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NASCAR Drivers to Bobsled for Olympians


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NASCAR ace Ken Schrader was a kid, his father decided to make him a race car driver. Nearly a half-century later, Schrader will be in a bobsled to raise money for the Olympic-bound U.S. men's and women's teams.



Schrader's father took an old truck axle, imbedded it vertically in concrete and strung a cable to little Kenny's go-kart. Schrader, only 3 at the time, would drive around in circles until he ran out of gas.


"Circle, circle, circle," Schrader said. "I guess you could say I've been dizzy ever since."


That might help explain his new plan. The 50-year-old driver from Missouri ? with a well-known penchant for racing anything, anytime, anywhere on asphalt or dirt ? will be at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Thursday to try his luck on a frozen track.


"I'm just not sure what I was thinking when I accepted," Schrader said with his customary smile. "Looks a little bit dangerous to me. We're not going to start up at the top. That's good. And I think the brake pedal works."


Schrader is one of at least 10 current or former NASCAR drivers who have agreed to take part in the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge, an effort to raise funds to keep the U.S. men's and women's bobsled teams at the forefront of international racing. The list includes Boris Said, Kenny Wallace, Dick Trickle, Steve Park, Randy LaJoie, Kevin Lepage, Joel Kauffman, Stanton Barrett and Bodine's brother, Todd.


Current Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart also could be in the mix if he's able to find an opening in his hectic schedule.


"I'm hoping I can because I'd really love to," Stewart said. "It sounds like a real blast, and I'm really interested in the sport and the people involved in it. It's a really tough sport."


Geoff Bodine knows that firsthand. After watching the 1992

Winter Olympics on television and noticing the U.S. teams competed with European-made sleds, he created the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project Inc. to help make sure U.S. sleds would be made in America.


Bodine's efforts have since helped provide the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation with sleds designed involving NASCAR technology. The so-called Bo-Dyn sleds finally broke through at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City when the U.S. team ended its 46-year Olympic drought with three medals, a gold, a silver and a bronze.


With NASCAR's popularity soaring and the Winter Olympics coming up next month, Bodine figured the time was right for this event, which runs through Saturday.


"I need to take the project to the next level," said Bodine, voted in 1998 as one of NASCAR's top 50 career drivers.


Some drivers will be in familiar territory. In 1997, LaJoie rode in a bobsled with five-time Olympian Brian Shimer, who won the four-man bronze at Salt Lake City.


"I wanted to get out halfway down," LaJoie said. "It was a different speed than I had ever experienced."


Said, whose father drove for the U.S. bobsled team in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Games, can relate to that. He took a few rides down the old track here in 1980, and the experience left a lasting impression.


"It still, to this day, is one of fastest, most exciting things I've done, especially without a motor," recalled Said, one of NASCAR's top road racers. "I can remember it like it was yesterday. You can't believe how fast you accelerate. It's a wild ride.


"Hopefully, we can get some rides from the top. That's what these guys need. If they go from the top, they'll be scared out of their minds."


Unless there's a change of heart, that's not going to happen. The drivers will travel two-thirds of the mile-long track in training sleds that will reach speeds of only about 60 mph instead of the 190 they're accustomed to.


Bodine thinks they'll relish the rides, nonetheless.


"You're going to have to drive these," said Bodine, who drove the old track 14 years ago. "The runners aren't as grippy. They slide. It's kind of like racing on dirt. Race drivers love that kind of stuff.


"After driving and understanding the mechanics of the sport, I can see where any race driver has the potential to be a good bobsled driver. Everything comes at you quick, hand-eye coordination, judgment.


At speed, everything kind of slows down just like on a racetrack. You can analyze. In your brain, it's kind of like slow motion. I think they're going to do great."


Schrader isn't so sure.


"We're just out of our element so much," he said. "We can be in the car and be all screwed up and still know what we're dealing with. It's going to be a little different."




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