The high speeds of Daytona International Speedway have produced captivating auto racing action since automotive machines began gracing its steep banks in 1959. But those same speeds have led to some of the most frightening, horrendous crashes the sport has ever seen, and near the top of that list would be Geoff Bodine’s infamous ride during the inaugural Daytona 250 NASCAR Truck race in 2000. On the 57th lap, while driving Billy Ballew’s No. 15 Ford entry, Bodine swerved to avoid a three-machine wreck involving Kurt Busch, Lyndon Amick and Rob Morgan, when he clipped the right front of Morgan’s truck, catapulting him into the retaining fence at nearly 190-miles per hour. Bodine’s chariot was torn to bits by the impact, and after being struck subsequently by the oncoming trucks of Lonnie Rush Jr. and Jimmy Kitchens, it tumbled in a fiery roll before coming to a rest in a mangled heap. Miraculously, Bodine would emerge from the spectacular debacle and return behind the wheel only a few months later.
Listeners of the Dale Jr. Download often take to social media to recommend future guests for the show, and a name that has popped up frequently for years is Geoff Bodine. The stars finally aligned, and on this week’s episode Dale Jr. and co-host Mike Davis welcomed Geoff into the Bojangles Studio to sit down and talk about his career, his rivalry with Dale Earnhardt Sr, the catastrophe at Daytona and his activities outside of the cockpit. The conversation starts with the beginning of Geoff’s storied career, which took place at his family’s own bullring Chemung Speedrome in New York. His grandfather and father, Eli Bodine Sr. and Jr., built the .25-mile dirt oval in 1951, just a year after Geoff was born. Naturally, he was brought up in a racing environment, and received his first go-kart at the age of five.
Geoff explained that his first race in a full-sized car came in a peculiar manner, when at the age of 15 he wore a disguise to enter a car in Chemung’s thriving Powder Puff Division. Upon taking the lead in the race, he realized that the winner would share a kiss and photograph with his father Eli in victory circle, so he decided to throw the brakes on and lose intentionally. In the late 1960s, Geoff began running the NASCAR Modified circuit, competing weekly throughout New England. By the mid-70s, he formed a partnership with car owner Dick Armstrong and the team began to win frequently at modified mainstays like Stafford, Thompson International and New Smyrna. The unit struck pay dirt in 1978, when they brought home 55 first place trophies in 84 attempts, setting a Guinness World Record for the most wins in a single season. The dominant effort sent ripple waves through the auto world, and the door of opportunity opened itself to 29-year-old Bodine.
1979 would bring about Geoff’s major league debut, when he made his first attempt at the Daytona 500 driving for Jack Beebe and his Race Hill Farms outfit. He would start 16th and run 99 laps before losing an engine, yielding a 29th-place effort. After two more lackluster results with the Beebe team, Geoff found himself back behind the wheel of a modified. At the turn of the decade, Geoff began to split his time in the late model sportsman division as well, where he found victory lane at South Boston, Oxford Plains and Martinsville. His next attempt at the Cup level came in 1981, where he drove the Dick Bahre owned No. 23 at Daytona. He would also pick up a few opportunities with the Emanuel Zervakis No. 01 Buick, but found that the cars he was piloting in the Cup series lacked the resources to truly compete.
Frank Plessinger, promoter of the famed Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, decided to give Bodine a shot in the driver’s seat of his Pontiac in the sportsman division in 1982, and on April 3rd, after shadowing David Pearson and learning the ropes of “the Lady in Black,” he scored a major victory at Darlington Raceway. The performance yielded a call from Cup series car owner Cliff Stewart, who said “if you can win at Darlington, you can win anywhere”. Bodine finished out the 82 season piloting the Stewart owned No. 50 Pontiac to four top-five finishes and two pole starts, winning Rookie of the Year honors over future NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin.
The following season, the Stewart team adopted the newly released No. 88 from DiGard Motorsports when they made the switch to “22” with Bobby Allison and Miller High Life, and Bodine placed in the top five another five times in a 17th-place season points attempt. Little did he know, but he was on the radar of a burgeoning team formation that would change the world of stock car racing in the years to come, and he would play an integral role in its success. He received a call from car dealership owner Rick Hendrick who asked him to test a ride for the newly formed All-Star Racing, a joint effort with Harry Hyde, Raymond Beadle and CK Spurlock. Bodine explained that he was mainly interested in collaborating with Hyde, whom he believed possessed the skill set as a crew chief to produce winning results.
1984 started out promising, with Bodine scoring three top-10 finishes in a row for the new affiliation, but after a crash during the TranSouth 500 at Darlington, Hendrick was ready to close up shop. In fact, as legend would have it, the following race at Martinsville was slated to be the final bid for the unfledged team. April 29th, 1984 would become one of the biggest days in not only Bodine’s life, but Hendrick’s as well when he guided the No. 5 Chevrolet into the lead for 55 laps and scored his first NASCAR Cup series victory over his longtime modified circuit adversary Ron Bouchard. Bodine recalled that Hendrick and his wife Linda were actually at a church service when the triumph occurred, but later toilet papered the Bodine residence in celebration. Geoff would follow up the success with wins at Nashville Fairgrounds and Riverside, which would land him 9th in the season points standings. As the page flipped over on the calendar to 1985, All-Star Racing became Hendrick Motorsports, and Rick and Geoff would continue to lay the groundwork for the most successful team in stock car racing history for the rest of the decade.
Bodine’s long sought after success in stock car’s highest division brought about a new set of challenges though, mainly that it put him in the crosshairs of the series’ fiercest competitors. Starting in the 1987 season, Bodine began having run-ins with the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt Sr., in the midst of the Winston and a Busch Grand National event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The following year in the same BGN event, Earnhardt would spin Bodine out, and the next day early in running of the World 600, Earnhardt would wreck him again, causing NASCAR to penalize him five laps. Upon the completion of the event, Hendrick alerted Bodine that a meeting had been set up with Bill France Jr. in Daytona the following Monday. Bodine broke down the events of the gathering for The Download listeners, explaining that France Jr. told the two drivers to clean up their act for the remainder of the season or suffer the consequences. After adjournment, participants set out for dinner, and Bodine and Dale Sr. rode together in the same rental. Bodine said that Sr. egged him on to give France Jr. a bump in the vehicle in front of them, suspecting that he wanted him to get into further trouble. Much of the Earnhardt/Bodine rivalry was dramatized for the movie “Days of Thunder,” which starred Tom Cruise.
Geoff would leave Hendrick’s team in 1990, driving for Junior Johnson and Bud Moore before buying Alan Kulwicki’s outfit upon his untimely death in 1993. Bodine construed that the self-owned effort fell apart when a sponsor refused to pay their bill, causing him to sell the team in 1999. In 2000, Geoff would sign on with Billy Ballew to compete in the Truck series, when his devastating crash at Daytona sidelined him for several months with a concussion and fractures in his wrist, cheekbone, ankle and vertebrae. As his racing career slowed down, Bodine became interested in bobsled racing. After observing the struggles of the US Olympic team in competition, he became inspired to design a new chassis and founded the USA Bobsled Project. Amidst the 2002 Winter Olympics, the US team won three medals using the Bo-Dyn Bobsleds and in 2010 Steven Holcomb rode one of the designs to gold.
In the opening segment of the show, the saga to have Amy meet George Strait continued at the Houston Rodeo, and Dale Jr. filled Mike in on the weekend’s events. Listeners sent in questions about visiting international lost speedways, future car updates on iRacing and favorite Bojangles menu items for the Ask Jr. segment. You can hear all of this and more on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download - available on this website and all major podcast platforms.