ADVERTISER INFO |
CONTACT US |
Friday, December 13, 2002
Bodine gives U.S. bobsledding a boost
By Jack Arute
Special to ABC Sports Online
Geoffrey Bodine did not win the Daytona 500 Sunday. Instead the 51-year-old Chemug, N.Y., native settled for a third-place finish as he tries to resurrect his Winston Cup driving career.
The similarities between Bodine and the U.S. bobsledding team are uncanny: Both are trying to gain respect in their sport, both face steep odds and both welcome the challenge.
And both have intersected in their pursuits. Bodine holds bobsledding in very high esteem. In fact, it was TV that started Bodine's love affair with the U.S. Bobsledding Federation.
"I was watching the Albertville Olympics with my family and some friends, and the bobsledders weren't doing very well," recalled the '86 Daytona 500 champion. "By the end of the day, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to build a sled for our guys."
He enlisted the engineering expertise of two old friends, Bob Cuneo and the late Bob Vallincourt who owned a race chassis business in Oxford, Conn. The three laid plans to create a new generation of domestically designed and built bobsleds, with Bodine funding the research and development for the first prototypes out of his own pocket.
"At the time, there were no bobsleds being built in the U.S., so the U.S. bobsled team had to drive whatever discards and hand-me-downs we could pry away from the Germans or Italians or whomever," Cuneo said.
Now, the journey has come full circle. Bodine is fighting for a full-time ride in NASCAR and Cuneo is in Salt Lake City shepherding the Bo-Dyn bobsleds through the Olympics.
U.S. bobsledders last won an Olympic medal in 1956, when American Art Tyler won a bronze in Cortina, Italy. The last time the United States struck gold was in 1948, in the four-man competition. The last American gold medal performance in the two-man event was in 1936.
Salt Lake City's two-man competition ended Sunday with the U.S. team of Todd Hayes and brakeman Garrett Hines just out of medal contention. Hayes and Hines, who captured a gold medal in a World Cup meet in Lake Placid last November, were edged out of the bronze by .03 of a second by two-time World Cup champion Martin Annen of Switzerland.
Cuneo has a couple of additional partners in the endeavor. Frank Briglia makes the composite shells that fit over the Bobsled chassis, Tom Centinaro assists in assembly and Angelo Guerrera handles much of the painting.
|Todd Hays, right, and Garrett Hines were unable to end the United States' drought of bobsledding medals in Salt Lake.|
He's still an inspiration. Bodine hadn't raced in the Daytona 500 since 1999 and nearly died in a truck race at the track in 2000 when his truck flew into the catch fencing at the start-finish line and barrel-rolled down the track before catching fire.
"I still haven't lost my nerve, I still want to run up front and I think I proved that today," said Bodine after his third-place "500" performance. "I'm not going to ride around out there just to be here. I'm too proud for that, I'm too proud of a person and I think today I stood up for being a proud guy."
Pride is at work in Salt Lake as well.
"I don't know if there's a worse place in sports than fourth place in the Olympics," Texan Todd Hays said. "It's going to sting for a long time."
But there remains hope that USA's 46-year medal drought will end. Two-women competition starts Tuesday followed by four-man runs.
"When we started this way back in '92, our only objective was to come up with a sled good enough to help the U.S. win a gold medal," said Cuneo. "Nothing's ever changed."
Jack Arute writes a column every Monday for ABC Sports Online.
|Two years after his horrific wreck at Daytona, Geoffrey Bodine took third in this year's race.||