After a tense afternoon of racing, Danny Popp is the Goodguys 2016 F.A.S.T. AutoCrosser of the Year. This is Danny’s third AutoCrosser of the Year title in the past four years having won it in 2013, 2015, and now 2016. This year’s Duel in the Desert – presented by BF Goodrich Tires, Tremec, Spectre Performance, and Turnology – was the stage for the nation’s premier AutoCross racers battling it out in a 32-car single elimination tournament.
Danny wasn’t the fastest driver during practice and the elimination rounds – that honor went to Scott Fraser in Bruce Cambern’s original AC Cobra – but driver experience and a wee bit of racing luck earned Danny bragging rights for a year, a Snap-on tool chest, and a $3,000 winner’s check.
Third and fourth place spots were filled by Josh Leisinger driving his Summit Racing Corvette and Brian Hobaugh behind the wheel of his Spectre Performance Corvette. The two Corvette drivers worked their way up the ladder by running clean laps and getting faster with each run, whereas their competitors were knocking over cones and picking up penalties. Their consistent lap times also helped them get by veteran racers, Robby Unser and Al Unser Jr. But Hobaugh made a fatal mistake in the final heat: kicking a cone out of its box right after leaving the starting line, which opened the door to Leisinger’s third place with a 64.308.
Using a Lingenfelter-powered 1963 Corvette C3 – previously owned and raced by his father – Popp prevailed over numerous C4 and C3 Corvettes, Camaros, and a Shelby Daytona Coupe. While Danny used his practice runs to reacquaint himself with a car that he has only raced twice this season, he and the other Pro drivers were busy chasing Fraser. Even with radical changes to the shocks and sway bars that were made between Friday’s practice laps, Danny was looking at closing a 2-second gap.
The driver to beat was Fraser and Cambern’s AC Cobra. The vintage race car consistently set lap times in the low 63-second range – and was the first to break the 62-second barrier. Unfortunately, it was Fraser’s race to lose. By driving just a touch conservatively in the last heat (mainly due to a pesky suspension issue) Fraser clocked a 63.914 to Popp’s 63.859 lap time, giving Popp his 3rd title by a mere five one hundredths of a second.
Danny dedicated his win to his best friend, Todd Rumpke, who couldn’t be with him this year. Last year they raced together here at the Duel but Rumpke’s passing this summer meant he could only be with Danny in spirit. Maybe a little of racing luck was channeled by Todd’s connection with Danny.
Our hats are off to all 32 competitors who towed here to Scottsdale from all regions of the country. It was the best Shootout we have ever staged and the racing was the closest we have ever seen. Truly a spectacular event!