After more than 30 years of running his own landscaping company, Billy Gropp decided to have a little fun on the side.
Instead of lawn equipment, the long, white trailer hitched to his pickup many weekends hauls a 2001 Dodge Viper GTS.
Gropp still owns and operates The Groundsman, his Evans-based landscaping company, but he's picked up a hobby -- racing his Viper.
He recently won the national title in the Viper Days Challenge Series Ultimate Class, an amateur racing circuit specifically for Viper enthusiasts.
"The style for me has always been trying to go just as fast as I can possibly go," Gropp said. "I want to beat whoever's there."
Gropp ran nine events in 2008, though he hadn't intended to race so many when he started the year, but when he won his first event of the year at Sebring, Fla., and took the lead in points, he decided to see how far he could take it.
He claimed the East Region Championship on Oct. 12 and won the national title two weeks later at Eagles Canyon Raceway in Texas.
Gropp has been racing since 2005. He wanted to test the limits of his 2002 Viper GTS Final Edition, a street car, but he wasn't going to go it alone.
One day while working on the Evans campus of University Healthcare System, where he has the landscaping contract, he noticed a black Viper parked in the lot.
He left his business card on the windshield with a note saying he was going to the track and inviting the owner to join him.
The car belonged to Dr. Larry Carter, an orthopedic surgeon, who took Gropp up on his offer.
They drove to Roebling Road Raceway in Bloomington, Ga., where they flexed the Vipers' muscle for the first time on a track.
They tried to, anyway.
Gropp remembers that his first instructor, Viper Days' Rob Morrision, commented on how Gropp showed up for that first run with a high-powered car and no fear.
"We went off the track everywhere," Gropp said. "He said we spent as much time in the grass as we did on the track."
Gropp and Carter stayed with it.
They attended an advanced driving school in Sebring that taught them the nuances of braking and handling turns.
Gropp eventually parked his street Viper in favor of his current model, which he picked up in North Carolina.
Making the car race-ready required a road trip during which Gropp and his friend and mechanic, Mickey Jacobs, drove to Akron, Ohio, to Detroit and on to Wilmington, N.C., in about 48 hours.
"We had fun on that one," Jacobs said.
Gropp ran two races in 2006 and three in 2007.
His fast start this year has left him wanting more.
In addition to the national title and region championship, Gropp was named the circuit's most improved driver.
The 50-year-old said he is not certain what his future race schedule will look like, only that he hopes to continue going fast.
Road trips usually involve Gropp and Carter following one another on the interstate, with Gropp hauling the trailer, Carter driving his car and the pair communicating via two-way radios.
Gropp said he would like a bigger trailer to one day haul both cars. He doesn't plan to park his hobby anytime soon.
"That's one thing about Billy, when he gets something on his mind, he's going to do it," Jacobs said. "I just didn't think he would get into it like he has."
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