Teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver !@Todd Bodine (driver of the No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota). Bodine is currently the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader. Bodine holds a 113 point lead over second-place Johnny...
Teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver !@Todd Bodine (driver of the No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota).
Bodine is currently the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader. Bodine holds a 113 point lead over second-place Johnny Benson with five races remaining in the 2006 season. So far this season, Bodine has three wins (Atlanta, St. Louis and Texas), 11 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.
Bodine and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series return to action Saturday, Oct. 21, for the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Bodine finished 12th at Martinsville earlier this spring. The Kroger 200 is scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Q: You say that you consider Martinsville to be one of your home tracks since you went to high school in nearby Franklin County. In five NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts at the track, you have four top 10s. Can you talk a little bit about Martinsville and what that track means to you? How do you approach Martinsville when you are in a championship chase and what a win at Martinsville would mean to you?
BODINE: Not only did a I graduate high school just up the road, but I've been going to Martinsville Speedway since I was about eight years old watching by brothers race there -- obviously, Geoff first and then Brett. So I've been going there first as a spectator, then as a crew member on Brett's car changing tires, then as a driver. It's part of our family history. Geoff and Brett won several races there. The Earles family and Clay Campbell are very special to the Bodine family. We've always been very close. It's like going home every time we go there. I've always run well at Martinsville. I think a lot of that is because I've had the opportunity to watch my brothers race there so many times that I've grown to understand the race track and what it takes to get around it. I've got a NEXTEL Cup pole there, and I always enjoy it. Going to high school just up the road, I usually get to see some friends there and get to enjoy them. It's always been a homecoming for me. I love to go up there and race.
Q: Todd, with five races to go in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, you hold a 113 point lead over second-place Johnny Benson. In addition to that, you have the most recent truck wins at the final four tracks on our schedule -- winning both Atlanta and Texas earlier this season and Phoenix and Miami last year. Does that give you an advantage or even more confidence as we wind down the season and you try to win the championship?
BODINE: I don't know if it gives us an advantage because I believe they have changed the tires. But it certainly doesn't hurt. Confidence? Yes, without a doubt. Going there as the defending champions at these last races, I pretty much won them all last year -- there's obviously a lot of confidence. There's confidence in the crew, confidence in my Toyota Tundra. I know and feel like I know how to get around there. There's definitely confidence. We feel like we're going there to win the race. That's one thing we have stated all along. Going into championship run everybody talks about do you change your strategy, do you change the way you approach the races to try to protect you points lead? Our answer has been the same since the first race to right now -- we are not changing what we do. We're going there to win the race, to run up front, to do the best we can for Toyota and for Lumber Liquidators. And if we cannot win the race, we'll do what we've done all year, and that's get the best finish we can whether it be fifth or fourth or tenth -- whatever we can do the best at, that's what we'll do. We're not going there just to protect points lead, we're going there to win the race. That's what got us to the dance, and that's what we're going to keep doing.
Q: Do you handle the stress of holding on to a points lead differently than getting to the points lead?
BODINE: Yeah. I've been in points races before. In the Busch Series, I finished second twice, and I've been in top five several times. So I understand what points racing is about, and you're right. When you are chasing, it's a whole different mindset -- a whole different feeling. You're out for the kill. You're out to go after it. You're not worried about if you're second, you're not worried about finishing third because who cares. Second and third -- there's no difference -- it's first and second loser. When you are leading it, it is a different mindset. You have to be aware of every position you put your truck in, every move you make it on the track and how its going to affect the final outcome of that day. Where if you're in second and you're chasing, who cares, take a little chance, try to get a position, you've got to make up points. There's definitely a difference. And last week at Talladega is a good example. There was two or three times where I could have gotten along side of Mark (Martin) for the lead, and I didn't. I got a little under him, he would come down and I backed out. Normally, I probably would have rooted him a little bit or maybe have taken the chance of getting under him. When I did get blackflagged for going below the yellow line, I was alongside him. I didn't take a chance, but that's a whole other situation, another discussion, so we won't get into that. There is definitely a difference -- you're right on the money with that.
Q: What's the difference in racing in Martinsville in NEXTEL Cup vs. Craftsman Trucks? Over the years, with all your experience at Martinsville, what have you learned to race there?
BODINE: The difference between a truck and a Cup car -- the slower the speeds, the more they are the same because aerodynamics does not become an issue. At Martinsville, trucks and Cup cars really drive very similar. The Cup car obviously has more horsepower, but that's probably the biggest difference is trying to get that horsepower to the race track. But the actual drive of the vehicle, the things that you do, the way you approach your set up, it's very, very similar. I think that's one reason -- even though our statistics don't show it -- that we've run very well at Martinsville. I think that is one reason we have run well there. Experience of driving not only a Cup car but a Busch car at Martinsville has definitely helped in our truck program going there and understanding what things you need and what areas you need to concentrate on to get the most performance of the truck.
