AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Bodine’s Racing Life Back In Order
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ It was an emotional Geoff Bodine who stood in Victory Lane and enjoyed the crowd’s accolades for his first Winston Cup victory in nearly two years.
But the emotions weren’t restricted to the pleasure of another race victory, the 18th of his career. This was another step, and a big one, in the rehabilitation of his life.
Bodine was thrown into a desperate depression two years ago when he suffered through a series of personal setbacks. Those included a well-publicized feud with his brother Brett _ one of three racing Bodine brothers _ and a divorce.
Finally, the sudden unexpected withdrawal of Hoosier Tire from NASCAR’s top stock car series at the end of the 1994 season was a heavy professional blow.
Bodine, who bought his own team late in the 1993 season, was the only series star who left Goodyear to throw in with upstart Hoosier. He had some success with the tires, winning three races in 1994. But then Hoosier departed, leaving him to go back to Goodyear with hat in hand.
The sum total of his troubles, both on and off the track, was enough to throw Bodine, 47, into a pit of despair from which he is only now emerging.
``This victory means I’ve survived the worst time in my life,″ Bodine said. ``It was really pretty dark and bleak. I didn’t know I was going to survive until about two months ago.
``I prayed every night since my problems started, and I know God is in this picture, too. Without him and without the prayers, I wouldn’t have made it. I don’t know if I would have killed myself or just run away and dug a hole and crawled in it or what, but I know I wouldn’t be here.
``It’s hard to describe because I’m the only guy who has gone through what I’ve gone through the last two years. It got so bad, there were times I almost sold the team and walked away, and racing is really what I love to do most.″
Bodine also the victory as a competitive redemption.
``Everybody doubted us last year when we ran so bad,″ he said. ``Everybody doubted us at the beginning of this year when we were running so bad. But no one knew. It wasn’t the team. It wasn’t the equipment. It wasn’t the car. It was me. I just didn’t have my heart into it.″
In May, Bodine told the people on his team he was considering selling.
``Then, about two months ago, it started to get better,″ he said. ``A month ago, it was really good. Today, it’s great. I was finally able to concentrate and do all the things you need to do to be a race driver again. That’s a good feeling.″
As Bodine drove his Ford Thunderbird to Victory Lane, he slowed along the way to high-five his excited crewmen.
``I kept asking everybody, `Are we really here?′ We’ve accomplished something a lot of people really didn’t think we were going to do. They said we were through, history, gave up on us.″
The turnaround came in May at Charlotte, where Bodine finished a solid 10th in the Coca-Cola 600. Until that race, the best Bodine had been able to do in 1996 was two 19th-place finishes. He was rarely even racing in the lead pack.
Two races after Charlotte, Bodine finished third at Pocono. Still inconsistent, he went on to finish 21st, 34th, 15th, 11th, sixth and 20th until winning on his home track, just down the road from his birthplace of Chemung, N.Y.
``This means we’re back as a team and I’m back as a driver,″ he said. ``It’s only one race and one win, but we’re back.
``Our goal for this year was to run good, consistent and be there for the next race. We’re out of the points (race) now, but we want to start next year competitive. This is a big step toward that goal.″
As for his personal life, Bodine said time is helping him heal.
``It was time to get on with my life and get this part of my life back in order,″ he said. ``The personal part of my life is still very hurt, but thank God the professional side is getting back in order.″
End advance for Thursday, Aug. 15