Geoff Bodine: Hendrick Motorsports Ultimate Lifeline of Survival in NASCAR

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IMarch 30, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 29: (L-R) The Hendrick Motorsports team including Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Geoffrey Bodine, Team Owner Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, stand on the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2009 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

In NASCAR, where names like Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, and Busch are the consistent frontrunners on the Sprint Cup Series circuit, longtime fans may also know of a racing star who jump-started many innovations that were previously thought as tomfoolery.

Not only did this driver bring about the acceptance of the full face helmet and power steering in stock cars, but he gave New England race fans some hope of a leadfooter whose career should not go without merit and praise amongst the Southern Slingers.

That Chemung, New York native is none other than 59-year-old Geoff Bodine who has logged 18 career victories, 38 poles (including the current track record at Atlanta Motor Speedway), 100 top-fives, and 190 top-ten finishes in a career that's spanned over 30 years.

Sure, Bodine's numbers may pale in comparison to legends like Darrell Waltrip, who has 84 career wins, Dale Earnhardt with 76 victories, or Terry Labonte, who has 22 wins.

However, the New Yorker's career is one that is rich in history and memories that NASCAR fans need not forget.

NASCAR fans who may have started following the sport in 2000 probably recognize Bodine as the driver who survived one of the all-time most gruesome crashes in a stock car.

During the season opener for the NASCAR Truck Series, Bodine's No. 15 Ford F-150 truck careened out of control and disintegrated into bits of sheet metal and bent frame work pieces scattered all over the dogleg at Daytona International Speedway.

The truck made contact with not only the outside retaining wall, but also with the catchfence that protects fans from the hazards of the on-track action.

Miraculously Geoff Bodine survived that grinding, horrifying accident at Daytona, returning to the track some five months later, finishing 34th.

Daytona International Speedway would also be the facility of one of Bodine's more pleasant memories in his driving career on February 16, 1986.

That was when Bodine, driving Rick Hendrick's No. five Chevy, captured the 28th annual Daytona 500 in remarkable fashion.

With late race pressure from Earnhardt, the No. three Wrangler Chevy just fell short of truly giving Bodine and Hendrick Motorsports some fits in the conclusion of the event when the Richard Childress Racing machine needed to pit for fuel.

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement by Bodine in his stellar career was his first career win on April 29, 1984, which was also car owner Rick Hendrick's first foray as a winning car owner in NASCAR.

All the stories have been made and heard about Hendrick not being present at Martinsville Speedway on the day that Bodine ushered in the start of this particular Bowtie Brigade's trip to victory lane, and how both parties have prospered quite well since the win that took place 25 years ago.

However, what Rick Hendrick said this past week has to fascinate even a non-fan of the now dominant organization, when he said the following, per a March 29th Yahoo! Sports column by Jay Hart:

"If we had not won that race 25 years ago, Hendrick Motorsports would not be here today."

Imagine NASCAR without Hendrick Motorsports, a multicar organization who started out with relatively meager resources and a driver who was not accepted by the fans due to his allegiance being from "Yankee Nation."

Darrell Waltrip might have never won the 1989 Daytona 500, a race that he had previously been denied a trip to victory lane in 17 previous attempts.

Jeff Gordon would probably be driving in relatively sub-par to average equipment, probably sticking on board with the Ford organization but never realizing the career that he has experienced as driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.

Terry Labonte may have retired in the mid 1990's or have been a field filler, as he had been winless from 1990 to 1994 in middling equipment. Labonte's move to the No. five team in '94 truly resurrected the career of "The Iceman," capturing 12 victories in Hendrick machinery.

Geoff Bodine's first career victory not only sparked his Cup career, but it helped usher in the winning tradition that fans, media, and competitors expect from the 25-year-old racing team.

To drive for Rick Hendrick's fold in today's NASCAR is much like a young prospect or sentimental favorite being asked to join the best team of any stick-and-ball sport: you just cannot say no.

As fans at home in the states and across the motorsports world reflect on the remarkable achievements made by Hendrick Motorsports, with their most recent triumph by three-time defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, one has to wonder about the sport and how the team has impacted the 61-year-old racing series.

Once thought of as fools for having a car owner who thought outside the traditionalist box with the multi-car organization team and a driver who was not a Southerner, Bodine's maiden trip as a winner might very well be the proudest achievement for Hendrick Motorsports when the team sees its finest hour...if it ever does.

If their winning ways ever end, there will be at least one driver who fans could say helped bring a tiny race team into a colossal force: Geoff Bodine.


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