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Trying to Give His Career a Restart

At 54, NASCAR great Bodine looks for a full-time ride

August 17, 2003|From Associated Press

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Standing in his pit box at Watkins Glen International, Geoffrey Bodine surveyed the damage to his car and knew that another race was just about over.

Bodine wasn't in a Winston Cup car. Instead, one of the top 50 drivers in NASCAR history is racing Daytona Prototypes these days on the Grand American Road Racing circuit. And he's wondering if, at 54, he'll ever get another full-time chance to run with the likes of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I'm a once-in-a-while-guy right now. It stinks," said Bodine, who subbed for injured brother Brett in June at Michigan International Speedway. "I've talked to a lot of people about getting involved, but no one's hired me."

Instead of staying to watch his youngest brother, Todd, compete in the Sirius at The Glen on Sunday, Geoffrey flew home.

"A racer doesn't like to go to the racetrack when he's not driving," Todd said. "It's hard for him to even come watch me or Brett race."

Things haven't been the same for Geoffrey since a horrific crash in February 2000 at Daytona. The wreck occurred during the first Craftsman Truck Series race at the famed track and involved 11 trucks. Bodine's slammed into the wall near the finish line at about 190 mph and cartwheeled down the track in flames, disintegrating into a heap of scrap metal.

When the big Ford finally came to rest, the engine was on the infield grass, some 400 yards from the rest of the sheared machine. Bodine sat only in a cage on the track and was pried out about 15 minutes later.

Miraculously, he suffered only a fracture to a mid-back vertebra, a broken wrist and facial cuts.

"I have what's left of that truck sitting in my shop, and I look at it every day," Bodine said. "I should not be alive, and it wasn't luck. I'm not a lucky guy. You can't be that lucky. I mean, all that's sitting there is the seat. It changed my life."

The change actually began a month before the crash, after a series of hardships -- the death of his father, a family feud with brother Brett, the dissolution of his race team and a bitter divorce. And after he had contemplated suicide.

"I asked God to use me in some way to show people his power," Bodine said. "I knew his power ... but I didn't know he was going to use me in a big wreck at Daytona, in front of millions of people, a wreck that you can't survive, to show that if you have faith, He can protect you and do miracles in your life.

"Everyone thought I was dead," Bodine said. "That's why that wreck is so special, and I wouldn't change a thing about it."

Brett said surviving the crash was his brother's "greatest victory."

Bodine also thinks it changed his career, which began in 1955 at age 5 behind the wheel of a micro-midget at the family-owned Speedrome in his hometown of Chemung, N.Y.

"I haven't come back from that crash. That changed everything," he said. "I haven't had a full-time gig since then and it's been hard to adjust."

Especially considering the impact he has had on the sport.

Geoffrey Bodine's name is legend in Modifieds. He had an incredible 55 wins in 84 starts while driving for Dick Armstrong in 1978. Since being named rookie of the year in 1982, Bodine has collected 18 Winston Cup victories, including the 1986 Daytona 500, and 37 poles. He also won the International Race of Champions title in 1987 and pioneered the introduction of power steering and full-face helmets into Winston Cup racing.

The fire still burns brightly inside, and he's proved it since the crash. Bodine nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history in last year's Daytona 500, finishing third in a car with limited sponsorship. And he hadn't been in the race in four years.

"I know I can still drive, and I still have that desire inside to do it," said Bodine, who has worked on broadcasts of Busch North and Winston West races and is trying to assemble a team to run in the truck division next year. "When you lose that, you might as well do something else.

"I don't have anything to prove in this sport, but I do want to get out there and show people I can still do it, that I still have

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