Brett Bodine is a small fish in a big pond
by Pete McCole

May 28, 2003

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In the treacherous waters of the Winston Cup Series, it’s become increasing tough for small fish to survive in the same waters where only multi-team sharks like Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports survive.

Brett Bodine, despite being a small fish, remains a survivor.

Despite years of sponsorship troubles, as well as his much-publicized divorce from his wife Diane, Bodine, driver and owner of the #11 Hooters Ford Taurus, remains committed to being an owner/driver. He is one of a dying breed – one of the last driver/owners still running in Winston Cup.

Single car teams like Bodine’s have struggled to survive in the last five years. The declining economy and the rising cost of sponsoring a Winston Cup team have made it difficult for smaller race teams to find enough sponsorship dollars to compete with some of today’s larger multi-car teams.

Over the past few seasons, a number of driver/owners have hung up their owner hats in favor of returning to the driver’s seat full-time. Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd and Bodine’s older brother Geoffrey have all either sold their teams outright or partnered up with another established owner.

A Winston Cup driver since 1986, Bodine spent several years driving for racing greats like NASCAR legends Bud Moore and Junior Johnson and drag racing king Kenny Bernstein, scoring his first and only career victory at the now defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1990, finishing a career-high 12th in the points.

Bodine bought Johnson’s team in 1996, and had moderate success during his first season as a driver/owner with sponsorship from Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse. However, in 1997 Bodine and Lowe’s parted ways and Bodine has struggled year after year with several low-budget sponsors that put him at a huge disadvantage against larger, better-funded, multi-car teams.

“When we first took on this ownership role, the sport was in a place where it was OK to be a driver/owner,” Bodine said. “But the sport has changed drastically since that time. It’s sort of passed us by in a slight bit, but a lot of it was due to being under funded for so many years and unable to continue to improve the race team. But, you do the best you can with what you have to work with.”

Early last season, after spending much of the off-season shopping for a sponsor, Bodine managed to secure limited sponsorship from Hooter’s Restaurants, who once sponsored another great driver/owner, the late Alan Kulwicki, during his 1992 championship season.

But even that deal was not enough to stay competitive, so after running 15 full seasons as a driver/owner, Bodine decided to run a limited schedule, hoping to use the downtime to make the team more competitive in the event they do run.

“It’s helped us, because we’re a small race team,” says Bodine. “We don’t have the resources and the manpower to race every week and that’s why we’re in this position of running a partial schedule.

“You just feel like sometimes you fall behind when you’re not racing every weekend. We’re trying to make up for it with better preparation and just try to get this race team more competitive when it rolls off the truck ready to go on a weekend of racing. It puts a lot of pressure on your qualifying day, you have to be in that top 36 or you’re going home.”

Bodine’s 24th-place showing at Bristol in March has been his best finish in five starts this season, including one start driving for the #57 Team CLR Ford.

Bodine admits running a limited schedule can be a double-edged sword. Although is gives small team’s like Bodine’s a chance to regroup while other teams run themselves ragged during the hectic 36-race schedule, it also harder to stay focused.

“It has its advantages, that’s why we decided to do it, Bodine said. “We feel it also has its disadvantages, because you’re not racing every week and you’re not on the top of your game.

“Up until this point, we’ve been kind of playing catch up, trying to get cars built and get equipment to where we want it, and this last month we finally feel like we’ve gotten our equipment to where we need to be. We’re just trying to make a strong positive effort this month of May and June to really get this race team turned around.”

Bodine finished fourth in last Saturday’s Winston Open, and failed to qualify for Sunday’s Coca Cola 600. He plans to attempt races at Dover and Michigan in June with Hooter on board, while keeping his options open for the occasional one-race deal.

After running 15 full seasons in Winston Cup, spending much of 2003 watching from the sidelines is a bitter pill to swallow.

“It’s tough to sit by and watch, but I’ve had a long run of being there every week,” said Bodine. “The sport changes and things change in your life, and this is the position I’m in right now, so we’re just to going to go ahead and do the best we can with what we have to work with – that’s the attitude you have to have.”

“We’re just not able to run the full schedule, but if we go out there and run good every weekend maybe we can get ourselves back in a full schedule situation net season.

While finding a full-time sponsor remains the goal for Brett Bodine this season, he has considered giving up the ownership role and return to just being a driver, if the right ride came along.

“You do the best you can with what you have to work with and certainly I enjoy driving my own equipment and having the control that a driver/owner enjoys,” Bodine says, “but you also would like to find yourself in a better situation, and we would just have to weigh it out when the time came.”

Time that Bodine, at least as an owner/driver, might quickly be running out of in the high-finance world of Winston Cup racing.

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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