Sometimes with these blogs, I like to discuss racing matters that have absolutely nothing to do with the current events of the sport. This entry will be one of those. The only way I could possibly connect this with an actual topic is by using this specific example to raise a seemingly never-ending question that can still be asked today. I?ll come back to it at the end.
Geoff Bodine?s 1994 season might rank as one of the most peculiar campaigns in the history of NASCAR. Just when it appeared the ship was headed in the right direction, he?d hit another iceberg. Though he had so many performances that were disco superfly, he had an absurd number of crappy results.
1994 was poised to be a unique year for the Chemung, NY native. The previous year, after disappointing stints with Junior Johnson and Bud Moore, Bodine was poised to join the latest fad in NASCAR racing. He purchased the team of the late Alan Kulwicki, and set out to be one of the growing number of driver-owners in the series. Paul Andrews, who helped guide Kulwicki to his improbable 1992 championship, would continue his role as crew chief for the Bodine. The #7 that Kulwicki drove to his only championship would continue to adorn the side of the Bodine Ford Thunderbird.
As part of a late-season multi-team driver swap, Bodine left the Moore with seven races left in the 1993 season, and began his tenure as a self-employed driver. 1994 however, would be his first major test as an owner-driver.
After driving with help from an eclectic group of sponsors during his abbreviated ?93 campaign, Bodine solidified his sponsorship for the ?94 season, getting support from Exide Batteries, Montgomery Ward, and NAPA.
But perhaps the most epochal development for Bodine came in the form of rubber ? tire rubber that is. After its initial failure in 1989, the Hoosier Tire Company decided to throw their hat into the tire supply ring once more. Most of the Hoosier-shodden driver were either rookies (Loy Allen, Ward and Jeff Burton) or drove for smaller teams whose chances of winning were remote at best. Bodine provided the Indiana tire company with their only realistic chance to compete week in and week out.*
Further complicating matters was the initial controversy surrounding the Hoosiers during Speedweeks that year. Two drivers ? rookie Rodney Orr and veteran Neil Bonnett ? were fatally injured in separate practice incidents at Daytona. While there was no conclusive evidence linking the tires to the crashes, it nevertheless cast a shadow over the Hoosiers, one that would remain throughout the season.
The first ten races of the year were a mighty struggle for the Bodine team. After two decent races to start the season, three engine failures in a row put the team 29th in points after the first five races. A win was in Bodine?s grasp at Bristol, but unlucky timing in the pits relegated Bodine to a 4th place finish. After his runner-up finish at Sonoma, Bodine was still only 22nd in the standings
So it was only appropriate that his first triumph would come in an exhibition race in which no points were awarded. It was also fitting that Bodine would collect his $250,000 prize in a race that had more wrecks than Jeff Zucker?s had terrible business moves. One wreck seemed to indicate how good Bodine was this night: Ernie Irvan went through the grass on the tri-oval in the second segment, trying to get around the #7. One doesn?t have to think hard to figure out how that ended.
After the aforementioned victory and a 3rd place finish at the following week?s Coca Cola 600, it appeared that Bodine?s team was turning the ship around. Yet the next five races featured more of the inconsistencies that plagued Bodine?s first ten races. Two crashes (at Dover and Loudon) and a rear-end failure at Michigan placed Bodine?s DNF average at .500 after 16 races. Geoff was 19th in points.
Then came Pocono, otherwise known as Hoosier?s coming out party. The top four finishers all raced with Hoosiers. However, it was Bodine?s dominant performance that overshadowed everything else. Bodine led 156 laps en route to his first points-paying win of the 1994 season. But wouldn?t you know, his win was followed by three bad runs which put him outside the top 20 in points once again.
As fate would have it, he followed up those results by having yet another ass-kicking race at Michigan. He would again lead over ¾ of the race, and again climbed in the points; this time to the 18th spot. By the time of his third win at North Wilkesboro (a win so extraordinary that I will go into greater detail later), Bodine was 16th in the season standings. That would be a far as he?d go, as bad luck stayed with him through the rest of the season.
- At Bristol he led 168 circuits before retiring from the lead with engine failure.
