Geoff Bodine's golden dream comes true at Olympics, more racing notes

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MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- Winning the 1986 Daytona 500 may have been Geoff Bodine's shining moment, but the United States Olympic Four-Man Bobsled Team provided his golden moment last Saturday night in Vancouver. It was the culmination of a dream as the Bo-Dyn Bobsled -- known as "Night Train" and piloted by Steve Holcomb, won the first four-man gold medal for the U.S. in 62 years.

"Winning the Daytona 500 is NASCAR's biggest race," Bodine said Sunday. "When you win that, it's a great feeling. But the Olympics is worldwide competition. It's incredible. I didn't get a trophy and I didn't get any money for it, but seeing those gold medals hanging on those four athletes felt pretty darn good. To know the whole country was cheering for them felt pretty darn special."

The last time a team from the U.S. won the gold medal in this event was in 1948 at St. Moritz, Switzerland, with Francis Tyler, a police officer from Lake Placid, New York, as the pilot. The latest came with Holcomb, Curtis Tomasevicz, Justin Olsen and Steve Mesler. Earlier in the week, Erin Pac and Elana Meyers won bronze in the women's two-man competition.

Bodine was still winning races on what was then called the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1992 when he began his Bo-Dyn project. The driver from Chemung, NY -- a small outpost near the Elmira-Corning area in the western part of the state -- was drawn to the northern Adirondack Mountain Olympic community of Lake Placid, which had hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Bodine was disheartened to realize how far American bobsledding had sunk.

"I found out our athletes weren't using American-made equipment and I'm a proud American," Bodine said. "I thought that was wrong. Then I found out the athletes had to pay for their own equipment; that nobody furnished it to them. I could afford to put my money where my mouth was. When I said I was going to build some bobsleds, I had the money through racing to do it and we made it happen."

Bodine understood how aerodynamics and drag were important to the performance of a bobsled. He rates aerodynamics on a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. But he was surprised to realize that instead of building a stiff chassis like those used in NASCAR, he needed to build a soft, flexible one for the sled.

"We had to change our thought process on some things," Bodine said. "We brought into the sport a lot of NASCAR racing type construction methods. We've changed the way bobsleds are built throughout the world. We've helped bobsledding throughout the world just by helping the Americans."

Bodine leads the project with Bob Cuneo as the project's lead designer. Slowly, the Bo-Dyn sled had made a difference in the sport.

"I lived through the transformation of Americans going to the Europeans to buy their sleds and knowing you weren't going buy something you can beat them with," Olympic bobsled medalist and current U.S. coach Brian Shimer said. "A lot of my time was spent fundraising. There was no other way. When Bo-Dyn stepped in, that was the savior for U.S. athletes."

The latest evolution of the Bo-Dyn sled is "Night Train" -- the fastest in the world. It went on the drawing board two years ago and Whelen Engineering funded the project.

"They said, `Go build us a gold-medal-winning sled' and that is what we went after," Bodine said. "Aerodynamics is a key and chassis is a key, but it's still a team effort and Team Holcomb -- those four guys -- are a great team. I've driven for a lot of great teams, but everything on this team came together. They love each other and get along so great. They are good, good kids and I'm proud of their accomplishment."

It was a perfect match for the fastest bobsled course in the world, the Whistler Sliding Centre on Whistler Mountain in British Columbia. Starting at 3,044 feet above sea level and dropping 472 vertical feet with speeds reaching 95 mph in less than minute, it is the fastest, most demanding and treacherous track in the world.

"It's Talladega and Bristol all wrapped into one," Bodine said. "It's very fast and difficult. Things happen quickly there. The tragedy in the luge at the beginning and all the crashes in the events proved it was a difficult track. One little slip can cost you."

Bodine had confidence that Team Holcomb would win the gold. At that point, it was out of his control. The years of preparation and research were over.

"I was a small part of what happened with the gold medal," Bodine said. "We were all on pins and needles before that last run, but we all had confidence. Without me coming up with this crazy idea to build bobsleds, these kids might not be standing there with those medals."

Bodine returns to competition of his own this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He will compete in Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race for a team owned by Danny Gill in the No. 95 truck that Johnny Benson drove at Daytona. It will have the Bo-Dyn Bobsled decals on it with the names of the medal-winning athletes on the truck.

While the gold medal was the culmination of a project that began 18 years ago, it doesn't mean it's over for the Bo-Dyn project.

"It finishes the job, but there is more to do," Bodine said. "We want to win more races and provide better equipment for our athletes. It certainly took a while for us to do this. It was harder than we thought, but we finally put all the pieces together. It's pretty incredible."

While winning the Daytona 500 in 1986 was Bodine's biggest victory behind the wheel of a race car; his role in the gold at Vancouver will be his greatest racing achievement in an historical sense.

Tony George stood on a second-floor balcony of the control tower at Barber Motorsports Park, overlooking pit lane as teams from the IZOD IndyCar Series continued their preseason test. It was like seeing a former emperor in exile looking over the kingdom he once ruled.

