NASCAR drivers Boris Said, Randy LaJoie and Mike Stefanik showed that “racers are racers” by placing 1-2-3 in the 2nd annual Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge presented by Whelen at the Lake Placid (N.Y.) Olympic bobsled course on Saturday. Drivers from a variety of NASCAR divisions and the NHRA tested their skills at the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, as the climax of a weekend devoted to support of the U.S. Olympic bobsled program.
Despite making his second and final run of both races in a cold, windblown rain, Stefanik, the reigning NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion scored a pair of third-place finishes during the event. He was beaten only by NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Boris Said, an international sports car racing star with bobsled experience, who won both races, by former NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie in the opening race, and by NHRA top fuel drag racer Morgan Lucas in the nightcap.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Philip Morris, also invited to the event by Whelen, failed to finish the first race after crashing on his second run, but had a smooth ride to place 10th in the second race.
“We came up a little short because we got up on two runners in (turn number) 18 and we lost out to Randy at the bottom but neither of us had anything for Boris,” Stefanik said after the first race. “Loose is fast,” he continued, “but if you hit the wall you’re going to bounce off and hit the other wall and act like a ping-pong ball.”
Stefanik ranked the second run of the second race as his best if the day, despite the intensifying rain. “We had a really clean run,” the nine-time NASCAR touring series champion observed, giving credit to National Guardsman Matt Cryer, who served as his brakeman on the two-man sled, and to the U.S. bobsled team athletes who pushed their sled off the starting line. “It’s awesome to be surrounded by all that talent. It gets that nice USA feeling going,” he added.
“It just makes it really, really slippery on the flat (surfaces) when you don’t have any compression on your runners. You’re hydroplaning and you don’t have much control,” Stefanik noted. Comparing the bobsled experience to his thirty years of stock car racing, he said “It’s so different that you really can’t apply too much, just try to relax and focus, look down the track and try to be smooth.”
Morris came to grief at the bottom of the mountain in his second run of the morning race, turning the sled over at turn 18, which became known as Trickle Turn in last year’s inaugural event when former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup star Dick Trickle flipped twice on one day. “I didn’t want it to be renamed ‘Philip Morris Turn,’ so I tried to stay off my roof a second time,” he quipped.
Both Stefanik and Morris were impressed with the vertical banking of the fast turns at the bottom of the course. That’s 90 degrees of banking, compared to 31 degrees at Daytona International Speedway. “It’s nearly straight up-and-down in some places. It’s really intimidating when you first walk in and watch the real bobsled racers and the speeds they go. It’s just incredible,” said Stefanik.
Morris noted the stresses on the driver are different from those he feels in his late model stock car. “The g-forces are a lot less because you climb the banking here. You feel the g-force because it pushes you down in the seat, but you don’t feel your helmet tugging your left or right like it does in a stock car.”
Geoff Bodine, who became interested in bobsledding 15 years ago and has been a driving force in the upgrading of the sport in the USA since that time, declared the second annual event a success and expressed no surprise at Stefanik’s outstanding performance. Sounding just like the former NASCAR modified standout he is, the former Daytona 500 winner declared, “There was no doubt he would be good, because these sleds are like modifieds – small, fast, and quick.”