The 2016 Summer Olympics begin this week (well, began, since certain events’ preliminary stages started Wednesday), which is, of course, yet another sport with which NASCAR must contend for sports fans’ TV-viewing habits, especially given NBC’s rights to the games coupled with its current airing of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and XFINITY series races through the end of the season.
Stock car racing is, of course, not an Olympic sport, nor will it probably ever be. But that doesn’t mean it’s totally far-fetched that a driver could make his or her way to the summer or winter events depending on other sports or disciplines at which they excel. Heck, Tyler Clary, a 2012 gold medalist for the United States in swimming (who will not be representing the country this year due to some close-but-no-cigar losses at the U.S. trials earlier this summer), expressed his interest two years ago in running NASCAR, being a big fan of the circuit and all.
But there is one interesting NASCAR connection to the Olympics, particularly the winter edition that will next take place in 2018.
Geoff Bodine. You might have heard of him?
You might have heard this story, too. Bodine, formerly a full-time competitor in the Cup Series as the oldest of the three Bodine brothers (Brett Bodine currently drives the pace car at events, while Todd Bodine is a commentator and part-time racer who returns to the seat this weekend in the XFINITY Series’ Watkins Glen event), last raced in NASCAR in 2011, by that point having amassed 18 Cup victories, 100 top 5s and 190 top 10s in 575 starts, with a third-place showing in the 1990 standings his top points finish.
But even in his late-’80s/early-’90s prime, Bodine had another title to his name: bobsled builder.
In 1992, after watching the Winter Olympics held that year in Albertville, France, Bodine decided that the U.S. team, which had not won a bobsled medal since 1956 and struggled mightily that year, needed better sleds; after all, what the team had at that time was imported from Europe and decidedly less-than-stellar.
So Bodine formed Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, Inc., along with Bob Cuneo (himself a racecar builder from Chassis Dynamics Co.) to give the U.S. teams American-built sleds for bobsled events.
His sleds’ first use came two years later at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, with… middling results, actually finishing worse than the previous Olympic games. But by the 1998 edition, the two- and four-man teams finished seventh and fifth, respectively, and in 2000, Whelen Engineering, probably familiar to NASCAR fans as a longtime sponsor in the sport (the company even once sponsored his brother Todd), came on board for additional funding.
The rest was history. In 2002, the U.S. won its first bobsled medals in nearly a half century, snagging the silver and the bronze in the four-man competition. The 2016 Olympics continued the medal surge, with a two-woman gaining silver. And then, in 2010, it was gold for the four-man team of Steve Holcomb, Steve Mesler, Curtis Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen with Bo-Dyn’s Night Train model.
The most recent Winter Olympics continued strong showings for the U.S. and Bo-Dyn, with a silver and three bronzes across the two-man, four-man and two-woman disciplines.
Bodine even made his newfound expertise into a fun outing for his fellow racers: for five years from 2006 to 2010, he helmed the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge, which allowed drivers the chance to compete in sled-related events, with funds helping support the bobsled company. Boris Said was the first victor and only two-time champion, while Joey Logano paced the 2010 event.
Of course, Bodine’s sleds have nothing to do with the Summer Olympics, but in a little less than two years, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the handiwork of one of NASCAR’s more visible, popular drivers of the 1980s and ’90s will be on display for the world to see.
Think he’ll ever get the itch to get in one and race again?
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