Brett Bodine has taken a rather different road in life, a steeply-banked blacktop road in two-mile lengths, with an ever-present left curve just ahead. And in Brett’s world, “a reasonable pace” means pushing a 750-horsepower car to speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour for hundreds of miles almost every weekend. Welcome to the world according to Brett Bodine, NASCAR Winston Cup driver and 1979 Alfred State College graduate.
When he arrived at Alfred State’s Peet Hall as a freshman, Brett already had his sights set on the world of professional auto racing. Back in his hometown of Chemung, NY, two generations of his family had gradually phased out their dairy farm and were operating a small racetrack, the Chemung Speedrome. But Brett’s vision of his future stretched well beyond running the family business. By the time he graduated from Alfred State College, he’d spent three semesters on the Dean’s List and had begun “competing in auto races all over” on his very busy weekends. Within five years of graduating, Brett had earned a reputation as a serious contender at racetracks all around the Northeast. And he’d made two very important life decisions. He had married Diane Dallaire, and he’d decided to join his family in North Carolina, where older brother Geoff was already making a name for himself in NASCAR auto racing.
After what Stock Car Racing magazine called Bodine’s “amazing rise to stardom” as a NASCAR Busch Grand National driver, American auto racing legend Junior Johnson tapped Bodine to drive relief for Terry Labonte in several Winston Cup races in 1987. Thanks to Johnson’s offer, Brett suddenly found himself competing with NASCAR’S best drivers, Winston Cup drivers he’d idolized for much of his life. Brett still recalls the awe he felt, pushing his car to speeds up to 190 miles per hour, mere inches from greats like Cale Yarborough and The King, Richard Petty. And he remembers having to put his awe aside when he realized Richard Petty was actually holding him back. At the same time, his crew chief snarled into Brett’s headset, “Just rub on him a little. Get him out of the way!” At nearly 200 miles per hour, good manners become very important, so Brett ‘rubbed’ Petty’s bumper just enough to signal that he was coming through. At 28, he’d entered the top ranks of NASCAR racing.
In 1993 Brett bought his own race shop in Mooresville, NC, about 30 miles north of the famous Charlotte Motor Speedway. Not long after that, he acquired Junior Johnson’s famous Number 11 race team, paying several million dollars for the privilege. As one of the very few remaining Winston Cup drivers to own his race team, Bodine is a little like a quarterback who also owns the football team. He faces responsibilities and challenges far greater than the driver who ‘gets a ride’ with a race team owned by someone else.
When companies like DuPont, Tide, Budweiser, and Cheerios put their name on the side of a race car, they’re really putting their faith, and millions of dollars per year, in the team owner, the driver, and the entire garage/pit crew.
Brett puts his success in auto racing in perspective when he asks, “What are the odds three brothers from Chemung, NY, population 300, could make it to the top in NASCAR auto racing?” Each weekend from February to November, the top 42 NASCAR drivers in the country compete in the Winston Cup. And every weekend two, sometimes three, of those top drivers are named Bodine. Older brother Geoff Bodine is also a Winston Cup Series driver; younger brother Todd, with an excellent record in the Busch Grand National Series, joined his big brothers on the Winston Cup circuit. And lately, cousin Eric Bodine is getting a lot of attention as his racing career revs up.
Winston Cup drivers keep up a grueling pace on and off the track. On the rare occasions when Brett isn’t racing or preparing for the next race, his other favorite forms of relaxation include golf and spending time with family and pets.
On Brett’s desk at the Mooresville, NC, headquarters of Brett Bodine Racing, there’s a marble paperweight with these words on it: If you do not believe in yourself, chances are that nobody else will. The road from Chemung, NY, to the high-speed world of The Winston Cup Series has never been an easy one for the Alfred State graduate. But his knowledge, his focused hard work, and his belief in himself have kept Brett Bodine in the ranks of America auto racing for many years.