Bodine Happy To Still Drive Out Front In Brickyard 400

Thursday, July 14, 2011

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Brett Bodine finished second to Jeff Gordon in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.

There are just a few drivers that competed in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 who still will be on track for the 19th Brickyard 400 on Sunday, July 31. Jeff Gordon is one of them, as the winner of that historic race returns for his 19th-straight start as a four-time Brickyard winner.

And so will the driver who finished second that day. In fact, his car will be out front not only for the start of the race but also throughout the contest. He is the only driver guaranteed of being in front of the field on Race Day.

He’s not the pole sitter; he’s the pace car driver and the same man who finished second to Gordon on Aug. 6, 1994 – Brett Bodine. He started seventh and finished second in NASCAR’s first race at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“That was a big day for me; a big day in our sport because it was the start of NASCAR racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and to be a major player in the day was pretty cool,” Bodine said. “To be in contention for the win in the first race, leading it and being part of history. That was the first time in the history of the Speedway three brothers had led a race at the Speedway on the same day. That’s a pretty cool stat.”

Brett would lead the race for 10 laps and younger brother Todd, who finished ninth, was in front of the field for one lap. But it was older brother Geoffrey who was in front for 24 laps that day – second only to race winner Gordon, who had his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet leading the race for 93 laps, including the final lap of the race when he was just .53 of a second ahead of Brett Bodine.

“I often wondered how my career would have been different had I been able to win that thing,” Bodine said. “Jeff Gordon’s career wouldn’t have changed. He was destined to be a star, but it could have had a pretty big impact on mine. But we didn’t. We came home second. It was a great day for us, and here we are today.”

But something happened earlier in that contest that turned Bodine’s “Great Day” into a “Family Feud.”

It happened on Lap 101, when younger brother Brett didn’t take too kindly to contact from older brother Geoffrey and decided to pay him back by putting a fender into him.

“That was an unfortunate situation,” Brett said. “The race was taking shape, and that was during the tire wars. Hoosier Tires were legal and competing against Goodyear, and Geoff was on Hoosier Tires and during practice he was fast. He was in contention to be the winner. When the race started and shook out, we were one of the best Goodyear cars. We consistently ran at the front and in the top five.

“We were in there and Geoff was leading the race quite a bit and went through a pit cycle, and then we had a yellow flag. My crew chief, Donnie Richeson, and I decided to do a two-tire stop. We came out of the pits with the lead on a two-tire stop. I know that I’m not going to hold off the 7 car; I know I’m not going to hold off Geoff because he’s the best car. We’re thinking one and two get by us, and that is better off than being sixth or seventh out of the pits. We restart the race, and we are holding our own – actually running a little better than we thought we would.

“We get down into Turn 3 and Geoff gets down to my back bumper and he bumps me, gets me out of the groove. I just saved it, touched the wall slightly coming off (Turn) 3. We came down into Turn 4, and I returned the favor. I gave him a shot in the back bumper and turned him around, spun him out and he hit the wall.

“If there was ever a moment you wish you could take something back – whether it came out of out mouth or made a gesture we shouldn’t have made – that is No. 1 on my list. I wish I could take that back. I can’t. I couldn’t do it at that moment, and it’s history. What pursued after that was a lot of family issues – issues that lingered on for a long time.”

The family issues were major and nearly tore the Bodines apart. Not even “Divine Intervention” from another family member could put an end to the hard feelings between the two Bodine brothers.

“It was bad,” Brett said. “We had a cousin who was a Baptist minister who tried to patch things up with us the following week at Watkins Glen. That didn’t work out. The Good Lord has a funny way of making things work out. Watkins Glen was our home track, and it was big in the media there. So what we do? We qualified right next to each other. So we had to ride around the racetrack together in the back of a pickup for driver introduction together. The Good Lord has ways of making things work out.

“We went almost two years without speaking. It didn’t get patched up until our father passed away. The death of our dad brought us both to our senses.”

It was at the funeral that the Bodines were able to make up and get on with their lives. And nobody was prouder when the Bo-Dyn bobsled – a project Geoffrey Bodine had been involved with since 1992 – won the gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.

“I am just so proud of his efforts and his tenacity and his stick-to-itiveness,” Brett said. “It’s unbelievable. What he did for our U.S. team was phenomenal. He took them from the worst to the best. I don’t know of any coach, any trainer ever involved with any of our U.S. teams that can say that about their careers. To me, that is just phenomenal.”

Ironically, Brett Bodine’s second-place finish in the first Brickyard 400 would be his best at Indianapolis. He was 24th in 1995, 22nd in 1996 and 18th in 1997. After that, the bottom fell out with finishes of 33rd in 1998, 39th in 2000, 37th in 2001 and 42nd in 2002.

But during those years of mediocrity, Bodine had one instance of accomplishment when he broke the Indianapolis Motor Speedway NASCAR qualifying record in 2000. Only problem was it came in second-round qualifications, so Bodine started 26th in that race.

“Even a little bit more so about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that means a lot for me is when we went there and set a qualifying record with my own team,” Bodine said. “That was a major accomplishment for us. It wasn’t a big deal in the big scheme of things, but for my little race team and the group of guys that were working on my team and what we were able to accomplish on that Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis was just a little bit short of amazing.

“When the announcement for stock cars to go to the Speedway; that was a dream come true. To go out there and roll out on that track on that practice day, that was huge. It was a big moment in my personal career. The goals that meant a lot to me. Running second in the first event and having a chance to win was huge, but the key thing in my career was that Saturday we set a track record at Indianapolis. We didn’t start on the pole because it was second round, but to hold the track record and be the fastest stock car driver at the Speedway – that means a lot to me.”

Bodine drove for team owner Kenny Bernstein in 1994 before joining Junior Johnson’s team in 1995. The legendary Johnson sold the team to Bodine after the 1995 season, and Bodine would experience the highs and lows of being an owner/driver.

And it all came to an end in qualifications for the 2003 Brickyard 400.

“The 2003 race was actually my last competitive lap as a race car driver – it was at the Brickyard,” Bodine said. “I attempted to qualify for the 2003 Brickyard 400, and back then it was the 36 fastest in time and then seve