Even though it was all downhill at speeds reaching 95 miles per hour, Geoffrey Bodine’s latest journey took 18 years.
It ended last week in one of the most glory-filled moments any athlete can imagine – surrounded by Olympic gold.
In 1992, Bodine, then a NASCAR regular, watched the Winter Olympics on television and sank in disappointment as United States participants in the bobsled competition failed to provide serious threats to the medal winners. When Bodine found out they were racing in sleds built outside the U.S., his dismay was multiplied.
Bodine decided to do something about it. He made the right contacts, raised some money and began a serious project to assist American bobsledders in building their own sleds and in making them as competitive as time, money and American expertise would allow. It didn’t hurt that Bodine brought a significant amount of mechanical smarts and NASCAR-related aerodynamic information to the task.
The improvement was slow but steady. Americans barely missed winning a medal in 1998, then won silver and bronze in 2002. Entering last month’s Vancouver games, there was hope that the U.S. men could win the gold for the first time since the 1948 games in Switzerland.
Bodine was in Vancouver to see the dream fulfilled as the Steve Holcomb-piloted “Night Train” sled outran the rest of the world, carrying Americans to bobsled gold for the first time in 62 years.
“I’m humbled by it,” Bodine said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he is entered in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race, a rare driving appearance for the 60-year-old these days. “I’m in awe of what happened. It is so cool to hang out with people from all around the world. You can’t understand them most of the time, but it was incredible to be in that environment.”
The gold-medal win came down to the final run by the U.S., and Holcomb and his crew completed it with apparent ease, even on the world’s fastest – and one of its most dangerous – tracks.
“I was pretty calm watching the last run,” said Bodine, who was among the first to reach the team to offer congratulations. “I went down to the finish area and hoped they were going to pull it off. I’ve raced a few years in my life, and I understand that getting nervous doesn’t help. Whatever happens happens.
“In reality, I’m very satisfied just giving our athletes American-made bobsleds. I’m just happy we’re there and that they have those sleds to use.”
There were obstacles along the way as Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project designers sought to build the best possible sled.
“There were many, but I’m a hard-headed Yankee,” Bodine said. “It was very difficult. We probably should have quit the third day. That’s how tough it’s been. But I can afford to put my money where my mouth is, and we kept the program going.”
As part of the fund-raising arm of the project, Bodine invites fellow NASCAR drivers to the bobsled track in Lake Placid, N.Y. every winter to make exhibition runs and to get a first-hand look at the process.
Since the beginning, he has tried to convince Richard Petty, NASCAR’s king, to attend. Petty was among the friends who sought out Bodine Friday to offer congratulations, and Bodine said Petty promised him he’ll make the bobsled trip next January.
That’s golden, Bodine figures.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.