Q: Is there a difference running at Martinsville in the spring and the fall? Does cold weather have an affect on Martinsville?
BODINE: Not really. Because the corners are concrete, the heat and the sunlight don't make as big a difference. Obviously with concrete it's not an oil-based product. It doesn't seep the oil residue and the things that are in asphalt that make asphalt slick in the sunshine. Concrete is definitely a more consistent surface to race on. The big thing is the air temperature for Martinsville -- cooling the brakes, cooling the driver, the motors run better. That's probably the biggest difference between the first and second races.
Q: With the tire changes at end of season, does that make it more difficult for you to be consistent at tracks that you traditionally run well at? Do you think Goodyear is doing a good job in keeping up with the wear on these tracks with the tire changes?
BODINE: I think that is the one difficulty with our sport is changing the tires. If they would just leave the tires alone when they get a good one, it would make the racing a lot better. Guys from race to race, from, say, the spring race to the fall race at a track, the guys that struggled in the spring would have a better idea in the fall of how to make their cars or trucks better because it would be the same tire. They are constantly changing the tires and that really messes up the set-ups, and the things that you have learned from the previous race that would make you better. Goodyear is doing a good job with our tires. The problem is they went through a period where they had a lot of failures -- left front failures, right front failures. It really wasn't Goodyear's fault, it was the things the teams were doing to enhance the performance of their cars or trucks -- not so much the trucks as it was the cars. Consequently, Goodyear had to change the things that they do to make it so that those tires weren't blowing and part of that is hardening the tire and stiffening the sidewall. It's really made it difficult for drivers to run side-by-side. It's made it difficult for for chassis guys to get their cars handling. It's really thrown a monkey wrench in this whole thing. If they would soften the tires up, you would see much better racing. But Goodyear did that because of what the competitors were doing, not because they wanted to do it.
Q: You have found success in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series that might have been elusive to you in Cup. A lot of that has to do with opportunity. A lot of drivers are now moving from truck to Cup. How do you see series now for veterans and for guys coming in to develop their driving skills?
BODINE: I think a lot of that is because the trucks do drive very similar to the cars. It's not so much of a truck thing. I think it would be that way in Busch also, but the problem with the Busch Series is the owners -- and they're blaming it on the sponsors -- have put all their Cup drivers in the Busch Series. So, there's no place to groom a driver in the Busch Series anymore. There's not a place for that, so consequently you have to go to the next division, which is the trucks. And the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is a great place. It's incredible competition. The trucks are not easy to drive by any means, but yet they are very forgiving when you do make a mistake. So, it's a great place for someone to learn about driving these tracks. The trucks go to all the bigger tracks now. Like I said, they are more forgiving on these tracks so rookies can make a little bit of a mistake and get away with it, so they can learn without busting their butt. It's a great place to bring someone through, give them some experience. If they show promise, show talent, then they can move them up. I think that's why you see some of these guys moving right up.
Q: Do you feel like you have achieved the happiness and consistency in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series that you were seeking in Cup in terms of being competitive every week.
BODINE: Yes. The Craftsman Truck Series is a great place. I hate to keep stating that, but I love the Truck Series -- I really do. The reason for my happiness, the reason for the consistency, the reason for running up front has nothing to do with the Truck Series. It has to do with Mike Hillman Sr., Mike Hillman Jr. and the fact that they're family to me. We've known each other for so long. Even though they are father and son, they are both like brothers to me. We're tight. We're not just crew member/driver. We're tight. As in any business, it starts at the top and we are so fortunate to have owners that are just good people. They care. They are still learning about racing -- this is only their second full season. They're still learning about racing. But they care about their people. They care about their business. They are good people to hang out with. They're fun. They treat me like family. They treat the Hillmans and all their employees like family. That's jus the way they are. It's not just that, it's everything that makes this team. I'm just finally in the position that I have always tried to be in whether in be in Cup or in Busch. I finally found my place to be, and that's why when the Germains decided they'd like to take a shot at the Cup Series, I'm right there with them. Right now, our plan is to run 15 Car Of Tomorrow races next year. If we can acquire funding, we want to go fulltime the following year. Their aspirations and goals are to move their business to the next level, and they want me to go with them and I'm more than happy to do that with them.
Q: Talk a little bit about what brought you and your family to Franklin County, Va., in the early 1980s. Was it adjustment for you to move from New York to Virginia.
