How NASCAR Legend Geoff Bodine Revolutionized USA Bobsledding

By Chad Bonham

Steven Holcomb (far left) drove Team USA to its historic gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games in the Bo-Dyn Sled known as “Night Train.”

The name Bodine is synonymous with NASCAR greatness. Brett Bodine has won five Xfinity (formerly Busch) Series races and one Cup race. His younger brother Todd Bodine has won 15 Xfinity (former Busch and Nationwide) Series races, 22 Truck Series races, and two Truck Series championships.

And then there’s the oldest brother Geoff Bodine who has won 18 Cup races, six Xfinity (formerly Busch) Series races, and the 1986 Daytona 500. But back in 1994, Bodine shocked the NASCAR community with an inexplicable venture into bobsledding.

After supplying Team USA with Bo-Dyn Sleds for the 1994 Lillehamer Games and the 1998 Nagano Games, Bodine finally saw the fruit of his labor pay off at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games where the U.S. won silver and bronze in the four-man event and gold in the women’s two-man event.

Over three consecutive Olympics, his sleds tallied six medals, including the stunning gold medal performance in the four-man bobsled race at the 2010 Vancouver Games with driver Steven Holcomb and the famous “Night Train” sled—a victory that ended America’s 62-year gold medal drought.

In this Q&A, Bodine talks about why he got into bobsled in the first place, explains the similarities between NASCAR and bobsledding, and details how the NASCAR community has helped him along the way:

Chad Bonham: How does someone make the leap from stock car racing to bobsledding?

Geoff Bodine: It is a stretch. In auto racing and NASCAR, we go around in circles. We have an engine and tires. The races are real long. In bobsledding, there’s no engine or tires. You’ve got runners and breaks and the race is only about 60 seconds long.

Bonham: So how exactly did you first get interested in making that leap?

Elana Meyers-Taylor won her first Olympic medal (bronze at the 2010 Games) with Erin Pac in a Bod-Dyn Sled.

Bodine: I was watching the 1992 Olympics and was curious as to why the Americans were doing so poorly. I thought our American kids should be at the top, not the bottom, of the running order. So I went to Lake Placid to see how he could help. Originally, I thought I could be a driving coach. I’d never actually seen a bobsled in before. When I saw the bobsled and saw it going down the hill, I pretty much knew coaching bobsled was very different from coaching someone to drive a race car. I also found out that the US team had to buy their own equipment and bobsleds are very expensive. But what really frosted me was I found out that they had to buy their equipment from their competition, the Europeans. No one here in the United States was building bobsleds for our kids. I saw one of the bobsleds and it was pretty ratty looking. I figured out the problem. Our kids weren’t getting the best bobsleds. I felt strongly that our kids should be using American made equipment in the Olympics. At that point in the day, I’d figured out that was the only way I could help the bobsled program.

Bonham: What did that process look like?

Bodine: I went back to North Carolina and hired a friend in Connecticut named Bob Cuneo to do the project for me. I was still racing at the time and didn’t have time to do it myself. Because of the success I’d had in racing, I was able to fund this project. I thought it would take $25,000 to build the bobsled. I ended up spending $150,000 to build one. We tested it in Calgary and proved it was competitive.

Bonham: What are the similarities between NASCAR and bobsledding?

Former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine.

Bodine: The runners on a bobsled are like the tires on the race car. If you don’t have the right runners for each track, you don’t go fast. You don’t handle well and you don’t go fast. Aerodynamics is very important in racing. Bobsledding is the same thing. The bobsleds get going pretty quick down the run. The faster you go, the more important that aero factor becomes. It’s actually a more important factor than we ever imagined. The construction of our bobsleds is similar to the technique that you see in race cars. We’ve changed the way that bobsleds are built today around the world. They’re coming over to our side. They’re copying us in ways that make the bobsleds easier to work on and of course, go faster.

Bonham: How did you with the International Olympic Committee and all of the red tape and rules that you come with such a large governing body?

Bodine: We’ve had to deal with that our whole career in racing and NASCAR. There’s always been a rulebook and rules and regulations that we had to go by. That’s the same with bobsledding. They have measurements and templates; things that they measure and check just like in racing. In racing, we didn’t build our equipment to match the rules. We looked at the rulebook and said, “How can build it different? What rules didn’t they cover?” That’s how we approached the bobsled. We wanted to know how we could build our bobsleds better and still be legal. We didn’t want to copy anyone, which we didn’t.

Bonham: How did the NASCAR community react to your work with the U.S. bobsled program?

Bodine: Guys that I used to compete against, they like me now. I’m not in competition with them now and they’re a lot friendlier to me. When you’re in competition with someone, you have to keep your distance. Now I enjoy going to the track and being friends with all of these folks and having the fans like me instead of booing me sometimes.

Bonham: You’ve also had some drivers help with fundraisers. Tell me about that.

Geoff Bodine competing in a 1983 NASCAR Cup race.

Bodine: We’ve done an event where some of the guys have come up to Lake Placid and raced bobsleds to help us raise money for our sleds. We’ve had Boris Said, Tony Stewart, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ken Scrader, Brian Vickers and my brothers Brett and Todd get involved. They drove the sleds from halfway down the track and got up to 60 mph and they also got a chance to ride along with an actual bobsledder from the top where speeds can get up to eighty to ninety miles per hour.

Bonham: What has been the reaction from the bobsled community?

Bodine: Bob Cuneo and the athletes tell me that I’m more popular around the world for the Bo-Dyn Bobsled than I am for NASCAR racing. That makes me feel really, really good. I’m proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished together. 

Bonham: What has been your ultimate motivation for getting involved in the sport?

Bodine: I’m very patriotic. I do love my country. I spent six years in the National Guard. My father was in World War II and served the country. So I am a very patriotic guy. Growing up, I always admired the Olympics and Olympians, the men and women who went out and competed in the Olympics. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t grow up big. I didn’t grow up fast. I didn’t grow up really strong. I didn’t have any of those athletic abilities that could let me go out and compete in the Olympics. This is the way I can be part of the Olympics. I was also very blessed, and I’m thankful, that somewhere God instilled in me this caring personality that I have that made me want to do this. I also got that my father. He was a very giving person throughout his whole life. I inherited that from him.

 

(Photos: Dominic Aragon; Tim Hipps; us44mt; Mitchell Haanseth/NBC)

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