TULSA, Okla. — One of the youngest drivers in the Team Ripper Racing fleet carried the banner for the Steve Reynolds-owned, Flea Ruzic-wrenched team during last week’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Seventeen-year-old Trey Gropp, from Lincoln, Neb., was the top runner for the five-car operation at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing, finishing 11th in the first B Main Saturday at Tulsa Expo Raceway.
It was a breakout performance for the reigning POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League rookie-of-the-year, who linked up with Reynolds and Ruzic’s team midway through last season. He earned three top-five and five top-10 finishes in POWRi action in 2020, finishing eighth in points.
Gropp ran in a transfer spot in the B Main at one point, ranked as high as seventh near the halfway point of the 20-lap contest, but faded four positions as the track surface slicked off.
While it wasn’t quite what Gropp wanted out of his second Chili Bowl attempt, he admitted there was a “silver lining” to the speed he showed, both on his preliminary night and in the Saturday finale.
“I do think it was actually a pretty good year here for us,” said Gropp. “We missed it by a few spots … started 15th in the B and were up to seventh at one point in time, but just had a late race yellow that bunched the field up going into turn three and that was the end of me having a spot after that. It was just really crazy and I couldn’t quite make the ground back up that I needed to.
“Other than that, it was really fun,” Gropp added. “I can’t thank the guys at Team Ripper enough for all their hard work; it really made for a fun weekend.”
Though he wasn’t one of the final 24 that suited up for the Chili Bowl feature, Gropp noted he felt a surge in his confidence after contending against some of the top drivers in midget racing.
“It really does a lot for me, I think,” Gropp said. “With all the big-name guys being here, it makes it a real statement to run well in Tulsa. This is one of the biggest races in our sport and to be able to do as well as we did really means a lot to me. It boosts my confidence and shows that I can do it, and can race against these guys that do it for a living.
“I feel pretty good about it and, hope that keeps going into the rest of the year.”
While the team’s plans haven’t been fully finalized for this season, Gropp hopes to be back in a Team Ripper car and working with Ruzic in some capacity.
What Gropp does know – confirmed by Ruzic to Sprint Car & Midget Thursday morning – is that he’ll drive for the team in the season-opening USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series weekend at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., next month.
“We don’t know 100 percent what things are going to look like as far as what exactly I’ll be doing, but most likely I’ll be right here again,” Gropp noted. “I think this has been a good place for me to grow.”