Cool running, by way of N.C.

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 20, 2014

NASCAR has a big charitable impact on North Carolina, with race drivers and team owners donating millions of dollars each year to causes ranging from sick kids to abandoned animals. What sports fans might not realize is that a former NASCAR star’s charitable impulse gave a major push to the U.S. four-man bobsled team competing this weekend at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
The U.S. crews are competing in four-man bobsleds provided at no charge by a nonprofit company established more than 20 years ago by former NASCAR star Geoff Bodine and partner Bob Cuneo of Connecticut, a chassis company owner. Originally operating out of Connecticut, the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project now makes its home in a Huntersville shop provided by NASCAR star Joey Logano. One of its primary sponsors is another NASCAR name, Whelen Engineering, which lends on-track expertise as well as financial support to the bobsled effort. There’s yet another NASCAR tie through Mooresville-based deBotech, a company that specializes in carbon-fiber fabrication and helped reduce the weight of the bobsleds’ composite bodywork.
Although ice and asphalt are as different as borsch and barbecue, the $50,000 bobsleds share some similarities with race cars. With fractions of a second typically separating top finishers, small tuning adjustments can make a big difference. Aerodynamics and the effects of G-forces generated on turns are critically important when you’re traveling at speeds of up to 85 mph. But there’s one NASCAR mainstay you won’t see: Sponsor decals plastered over the team uniforms or the bobsleds’ black shells.
The NASCAR connections appear to be paying off. The U.S. four-man team took gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and is a favorite to medal again this weekend in the two bobsleds dubbed “Night Train” and “Night Train 2.” If the team succeeds, the trip to the podium will be a glittering end to a bobsled journey that extends deep into the heart of Tar Heel country.