He and his brothers came out of upstate New York in the rough-and-tumble modified series to tackle the Good Ol’ Boys of NASCAR and, as Yankees, made their mark at a time when the Sprint Cup Series was largely regionalized to the Southeast.
And although he’s now retired as a driver, the fire still burns, and he’s still in the sport at a different level.
Brett Bodine competed in eight Brickyard 400s and chased Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag in the 1994 inaugural.
Brett knew about the Speedway.
“Early in my career when I made the decision to go stock car racing instead of Indy car, I gave up my chance to be there,” he said. “In 1985, I got a chance to run the old Busch Series at what is now O’Reilly Raceway Park. While I was there for the event, I went over to the Speedway and went through the Museum, took the bus ride.
“I didn’t think in ‘94 we’d be running there. It was an awesome event in our sport. It was a big day for me to run second by three carlengths chasing down the leader, pretty awesome.”
He led 10 laps of that race after starting seventh, and it was his best effort in eight Brickyard starts.
“I was in the NASCAR Modified group and even as late as the late ‘90s I had somewhat of an opportunity run the 500,” he said. “Basically, I turned it down because I had made my commitment to stock cars. To be able to go to Indy with a stock car was a great day in our sport.”
Bodine is not unlike other retired drivers who have stayed in the sport through becoming officials. The late Elmo Langley, Ramo Stott and Chad Little were some who went on to officiate. Jerry Cook, once the star of the Northeast, is also a competition director for NASCAR.
Brett has the title of Director of Competition for Research and Development at NASCAR’s research center in Concord, N.C., a facility that employs about 60 people. In addition, he has driven the pace car for NASCAR events since 2004. The fire still burns, though, for the competition.
“Every single day,” Brett said, “and I hope I never lose that urge. When you make your living at something since you were 16, it stays with you. But I’m retired. I’m very fortunate to be working with NASCAR and proud to be working for the company. Actually, I worked for them as a driver and now in this job.”
He recalled how much emphasis was on the Brickyard for the inaugural.
“We did a bit of testing,” Brett said. “At that time, it was our biggest event. We built a brand-new car. Kenny Bernstein had a history there with his Indy car. We had Quaker State as a sponsor and it was a great market for them. I qualified seventh and was chasing down the leader when the checkered fell.”
The Bodines have left their mark on the Speedway.
“In 2000, we set the track record in qualifying when I owned my own team, it lasted for a couple years and that was quite an accomplishment. Geoffrey, Todd and I are the only three brothers ever to lead the same race at the Speedway, and that was the inaugural. It’s the only time it’s ever happened.”
That moment in history was preceded by a special moment.
“It was just an awesome sight, standing there when we grid the cars before the start,” Brett said. “I still have the picture of all of us and Mrs. Hulman.”
He will lead the field this year on Race Day, but as the pace car driver, it won’t really count.
“I’d rather be following the pace car than driving it, for sure,” he said. “But we have to make sure we stay focused on our job, keep in touch with the tower.
“But you’re not a race fan if you’re not excited about the start of that race.”
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