Cope won Daytona, still needs soap sponsor to run in Nationwide


When a guy wins a big race like the Daytona 500, or the Indianapolis 500, they say it changes his life forever.

Sounds good on TV, anyway.

In 1990, Derrike Cope was the guy who won the Daytona 500. He won it when Dale Earnhardt got a flat tire in Turn 3 on the last lap. Still, he won it. Give him credit for being in second place when The Intimidator ran over something.

The TV announcers did. They said Derrike Cope’s life had just changed forever.

That week, he appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman.”

Derrike Cope’s life might have changed forever when he inherited that victory at Daytona. But now he’s driving in the Nationwide Series, and he has only a three-race deal, and his sponsor is Charlie’s Soap of Mayodan, N.C., which, I am told, would be just down the road from Mayberry, if Mayberry existed.

I’m also told Charlie’s Soap cleans everything from false teeth to diesel engines.

In 1976, Charlie Sutherland turned the old fireman’s dance hall in Mayodan into an oil manufacturing plant. It was 1992 when Charlie Sutherland Jr. got the idea the family should start making soap in the old fireman’s hall. This was before the textile mill closed.

“You could see the wheels turning …” it says on the official Charlie’s website. “Some prefer to think of it as a screw loose.”

I met one of the Sutherlands — James, son of Charlie Jr. — before the Nationwide cars rolled out for practice on Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was wearing a T-shirt that said “I Wash Mine in Charlie’s Soap.”

He had arrived at the track wearing a Charlie’s Soap polo shirt. It had a collar on it and everything. The crew made him change.

He also said Mayodan is not as small as you think. Between Madison, Mayodan and Stoneville — the tri-cities of Rockingham County? — are 18,000 people who live within driving distance of the old fireman’s hall where they still make the soap.

James Sutherland said his old man once bet him $2,000 that he wouldn’t finish one semester of junior college. James did it in like three weeks. And then he got his associate’s degree from Rockingham Community College, just to prove a point.

As neat as it was to win that bet, it was nowhere as neat as seeing those “Charlie’s Soap” decals on Derrike Cope’s car, he was saying, when Cope came bounding into the hauler to grab some springs or something.

James Sutherland had this look on his face that said he couldn’t believe he was standing there, next to the guy who won the 1990 Daytona 500.

He said he had never seen a NASCAR race from down in the trenches, and that it might change his life forever.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.