Geoffrey Bodine back in race car

Bodine back in the saddle at Richmond by Dave Rodman RICHMOND, Va. (April 19, 2000) Geoffrey Bodine, 61 days after suffering multiple injuries in a vicious frontstretch accident in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season-opener at Daytona...

Bodine back in the saddle at Richmond by Dave Rodman

RICHMOND, Va. (April 19, 2000) Geoffrey Bodine, 61 days after suffering multiple injuries in a vicious frontstretch accident in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, got back in a race car Wednesday at Richmond International Raceway for the first time since Feb. 17. "I'm doing great," said Bodine, who turned 51 on Tuesday and had one of his biggest celebrations in recent memory a day later. "I really missed this -- I missed the people, the team and the challenge.

"I'm really happy with what is happening here. I was worried because I didn't know how long it would take (to get 'the feel' back). It took about two laps."

The test, originally scheduled for Monday and Tuesday but rescheduled to Wednesday and probably Thursday by rain is serving as an exploratory session to determine if Bodine is fit to compete in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 on April 30 at California Speedway. Bessey Motorsports submitted an entry for Bodine for the No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet.

Bodine has said he plans to return at California, but team owner Joe Bessey has staunchly indicated Bodine would not return until he was fully recovered and capable of doing so.

"We've got a lot of re-understandings about a lot of things that need to happen before Geoffrey gets back in the car," said Bessey, who added Bodine's injury greatly upset his team's focus at the beginning of the season. "The main thing is he's able to get back in the car. I don't think there's going to be any question about his ability. I'm sure it'll take a week or two for him to get comfortable."

Bodine took to the race track promptly at 9 a.m. ET and initially made a 10-lap run, of which eight were "hot laps," team spokesperson Marta Leonard said.

Among the NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams testing at Richmond on Wednesday were those of drivers Ken Schrader, Kevin Lepage, Ed Berrier, Kenny Wallace, Ward Burton, Todd Bodine and Dave Blaney; as well as a number of NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division teams. They were primarily preparing for the May 5-6 Hardee's 250 and Pontiac Excitement 400.

By mid-afternoon Leonard said Bodine's best lap in one of the two Chevrolet Monte Carlos he had at his disposal had been a hand-timed 22.28-second effort. Jeff Gordon's Bud Pole winning lap a year ago was a record 21.344 seconds, an average speed of 126.499 mph around the .750-mile oval.

"Based on everyone who is here, we're definitely competitive," Leonard said. "Geoffrey has been running with race set-ups on the cars simply to make laps and the two cars have been pretty consistent with each other."

Leonard said one of Bodine's biggest concerns has been his physical condition in the face of his recovery from injuries that included a broken right wrist and a fractured vertebra in his back. He had four pins removed from his wrist in late March and has been working out diligently for about four weeks.

She said Bodine made his first three runs with his specially-fitted back brace, which made it "cumbersome getting into and out of the car." He then made several runs without the brace and said his back really felt no different with or without the device, in the car. Bodine did say he experienced some discomfort in his wrist, especially when making "plug checks" in which the driver abruptly shuts off the car's power at full throttle and then coasts to pit road. Bodine said turning the car with no power steering available on sticky tires was difficult given his wrist injury.

Bodine revealed in the numerous interviews he conducted to a large throng of media, including a crew from the TNN Motorsports magazine show "Inside NASCAR," that he had redoubled his fitness efforts of late and was showing the positive difference.

Leonard said a decision might be made as early as Friday but definitely by early next week on whether or not Bodine would be able to drive in California. Bessey is scheduled to test at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon at the beginning of next week and Bodine is due for a visit in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Dr. Charles Branch, who has been attending to his accident injuries.

"I am as strong now as I was before, and maybe stronger in some areas," Bodine said. "I might not be 100 percent now, but I am going to visit with Dr. Branch and talk through the pain."

In an accident as severe as Bodine experienced, outsiders always consider the "fear factor" when a decision is made to return to the driver's seat. Bodine dismissed those concerns quickly.

"Well, I was thinking there might be some ghosts and goblins but there haven't been any," said Bodine, who credited his strong faith in God for his survival and recovery, during a break in his on-track activity. "I'm a little hurt but all in all I feel better than I did years ago -- I still have that drive and that competitiveness." j And on his first lap on the track Wednesday morning?

"I was thinking about what I was doing," said Bodine, who has always taken a 'thinking man's approach' to his racing and who is responsible for introducing power steering into NASCAR Winston Cup Series cars and designing his own racing seats. "I was thinking about scrubbing tires and bedding-in brakes."

Crew chief Jim Long engineered with Bodine a strong end of the season run for the Power Team Chevrolet that forecast great things for the team in NASCAR 2000. He said Bodine's return was good news for the team, which has used Ted Musgrave, Dick Trickle and Rich Bickle to replace Bodine this season.

"It's like he's never been gone -- he hasn't lost much at all," Long said. "We're in race trim, just giving him some time in the car. Things are going well, although tonight he'll probably be sore.

"We talked between races and we have worked with some talented people while we waited for Geoffrey to come back. It takes time to gel and we've made the best of a bad situation. We have been up all year and we plan to keep on digging."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rich Bickle , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dick Trickle , Todd Bodine , Geoffrey Bodine , Ken Schrader , Kevin Lepage , Ted Musgrave , Ed Berrier , Dave Blaney