BUSCH: Todd Bodine To Roll The Dice in California

Todd Bodine Will Roll The Dice In California For A Repeat FONTANA, CALIF. ---- Todd Bodine does not consider himself a big-time gambler. Sure, he likes to try his luck at the blackjack table during the occasional trip to Las Vegas, but he does...

Todd Bodine Will Roll The Dice In California For A Repeat

FONTANA, CALIF. ---- Todd Bodine does not consider himself a big-time gambler. Sure, he likes to try his luck at the blackjack table during the occasional trip to Las Vegas, but he does not place a lot of emphasis on the luck of the draw. Even so, he took a big gamble during the inaugural NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division event at California Speedway in 1997. Bodine won the inaugural race at California en route to his runner-up finish in the 1997 Busch Series Championship chase. Bodine and Cicci-Welliver Racing team manager Clyde McLeod used a little pit strategy to capture what was Bodine's lone win in 1997. By stretching his fuel mileage, Bodine coasted to victory lane with a 15.903-second win margin over second-place finisher Steve Park. "I couldn't tell you how many laps we went without having to stop for fuel, but it was a lot," Bodine recalled of his 10th career Busch Series victory. "It was a gutsy decision. We gambled and it paid off." The gamble involved Bodine stretching his fuel 70 laps which added up to some 140 miles. It was a feat few would try and everyone deemed impossible. McLeod, who was serving as crew chief on the Cicci-Welliver-owned entry Bodine piloted in 1997, said he had every confidence that Bodine could go the distance. "It wasn't like we made that decision on a whim," McLeod said. "Fuel mileage was something a lot of teams were discussing the whole weekend. And we weren't the only ones who tried to go to the end. Bobby Labonte went for it and they came up way short. A lot of guys were going to try it, but after he came up short everybody panicked and decided to come in for fuel. "We knew we could make it all the way and that was what we did." For the gamble to pay off, the event had to end without anymore cautions. The race had been under caution only three times with the last one waving on lap 74. It ended up being the last caution as the event returned to green flag racing on lap 80, requiring Bodine to go the remaining 70 laps on the two-mile superspeedway without stopping for fuel. "I never second guessed the decision," Bodine said. "It was a real team effort because the guys had to make sure they got every ounce of gas they could get in the car and then it was up to me to conserve it. And conserve he did. Bodine built up a sizable lead when the rest of the teams in contention to win came in for fuel. He knew all he had to do was conserve his fuel and stay out of trouble. "I drafted with Ed Berrier just about every single lap there at the end," Bodine recalled. "That really helped us out. Fortunately he was going fast enough so we could draft with him." Aside from the sizable purse that went along with winning the first event at California Speedway, Bodine had been searching all season long for a trip to victory lane. He came close on several occasions that year, but had yet to take the checkered flag. The win was also needed to keep him in contention for the championship battle he was having with Randy LaJoie. "We had to win a race," McLeod said. "We were only an eighth-place car, so stretching the fuel mileage was the only way we could win. It was that do or die point of the season in regards to the championship. We were trying to catch LaJoie so we had nothing to lose. It was the best decision I ever made." Bodine did make up some ground in the championship chase with the win, only to have it taken away one week later at Rockingham when he got caught up in a late race accident. Bodine finished 34th in that race and conceded the championship to LaJoie. Despite the fact that Bodine did not win the championship in 1997, the victory at California was a sweet one for Cicci-Welliver and one that both McLeod and Bodine continue to savor. "It was a bit of a gamble," McLeod admitted. "We rolled the dice and we hit big." "We went down in the record book as the first winner at California Speedway," Bodine added. "Fifty years from now when people look in the record books for the first person to win a race at California Speedway they' ll see my name. That's pretty special." When the Busch Series returns to California this year, Bodine will have a little extra cause for celebration. The 1998 Busch Series race at California marked his first race back with Cicci-Welliver Racing. "We were in contention to win that race again," Bodine said. "We were running second when we came in for service on the car. The left front wheel got loose and we got penalized. "You can bet that when we go back this year that won't happen. We will definitely be one of the teams everyone will be looking at as contenders."

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Drivers Todd Bodine , Steve Park , Ed Berrier