It’s one of racing’s most impressive resumes in the garage today: five Sprint Cup poles, 15 wins in the Nationwide Series… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Todd Bodine is the 2006 Truck Series champion and has the distinction of bringing Toyota its first driver series title and manufacturers’ championship. He has 17 Truck Series wins and 89 top-10 finishes in 144 races over eight seasons in that division, making him a perennial favorite to take home the title trophy each year.
Can he do it again in 2010? The 46-year-old Chemung, N.Y. native sat down with Amy Henderson to discuss his career, his driving style, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: You’re currently third in Truck Series points after four races. What does your team do on a weekly basis to contend for a championship at Homestead?
Todd Bodine: Normal stuff. You try to prepare every week to go and win the race. You do the best you can. It’s the same thing every week, really, preparing the trucks. We go over them, make sure there’s nothing loose. We go over setups. We want to feel like we’re running each racetrack with the best setup. Overall, we’re just doing the best we can every week!
Henderson: While some teams often get the reputation of “points racing,” your team is not one of them. You race for the win every week, but how do you balance trying to win races with needing to capitalize on points?
Bodine: Our philosophy is pretty simple: we go to the racetrack every week to win. That’s why the guys work hard; that’s why the sponsors pay us. Everybody wants to win, and that’s what we go for. But, if we can’t win, we’ll take what the truck will give us. If we miss the setup or maybe we got a flat tire and got a lap down, or whatever, we just take what the truck will give us. We do the best we can do, whether that be fifth or 10th or 20th. If you do the best you can do every week, you come out of there with no regrets. You can’t have a problem or take a truck that’s not handling and try to win with it… that’s when you get in trouble. It took a lot of years to get that through my head and figure that out, but that’s how you race for points. If you can’t win, then you just do the best you can.
Henderson: You’ve been known throughout your career as an aggressive driver, a style which seems to fit in the Truck Series. Why do you think your style is so well-suited to this particular series? You seem to have found a niche here.
Bodine: That’s a great question. I think, I was fortunate enough to get with a great race team. That makes all the difference in how you’re perceived. If your performance is good and you’re running up front all the time, that’s how you’re perceived – that this is your niche and that’s what you need to be doing. If I was in the Nationwide Series and I was running up front all the time, it would be the same thing. I love the series, I love being a part of it, I make a good living, and that’s what it’s all about. Germain Racing has been so good to me. Mike Hillman Sr. is like family to me. I found my home, and it just happened to be racing in the Truck Series.
Henderson: You not only have a great relationship with your team, but you have a special relationship with Toyota, having won them their first Series title and manufacturers’ title. Can you talk a little about your team’s relationship with Toyota and their strength in the Truck Series in particular?
Bodine: Our team has a great relationship with Toyota! It’s not just on the racetrack or where racing is concerned, but the Germain family owns several Toyota dealerships. At that level, we have a great relationship with them, and that’s where it starts. That came down through and ended up in the racing, and we’ve had a great relationship with them in the racing business. Toyota is an incredible company, and I’m very proud to represent them. It’s not every day that you get to be a part of a racing program at the top level, and we were very fortunate to get in with Toyota and do well for them. In turn, they do well for us, and it’s just a great match for everyone.
Henderson: You began your career at 13 as a crew member for your brother. Does having done that give you an advantage, knowing more about the mechanical side of things, or is driving such a specialty these days that it doesn’t transfer?
Bodine: It absolutely gives me an advantage and always has. When I first started racing, I didn’t have to learn the racetracks. I had already been to them all. When I went as crew member, changing tires, or being a crew chief, I didn’t just watch the racing, I watched the drivers and how they were driving, what lines they were driving and the things they were doing. When it came time for me to get behind the wheel, all I had to do was relate that information to what I was doing. It definitely sped up my learning process, and the fact that I knew every aspect of the race car and have done just about everything on it you can do, I understand my equipment better and what it does, what it needs to do. Somebody that comes in and has never worked on a racecar, they might be a pretty good driver, but they don’t understand how to make it run. It’s like a fighter pilot: the more he knows about his airplane, the better he can fly it.
Henderson: As a veteran in NASCAR, what’s the best piece of advice you can give to the young drivers coming up through the ranks?
Bodine: I think patience is the biggest advice I would give anybody. The quickest way to get into trouble on the racetrack is lack of patience. A lot of kids come in here and feel like they have to go fast right away and run up front and win races instead of going through the learning curve and figuring out how to drive and to do the right things on the track. The only way you learn that is just being out there and doing it. If you get too aggressive and crash, you’re just losing laps on the tracks and not learning anything. That’s the best advice I can give – actually, I did it last week with one of the rookies – is to tell them to slow down, go out there and run laps, and like I said earlier, get the best that the car will give you. Don’t try to get more out of it than it will give you, so you don’t get in trouble.
Henderson: Who has helped you the most over your career?
Bodine: When I first started out, my brothers had a big influence on my career. But after I was running Busch Grand National, Mark Martin was around all the time. If I didn’t have a brother nearby, I went to Mark and he was a guy who really helped me. If I had any questions, he would answer them, and I knew he was answering truthfully. So as a driver, he would probably be the biggest influence. But absolutely the biggest influence I had was the experience – just going out there and doing it. It takes a long time to get through your head to not be overaggressive and get yourself in trouble.
Henderson: What races stand out in your mind the most from your career?
Bodine: There are a lot of great races that I remember. Probably in the Grand National Series – the Nationwide Series now – one of my best memories there was getting my first win at Michigan. I won the race, and the next 11 drivers were Cup drivers. It was the first race the Grand National cars ran at Michigan, and we beat the guys who had raced there many times. That was very special for me.
In the Cup Series, I’ve had a lot of good runs. I’ve never had a points win, but I’ve been fortunate enough to win The Winston Open twice and get into the Winston (now the Sprint All-Star Race). I had a lot of great poles and great finishes.
Then in the Truck Series, I think probably the biggest highlight was a few years ago in Atlanta, racing Mark Martin, who I consider my hero, racing him for the win. I passed him for the lead with four laps to go – I passed him four-wide. There have been a lot of great moments over the years, and it’s hard to figure out one.
Henderson: Your list of hobbies includes the staples, like golfing and skiing, but you also have interior design on the list. How did you get into that, and is it a future post-racing business?
Bodine: No, it’s not a future business! It’s just something I happen to be good at. Graphic design, interior design, it’s all kind of the same thing. I just kind of have an eye for that stuff. I enjoy doing it.
Henderson: Is there anything else you enjoy away from the track?
Bodine: We don’t really have a lot of time away from the track, so I just enjoy relaxing when we’re away from the racetrack!
Henderson: You’re headed to the grocery store. What one item is guaranteed to be on the list?
Bodine: Wise potato chips!