with the '63 Ford, right from the start. He saw it at a car show with a For Sale sign in the window, and it was then he knew he had to have it. "I have always had an eye for cars and trucks through the years, and when I saw the '63 Ford, I thought to myself that I needed to have it," Cooper said. "Those model trucks have always been intriguing to me. So, when the opportunity to buy the truck came up, I jumped right on it. The next thing I know it's sitting right in my driveway."
When Cooper pursued the truck, he was looking for something that needed limited modifications, and something he could drive right away. The previous owner didn't keep the truck up the way he should have, so making it street-ready was a chore in itself for Cooper. But, Cooper made it into a looker in no time. Cooper's old-school ride has a 429ci Ford big-block that throws out nearly 450 horsepower, and he has been known to get on the gas a time or two. "It's funny because sometimes you get some young kids who pull up beside me at a stoplight, and they think just because this truck isn't flashy with all the bells and whistles it can be taken for granted," Cooper said. "Let me tell you this truck can hang with some of the fastest cars on the road. Looks can be deceiving."
In the three years that Cooper has owned the truck, he has done some small things to the engine, interior, and to the body, so basically what you see is what you get. However, for a small-town guy from Southwest Virginia, he wouldn't have it any other way. The uniqueness of the '63 Ford is what drew Cooper in from the beginning. He wanted to make the truck look like an old push truck, like the ones you would see in the South at the local dirt tracks. Basically, if a car was stuck in the clay or in the mud, the push truck was there was for back-up. This particular truck went a little further than that, but the push truck look gave Cooper the style and look that he wanted all along.
Cooper isn't the only employee at Morgan-McClure Racing who has the love of cars on a personal level when they leave the race shop. Of the nearly 30 full-time employees at Morgan-McClure, at least half of them have a love for souped-up hot rods that have a tendency of turning heads on the street. Take Mark Nickels, for instance, the rear-tire-changer for the Morgan-McClure No. 4 Aero Exhaust Chevy, driven by Scott Wimmer. Nickels has been with Morgan McClure for almost 10 years, even though you might think once he leaves work, cars aren't on his mind. That's far from the truth. To be exact, like Copper, trucks and cars are also a passion for Nickels as well. "Shoot, working and tinkering around with cars is what Todd and I do," Nickels said. "Just like Todd, I like to find certain machines that I can either fix up or drive away right away. When you are passionate about something, you stick with it. Not many people can say they can make a living being passionate about something. But, Todd and I can."