Monday September 18, 2006

 

ARCHIVES

By Brian Danko                
  

 

LOUDON, NH--------- When one thinks of the Olympics, one doesn't think usually about auto racing but this past weekend the two came together to bring awareness to the United States Bob Sled program.

Don Barker, former modified championship car owner, Bob Cuneo, designer of modified race cars as well as others forms of Motorsports and John Morgan, business development manager of the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, Inc. were at the New Hampshire International Speedway to race and bring consciousness to the USA bobsled.

The NASCAR Whelen modified tour machine was driven by Todd Bodine, whose brother, Geoff started the ball rolling on the bobsled back several years and since his involvement with the bobsleds, the Bo-Dyn sleds have become one of the best in the world. The Sleds are an all Connecticut project as they are designed and built in Oxford, CT.

Don Barker was one of the people that sat down with designer Bob Cuneo when Geoff Bodine came calling and asked for help in redesigning the bobsleds and making the American team a force in a sport that they have lagged behind in for decades. John Morgan, who lives in Lake Placid, NY and been involved in the sport since he was little said the addition of everyone has helped make the Olympics and auto racing a little closer knit. "These sleds are so ridiculously expensive to design and build. What we are doing here is bring awareness to fans about them and the USA program." Morgan said while standing on pit road watching Bodine pit for tires during practice.

Last fall at New Hampshire, Geoff Bodine and Morgan announced that they were teaming up with several Nextel Cup drivers at Lake Placid to make runs on the sled and with corporate involvement has helped bring in desperately needed money for the design and building of these expensive machines. "We had our event last January with the drivers and when they finished they came out of the bobsleds with their eyes wide open." Morgan said with delight, "now that we have an interest, it will be easier to get them back again."

Like auto racing, sponsorship is needed and because of the NASCAR connection, it has paid off in big dividends for the bobsleds. Bob Cuneo, who had never seen a bobsled before, came into the program to help out longtime friend, Geoff Bodine but he quickly got involved in the program with both feet. "The first five or six years were all passion." Bob said about his work, "but I told them after the last Olympics that if we didn't have money, I couldn't afford to do this." A two man bobsled cost around $35,000 while four man sled runs about $45,000 but Cuneo said the main cost is the Research and Development. Cuneo, who has been involved in auto racing for years and modified racing in particular, said the USA bobsleds get no money from the federal government with all its money coming from donations and other fund raising events. "The Germans get 2.8 Euros per year to spend on R and D, that's R and D alone." Bob said shaking his head but thanks to him and his designs, the Americans are now one of the top sleds in the world. "Technically, we and the Germans are head of everyone else." That statement alone should make Cuneo and everyone else with the American program smile because when the USA ran bobsleds before they were buying machines from other European countries with very little help.

Whelen Engineering, another Connecticut business and sponsor of the NASCAR modified tour jumped at a chance in getting in on the ground floor and has become a major sponsor of the bobsleds as has Chevrolet and other top companies.

While Barker estimates that it will cost him about '$12,000 to $15,000' to bring his car here this weekend for Todd Bodine to run it but he said this is more than about money. "I get a very special feeling seeing the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project logo on my car and to know that I have been involved in project since the beginning and to see what we have done."

While Morgan said the NASCAR connections has helped and now that they have the signature event in the NASCAR drivers bobsled race at Lake Placid, they see more companies using the bobsled to entertain customers. "We knew that we had a product to use and now companies like Chevrolet are using the bobsleds in their showrooms and also at hospitality tents at events like this weekend."

While Cuneo was crew chief for Bodine this weekend in the modified event, his mind is already on getting ready to test new ideas. "What we'll do is come up with some ideas and see what works." Bob said. When Bob was asked if a rulebook applies just like in NASCAR, he smiled and said with a big grin, "oh yeah." "They are just like the Nextel Cup with what you can and can't do, it's just a matter of working on the small things that can make all the difference in speed." And when time matters in hundredths and thousands of seconds, the slightest idea can pay big dividends.

While money has come in from major companies to everyday fans, even Carl Edwards and Todd Bodine have gotten into the act. "Both Carl (who ran the modified here in July) and Todd are donating their winnings to the project but Todd has come up with a tee shirt that they are selling to help out." Barker said. "Todd was also to get Lumber Liquidators to get on board the bobsleds too." Lumber Liquidators are Bodine's truck series sponsor.

So what started off with Geoff Bodine's interest in the bobsled, because "they were the closest thing to racing in the Olympics" to the actual design and building of the all American made sleds, the project has come full circle but as they say, the best is still yet to come.
Photos By Fran Lawlor

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