SALISBURY, N.C. – Alex Bodine soaked in a career night on Wednesday at Millbridge Speedway entering the Independence Day holiday, notching a strong runner-up finish at the sixth-mile dirt oval.
Bodine, the oldest son of former NASCAR driver Brett Bodine, started from the pole in the headlining 20-lap Open division main and led the first six revolutions before being passed by eventual winner Brent Crews.
Though he just didn’t have the strength of kart to hang on up front, Bodine did fend off the rest of the field to finish second, 4.279 seconds adrift of Crews at the twin checkered flags.
It was a career-best mark in outlaw kart competition for the younger Bodine, who has raced for several years at the central North Carolina dirt track and struggled to find success.
“Well, I’ll admit that I did try to play the start a little bit in the beginning and jumped it … but they picked up on that one,” admitted Bodine, a sly grin on his face. “So I was like ‘okay, we’ve got to go for real this time,’ and we fired off and Crews and I went … and when I got past the flagstand, Crews wasn’t there anymore. So I guess we checked out for a little bit and made one lap … and then we got a caution because Crews broke. So I was like, ‘okay, this is good; it’s single file again. This is great.’
“It worked for a while, but man, he was able to come back through there in a hurry,” Bodine added. “Once he did get back past us, it was definitely about protecting what we had.”
Bodine took the risk of putting a harder-compound right-rear tire on his kart for the main event, a decision he felt like ultimately paid dividends despite the fact that Crews overhauled him for the win.
“I really think it was the right choice, even if it was risky,” Bodine noted. “We put a harder right rear tire on there. I know most of the people went out with 20s on the right rear, and I couldn’t get stagger to work with a 20, so I was like, ‘Okay, screw it. We’ll just put on a 30.’
“I guess it worked to our advantage. We got to the halfway point and I actually felt pretty good about it, and then we got to another restart and I looked at the scoreboard and saw Crews starting behind me. I was like, ‘Oh no, we’re in trouble,’” Bodine recalled. “We fired off, and I think we made like one lap and he totally just drove past me, like I was tied to a stump.
“They’ve got something figured out over there and he checked out, but we were strong behind him.”
In the closing laps, Bodine put on a thrilling battle with multi-time track champion Tom Hubert, a former NASCAR racer who has taken to racing outlaw karts regularly during the week in his retirement from top-level competition.
Though Hubert got side-by-side with Bodine more than once, the second-generation driver took charge and gapped the wily veteran in the closing laps – an accomplishment that left him struggling for words.
“Running with Tom (Hubert) was probably the best thing I think we’ve ever done,” Bodine said. “Tom has been here for God knows how long and won so many races … and running side by side with him and ending up outrunning him makes me feel great.
“With the harder right rear on there, I guess riding in the slick worked in my advantage. I had a little bit more drive off than him, you know?” continued Bodine. “I went and talked to him and he had a 30 on too, but he said once I got him pinched down like that, he had nowhere to go and our No. 11 just pulled away from there.”
After a season in which Bodine has blown multiple motors and suffered enough mechanical failures and hard luck to write a book on, a finish – not to mention a career-best – was cause for celebration.
It was also a shot in the arm for the 18-year-old as well.
“For as many engine issues as we’ve had, and getting stuff broken and put back together, tonight has been excellent,” said Bodine. “After some trouble in the heat race and Little Bundy (Ethan Mitchell) thrashing with me to put that thing back together and come out and finish second, this is pretty cool. Especially since my dad’s not here and I was working on it myself.
“This just gives me a little bit more head room with him.”
On that subject, Bodine laughed when asked if he might tell his father to stay home next time, given his successful outing during the holiday week.
“I probably won’t tell him to stay home, but I will take charge more and make most of the decisions on this now,” Bodine explained. “I feel good about this. It’s a great night, one that we needed, for sure.”