Monday January 22, 2007

By Brian Danko                                 

LAKE PLACID, NY. ‹‹‹‹ Auto Racing and bobsled racing are about as far apart as well, the summer and winter are, but for the second straight year, they joined forces as the Chevrolet Geoff Bodine Bobsled challenge took place at the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics games back a few weeks ago. Geoff Bodine, the former modified ace and winner of the 1986 Daytona 500 started his interest in the bobsleds after watching the winter Olympics.

When he found out that the American bobsleds were sleds used by Europeans and were bought by our Olympians, he decided that something needed to be done to insure that the Americans have the best bobsleds in the world. "I thought this isn't right that they have to buy their own sleds and they were old models used by the Europeans." Geoff said during a break in the practice runs. Bodine then teamed with modified car builder, Bob Cuneo, and together with other designers have built American made bobsleds that are now the top sleds in the bobsledding world. But designing and building these intricate sleds takes money, lots of  money, another thing in common with auto racing, and Bodine has hosted this event as a way of raising money and to build awareness for the Unites States national teams and future Olympians.

So now Bodine uses his name and brings along a few of his NASCAR and NHRA buddies to add to the cognizance for the need for more sponsors so that the new sleds used by the Americans will always be the tops in the world. Todd Bodine, brother of Geoff and the 2006 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, Boris Said, Brendan Gaughan, 2 time Busch series champion,  Randy Lajoie, Kevin Lepage all joined in the fun. As did NASCAR national short track champion, Philip Morris, the legendary and ageless Dick Trickle and nine-time NASCAR champion, Mike Stefanik were some of the NASCAR drivers on hand while J. R. Todd and Morgan Lucas of the NHRA were present. Phil Kurze the director of motorsports for Whelen Engineering in  Chester, CT became the presenting sponsor and he is pleased with the event in just its second year. "This is just like racing in the sense that its family. We get a great deal of satisfaction helping our athletes; we want Americans driving American made sleds." While Kurze is also happy with the numerous drivers who take time out of their busy schedule, he would like to see more and with that might come more corporate sponsors. "We need more sponsors. We can't just break even on this event. Speed Television wants to get more involved and we can give corporate sponsors plenty of exposure."

While the Geoff Bodine bobsled will only get bigger in the next few years, it appears to be in good hands with Phil Kurze, Whelen; Chevrolet and the other sponsors but more sponsors, just like in racing are always appreciated.

Jerry Marquis, the 2000 NASCAR Whelen modified tour champion suddenly finds himself out of a ride as the 2007 season is on the horizon. Car owner, Bob Garbarino, informed Marquis on Saturday, January 13th and broke the bad news. Greg Schroder, the crew chief of the Mystic Missile has left his position at the boat yard owned by Garbarino and that has thrown the plans for the
2007 out of the window right now. "Everything was a go." Marquis told me Monday night, "Right now, Bob can't run the race team anymore." "Bob said if he can't prepare and give us a top notch race car, he's not going to be happy and wouldn¹t do it unless everything was 100%." Garbarino has been one of the modified faithful and has been fielding modified type race cars since 1961 with a whose who of drivers steering his open wheeled rockets to numerous victories up and down the east coast.

Marquis, who finished seventh in the final 2006 points run down said he has put out feelers but so far nothing has taken shape. "I¹ve been out working the phones." Jerry said. "I know what this deal is like as I went through it before." He won the season opening race in the Mario Fiore #44 in 2001 and then shut his team down, leaving Marquis on the outside looking in.

It also seems that the Boehler family, another of the modified stalwarts for nearly 50 years may also close up shop after releasing Eric Beers as the driver of the famed #3 OLE blue. "Unless you get a major sponsor to get on board and have a top notch race team, its impossible to be competitive on the modified tour. Bob figures that unless we can put out a car and is confident that it can win, he'd rather not field a team." While Marquis said he was naturally stunned with the news, he said he appreciated Garbarino calling him as soon as he knew that he would have to sideline his race team so that Jerry could have time to try and find a ride.

On a personal note, it would be both sad and tragic that two of the modified tours legendary car owners and families are shutting down their teams. Many have wondered on how the Flash races are going to impact the tour and while neither team indicated that they were a reason for closing, one must truly wonder.

A lot of people wait until Spring before doing house cleaning but the good folks at Daytona Beach¹s NASCAR headquarters figured January is as good a month as any as they fired four employees connected with the weekly racing series and the regional tours. Jason Bates, Laura Willis, Al Robinson and Jeremy Davidson all found pink slips in their pay stubs after being notified that their services were no longer wanted.

NASCAR said all left to pursue other opportunities. Boy that's a shocker. Laura Willis was the one person who knew the short tracks and touring series like the back of her hand while Al Robinson, the Busch East media coordinator has forgotten more racing than all of the high priced bell hops in Daytona ever knew.

Jeremy Davidson came to NASCAR after breaking into the public relations department at the Riverside Park Speedway and then worked as PR rep for a Craftsman Truck team before heading to Daytona.

I contacted Herb Branham, still working in the NASCAR PR department by email and asked what this means for the weekly series of NASCAR as well as the touring series. He responded that they are reorganizing but that they are not de-emphasizing the weekly or regional PR efforts.
A good source, who once was connected with NASCAR told me that within five years, that NASCAR will be out of the short track weekly series as well as the regional touring series and that sentiment has been echoed by other NASCAR insiders.

NASCAR can say all they want about the "resignations" but these people were fired. There are a few at Daytona who should get the ax but they still remain.