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MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- Winning the 1986 Daytona 500 may have been Geoff Bodine's shining moment, but the United States Olympic Four-Man Bobsled Team provided his golden moment last Saturday night in Vancouver. It was the culmination of a dream as the Bo-Dyn Bobsled -- known as "Night Train" and piloted by Steve Holcomb, won the first four-man gold medal for the U.S. in 62 years.
"Winning the Daytona 500 is NASCAR's biggest race," Bodine said Sunday. "When you win that, it's a great feeling. But the Olympics is worldwide competition. It's incredible. I didn't get a trophy and I didn't get any money for it, but seeing those gold medals hanging on those four athletes felt pretty darn good. To know the whole country was cheering for them felt pretty darn special."
The last time a team from the U.S. won the gold medal in this event was in 1948 at St. Moritz, Switzerland, with Francis Tyler, a police officer from Lake Placid, New York, as the pilot. The latest came with Holcomb, Curtis Tomasevicz, Justin Olsen and Steve Mesler. Earlier in the week, Erin Pac and Elana Meyers won bronze in the women's two-man competition.
Bodine was still winning races on what was then called the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1992 when he began his Bo-Dyn project. The driver from Chemung, NY -- a small outpost near the Elmira-Corning area in the western part of the state -- was drawn to the northern Adirondack Mountain Olympic community of Lake Placid, which had hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Bodine was disheartened to realize how far American bobsledding had sunk.
"I found out our athletes weren't using American-made equipment and I'm a proud American," Bodine said. "I thought that was wrong. Then I found out the athletes had to pay for their own equipment; that nobody furnished it to them. I could afford to put my money where my mouth was. When I said I was going to build some bobsleds, I had the money through racing to do it and we made it happen."
Bodine understood how aerodynamics and drag were important to the performance of a bobsled. He rates aerodynamics on a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. But he was surprised to realize that instead of building a stiff chassis like those used in NASCAR, he needed to build a soft, flexible one for the sled.
"We had to change our thought process on some things," Bodine said. "We brought into the sport a lot of NASCAR racing type construction methods. We've changed the way bobsleds are built throughout the world. We've helped bobsledding throughout the world just by helping the Americans."
Bodine leads the project with Bob Cuneo as the project's lead designer. Slowly, the Bo-Dyn sled had made a difference in the sport.
"I lived through the transformation of Americans going to the Europeans to buy their sleds and knowing you weren't going buy something you can beat them with," Olympic bobsled medalist and current U.S. coach Brian Shimer said. "A lot of my time was spent fundraising. There was no other way. When Bo-Dyn stepped in, that was the savior for U.S. athletes."
The latest evolution of the Bo-Dyn sled is "Night Train" -- the fastest in the world. It went on the drawing board two years ago and Whelen Engineering funded the project.
"They said, `Go build us a gold-medal-winning sled' and that is what we went after," Bodine said. "Aerodynamics is a key and chassis is a key, but it's still a team effort and Team Holcomb -- those four guys -- are a great team. I've driven for a lot of great teams, but everything on this team came together. They love each other and get along so great. They are good, good kids and I'm proud of their accomplishment."
It was a perfect match for the fastest bobsled course in the world, the Whistler Sliding Centre on Whistler Mountain in British Columbia. Starting at 3,044 feet above sea level and dropping 472 vertical feet with speeds reaching 95 mph in less than minute, it is the fastest, most demanding and treacherous track in the world.
"It's Talladega and Bristol all wrapped into one," Bodine said. "It's very fast and difficult. Things happen quickly there. The tragedy in the luge at the beginning and all the crashes in the events proved it was a difficult track. One little slip can cost you."
Bodine had confidence that Team Holcomb would win the gold. At that point, it was out of his control. The years of preparation and research were over.
"I was a small part of what happened with the gold medal," Bodine said. "We were all on pins and needles before that last run, but we all had confidence. Without me coming up with this crazy idea to build bobsleds, these kids might not be standing there with those medals."
Bodine returns to competition of his own this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He will compete in Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race for a team owned by Danny Gill in the No. 95 truck that Johnny Benson drove at Daytona. It will have the Bo-Dyn Bobsled decals on it with the names of the medal-winning athletes on the truck.
While the gold medal was the culmination of a project that began 18 years ago, it doesn't mean it's over for the Bo-Dyn project.
"It finishes the job, but there is more to do," Bodine said. "We want to win more races and provide better equipment for our athletes. It certainly took a while for us to do this. It was harder than we thought, but we finally put all the pieces together. It's pretty incredible."
While winning the Daytona 500 in 1986 was Bodine's biggest victory behind the wheel of a race car; his role in the gold at Vancouver will be his greatest racing achievement in an historical sense.