BODINE: Our father owned a race track for 25 years -- owned, operated, actually built it with my grandfather. Satch Worley and his father decided they wanted to build a race track -- Log Cabin Speedway -- and my father was available. So, they hired Dad to come down and help them build it. His knowledge of racing and of promoting and of a race track as a place, it was very valuable especially if you were building a new one. So they hired Dad to come down, help build it and eventually help run it, and that's what brought us to Franklin County. It wasn't really an adjustment -- the biggest thing was the heat. I actually went out for football when I moved down. First, I spent the summer with Geoff -- he was racing a Sportsman car. It was time to go to school, and I went out for football. We had captain's practice the week before. The first day of captain's practice, it was 112 degrees. I said 'OK.' I got done with captain's practice, and I said 'Sorry coach, this isn't for me. I'm going back racing.' So, I never made the football team at Franklin County. I made a lot of great friends. It was a great school and a lot of good kids. It's a good place to be.
Q: The guy who is chasing you in the standings, Johnny Benson, has a lot of experience. Does it change your approach having a veteran driver chasing you as opposed to someone with not as much experience?
BODINE: No, it doesn't because we cannot control what they do. We can't control their circumstances or their luck, so it doesn't matter who's driving. What we have to do is to control our circumstances and put ourselves in the right position to not have bad luck, to not do things that would jeopardize points. That's what we have to worry about -- what we're doing. We'll do the best we can, and they will also. We'll just let the cards fall where they will.
Q: Let's talk about sponsorship. In the Truck Series, do you have a lot more issues being that you are televised on SPEED and it's not as popular or widely known to people as the two top series? How is it as far as business? From a business standpoint, is it more difficult getting and maintaining sponsors?
BODINE: I'm not quite sure what you are trying to get at. I beg to differ with you just a little bit in that you say the truck series isn't as well known. Obviously, it's not on network TV, it's on SPEED Channel, but I believe our television ratings are through the roof this year. Maybe I'm a little biased in this statement, but everywhere I go, every fan I meet and talk to, every autograph session I do - every single one of them says that Craftsman Truck Series racing is the best racing in the country right now. We race hard every lap, side-by-side. There's more personality. There's things going on that make it interesting through whole race. Unfortunately, during this day and age, our fans as families are very busy. They don't have four hours to sit down and watch a race a lot of times. So, they'll sit down and watch and hour-and-a-half or two-hour truck series race. And they enjoy that. That's why our viewership is up. And it just happens to be great racing. I just want you to understand that's how we feel about it. Because it is not on network TV and it is on SPEED Channel, the perception because it is on SPEED Channel is that it is not as widely televised. If you go into your cable markets, SPEED Channel is growing in the markets that they are in. They are putting them on more and more. That is rapidly becoming a misconception to the sponsors. I think that's one area we need to work on as a group -- to get that known -- that our viewership is up and its becoming much more national as an audience. You are right that it is a little harder to sell sponsorship.
Q: There's an old stick-and-ball adage that you hear from coaches that you have to play one opponent at a time. How difficult has it been for you to keep a single-minded focus on task at hand the last couple of months? Is it almost tunnel vision?
BODINE: It really is taking one at a time, as they come. To break it down even further, you take it a lap at a time. We got ourselves to this position by the mindset of just go win the race, and we're not going to change that. With that mindset and you do take it one race at a time, it's not hard to focus. We're not looking at that end goal. We didn't finish second at Daytona, saying 'We've got to start protecting our points lead.' That's a season away. Even though we're five races away, we're still not going to have that mindset. It's not really as hard as you would think.
Q: Do you envision yourself winning the title next month? Do you dream about it? Do you think about it?
BODINE: To be honest with you, I try not to think about it. It's hard to not think about it. It's something that has eluded my family for a long time. It's right there in our grasp, but it's up to us to not let it get away. It's hard to not focus on it, but I'm really trying not to. We take it one race at a time. They guys are back at the shop right now preparing the truck just like we have done all season, like we did all last year, and it's not going to change after this.
Q: You talked about your family heritage in NASCAR and a title is something that has eluded your family. What would a championship mean to you personally, as well as to your family?
BODINE: Between my brothers and myself, we have a lot of combined seasons of racing in NASCAR's top Series. To not have won a championship, almost seems like a crime. For what my family has gone through for this sport, what we have done for the sport -- not trying to toot our own horn or anything -- but we've been a part of the sport for a long time. Not only for myself, but for Geoff and Brett to have never won a championship seems like a crime. They both came close in several divisions, but we just never closed it out. So, it would mean as much for me to do this for my family as it would for myself. It's something that is a long time coming. Hopefully, we can close it out and get it done.