George was ousted from his throne by his own family members who control the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation's board of directors just two days after Helio Castroneves won the 93rd Indianapolis 500 last May. The board, comprised of George's mother, Mari Hulman George, along with sisters Nancy, Josie and Kathi, plus Indianapolis attorney Jack Snyder, gave him the opportunity to remain as Indy Racing League CEO, but George turned it down. He went into self-imposed exile when he decided to suspend operations at Vision Racing, the IndyCar Series team he started in 2005.

It's hard to believe that the man who created the Indy Racing League in 1994, saw its first season of competition in 1996, and endured lean times and struggles only to eventually gain control and force unification with rival Champ Car in 2008, is no longer in the sport. George is currently faced with two choices -- find a sponsor that will allow Vision to return to action or liquidate the team's assets.

"We've had to go through quite a process that led us to where we are today," George said. "We want to continue to operate and are pursuing options in that regard. We are also looking at options to liquidate. There are a lot of teams out there in need of assets to support their programs this year. If we have to re-start our racing operation, we are ready to."

Instead of watching his stepson and driver, Ed Carpenter, prepare for the 2010 season, the two are getting ready for the Vision Racing Liquidation Sale while hoping their sponsorship search pays off and the sale is stopped. Not even the Indianapolis 500 can lure George to put Vision Racing back on the track unless a sponsor signs up. "Only if we have sponsorship," he said. "I won't do it for the sake of doing it."

But, what if the starting field for the 94th Indianapolis 500 is stuck at 32 cars and George could save the day by bringing out a Vision Racing entry on Bump Day to fill the field as the 33rd?

"Not without sponsorship," he insists.

Lack of financial support has kept Vision Racing on the sidelines, but the outpouring of support that George has received from those in the racing community -- including some who were once bitter foes at the height of the CART-IRL open wheel ear -- certainly gives him pause for reflection and appreciation.

"There has been a tremendous amount of support," George said. "It's been tough laying everybody off, things haven't come together. It's been tough selling off assets. Fortunately, it's making it possible for other teams that have opportunities today to flip a switch and come out ready to start the season. We have provided some turnkey equipment and, in some cases, personnel to guys that have come together late with their programs."

On Monday, Randy Bernard took over as the CEO of the IndyCar Series, complete with a $750,000 a year salary. He reports directly to the IMS Corporation Board of Directors and not to IMS CEO Jeff Belskus.

"I obviously wish Randy well," George said. "I want to see the IndyCar Series thrive, so hopefully he'll be successful in his new role. But I've spoken to Randy maybe 10 minutes on the telephone and [had] a two-minute conversation in Detroit. That is the extent of my interaction with him. I really don't know too much about him."

As for George, the series he helped create to make it more affordable for team owners to get involved in IndyCar racing remains too costly to operate without a sponsor or without the support he was able to provide when he was the IMS Corporation CEO. "It's difficult on everybody, everyone on the Vision Racing team," George said. "It's been very difficult for all of us; not just Ed and me."

How ironic.

Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray is feeling some of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya's Latin temper after the two drivers were involved in a crash on Lap 93 of Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas.

Wonder what "the odds" of that happening were?

McMurray ran into the left-rear of Montoya's Chevrolet and both cars wrecked. Kyle Busch was an innocent victim of the Ganassi duo.

"Just Jamie, plain and simple, wrecked us," Montoya said with a mockingly high-pitched voice that was a not-so-flattering imitation of McMurray "Every time I am around him, he wants to run the (expletive) out of me. I'm sure on the radio it was 'Ah, I didn't mean that'. He is just trying to prove to people he can drive a race car and I guess he isn't doing too many favors on this team."

It looks like winning this year's 500 hasn't bought any extra credit for McMurray among his teammates.

"[Montoya] was really frustrated," he said. "I haven't heard what he said, but it wouldn't shock me that he was upset in a situation like that. We both had really good cars and, unfortunately, we both crashed."

McMurray's crew chief, Kevin Manion, said the teams need to move on from this episode before they get to Atlanta next weekend. "The only way we're going to get better and race each other for the win is to let this pass and show how we can be adults and say it was an accident and move on."

Sounds like these two drivers need to have a time out. Who would have thought when NASCAR said, "Have at it, boys" that the first takers would have been on the same team?

"It is tough. We came here to win and I felt like every decision that we made today on the track and in the pits was to try to win the race. When you are leading, sometimes that tough call can go against you. We were thinking more guys were going to take two tires. We aren't going to beat ourselves up over this one; we had an awesome, awesome Chevrolet. That thing was just strolling today." -- Jeff Gordon after a decision to change two tires instead of four backfired and he finished third after dominating at Las Vegas.

"She got stuck with me. Right now, it's only the second day we've talked on the radio. She's got two learning curves -- learning NASCAR language this year and learning my language, too. I haven't made her mad, yet, that I know of." -- Tom Anderson of Andretti Autosport, who will be calling Danica Patrick's race strategy in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season.

While NASCAR heads to Atlanta for next Sunday's 500-miler, I'm off to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, which happens to be on Saturday. Don't even ask how old I am because I'm not telling. But cards and gifts will be accepted.