- He led a race high 170 laps at Dover before settling four fifth
- At Charlotte he blew a motor while leading with less than 50 laps to go. He had led 202 of the 334 laps that day.
- He had led for 58 and 34 laps at Phoenix and Atlanta respectively before falling out of both races early.
When the dust settled, Bodine finished up the year seventeenth in the final standings. He was almost 1400 points behind 1st place Dale Earnhardt.
I?ve spent over 900 words describing the events of Geoff Bodine?s 1994 season, yet I don?t think I?ve scratched the surface on how extremely antipodal his season was. Feast or famine doesn?t describe it. More like Rex Ryan vs. Calista Flockhart.
Bodine completed 8160 laps that season, by far the lowest number by a driver who started in all 31 races. Of the top forty drivers in the 1994 standings, Bodine ranked 33rd in lap completion percentage. Of those ranked below him, only two (Jimmy Spencer and Harry Gant) were not rookies. His 15 DNF?s were by far the most in the series; only John Andretti?s 12 even came close. His 17th place finish in the points was his worst finish since his rookie year 11 years prior.
His family life was also a bit disheveled. He was infamously booted from the lead by his brother Brett at the inaugural Brickyard 400. This resulted in a chilly relationship between the brothers for the next few years. But things in Bodine?s personal life would only get worse. After the fall race at Bristol, Bodine came home to find that his wife had moved out, and was asking for a divorce. Not only was she his wife of 22 years, but also his business partner in the team**. This dealt a huge blow to the team in 1994 and beyond. GEB Racing was never quite able to get over their financial hardships.
While one might not think that these two personal dilemmas would affect on-track performance, I believe that they added to the tumult that surrounded Bodine at the time. It?s never easy to be an owner-driver, it?s even harder when your personal life is in chaos.
Yet when Geoff was winning, there was nobody in the same zip code. In his three points race triumphs, the Exide Ford led 650 of 800 total laps (81.25%). At the 2.5 mile Pocono Speedway, there were only seven cars left on the lead lap. The average number of lead lap finishers in the five races before and the five races after was almost 14. Seven cars on the lead lap at Pocono would be almost unheard of.
At Michigan, it was the same story. While leading for 160 of the 200 laps, Bodine lap up to the sixth place car. Again, I calculated the average number of lead lap cars from the previous five races and the five races after the win. The number? 13.1
But Bodine?s tour de force came two months later at North Wilkesboro. It wasn?t the fact that Bodine climbed from the 18th starting spot to take the lead by lap 48. Nor was it the fact that he led 334 of the race?s 400 laps, including the last 301 circuits. Instead, it was the fact that he lapped the entire field in the process. That hadn?t happened since Harry Gant lapped the field at Dover over three years prior (Bodine finished second in that race). While drivers had accomplished the feat before Bodine?s ?94 performance, it will almost undoubtedly never happen again.
1994 saw Bodine lead 1744 laps, the most of any year of his career. Yet he failed to complete 9771 miles, the second worst total of any season in which he ran the full schedule. His three wins matched his best season total, and his five poles were second best of his career (he also tied Irvan for most poles in the 1994 season). But he led the series that year in crash DNFs (6) and engine failures (8).
This ?blog? has grown much longer than I anticipated, so I shall go back to my original question at the beginning of this post. How can a season like this be classified as simply ?good or bad?? A 17th in the standings is disappointing to say the least, but can one call the season an outright failure? There are so many positive and negative superlatives, it would be impossible for me to decide. But the fact that the team, which had experienced so much adversity in those two years, never threw in towel makes their successes noteworthy. To me, that?s one thing that makes racing so interesting to talk about. While we may not see another season like this, it is a perfect example of the complex world of racing.
* Darrell Waltrip began the season with Hoosier tires, but went back to Goodyear after the TranSouth Financial 400.
** Yes, I know that Bodine?s divorce may have resulted in part from his alleged relationship with a certain country singer. But Geoffrey?s culpability doesn?t take away from the fact that a divorce takes a heavy mental toll on someone. Bodine mentioned it after his win at North Wilkesboro.
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