Bodine Bobsled Challenge brings out the racer in a hurry
The Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge started as a way to raise money to keep American bobsledders in top-notch American-made equipment. It has turned into one of the brightest offseason events on the motorsports calendar, writes John Schwarb.
Loyal "Said Heads," in their tie-dyed shirts and puffy wigs imitating their idol's crazy hair, pop up wherever Boris Said goes on the racing circuit. Among the road-racing ace's regular stops are the NASCAR events on the winding courses at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Sonoma, Calif., where his prowess at turning left and right is at peak demand.But the Said Heads should see Said on a sled.
"For some reason I've taken to it like a duck to water," Said said. "I guess it's different than anything I've ever done before, but it's kind of like a road course; maybe that helps."Among the competitors trying to dethrone Said will be NASCAR drivers Todd Bodine, Johnny Benson, Ron Hornaday and Randy LaJoie; NHRA racers Morgan Lucas, J.R. Todd, Bob Vandergriff and Jeg Coughlin; and NASCAR developmental series champions Joey Logano, Donny Lia, L.W. Miller and Steve Carlson.Drivers' calendars are often filled with fundraisers involving racing, sometimes moving them out of their usual elements and into go-karts or dirt late-model cars. Nothing quite compares, though, to an invitation to fly more than 60 mph down a sheet of ice."It's a blast," said Lucas, a second-year competitor and runner-up to Said in one of the two races last year. "It's one of those deals that you feel if you're in control, you're fast because you can make it fast. If not, it's because you made it so. In drag racing, so many things add into it, but this thing is a driver test only."Geoff Bodine knew his racing peers would be attracted to the challenge of bobsledding, and created the Challenge in 2005 to supplement what had already been a decade of dedication to a single goal -- building a better bobsled in the United States that its Olympians could ride to championships.The 18-time Winston Cup winner was still in the midst of a full-time racing career in 1992, only to be pulled into bobsledding while watching that year's Winter Olympics from his home in Chemung, N.Y. He first joked that the then-struggling U.S. bobsled team could "use a real racer to drive those things," getting laughs from his family, but then wondered if the problem ran deeper than personnel when a television commentator noted that American bobsledders bought their equipment from other countries.European teams dominating the medal count were selling bobsleds to the U.S., but Bodine figured that to be the equivalent of a race-car driver buying a vehicle from a top competitor. It might be a good piece, but would it really be the best?Bodine traveled to Lake Placid, took a ride in a two-man bobsled and began investigating the sport, discovering that there were no world-class bobsleds being made stateside and that athletes were indeed purchasing their own from overseas."I said 'no, this is not acceptable,' " Bodine recalled. "I'm a really patriotic guy, my dad was in World War II, I was in the National Guard for six years, and I said Americans should be using American-made equipment, they shouldn't have to buy their equipment, and someone should be furnishing it for them."
Those kind of stories get around to first-timers."I'm going to start 5 feet up [the track], then I'll go 10 feet, I don't know if I'm going to the top. They know their limit and I know mine," said Hornaday, the Craftsman Truck Series champion. "I'll watch them go down it and if it goes too fast and it looks like it's scary, I'll just sit back. Twenty years ago I would have jumped in and not worried about it, but I've got a couple more championships I want to win in this truck series first."
Said has bobsledding in his lineage. Father Bob was an Olympic bobsled driver in 1968 in 1972. Boris didn't get into a bobsled until the first Bodine Challenge, but it was hard to tell. He has never had a Trickle-like moment, far from it. Now he's as much of a tutor as an opponent."Racers are competitive -- once they figure it out, they're going to be good, and they all want to get good. We all want to win," Said said.For more information, visit www.bodynbobsled.com.John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.