NERF'ers Corner by Robert Echo

Geoff Bodine and the Big Red Machine: ROUND 1

Drivers have their fair share of not so great days, even the very best of them.  I speak of the face-palm tantrum moments of playing park-and-go with a tow truck on the track after being black flagged or foolishly spinning someone out well after a race is over.  Another form comes outside of the car in front of the fans with an interview or an altercation.  The better you are on the track the brighter the spotlight that’s cast upon you.  Enter one Geoff Bodine.  The driver of the Dick Armstrong owned Nu Style Racing red Pinto bodied Modified during the mid to late ’70’s.  Geoff’s unbelievable talent behind the wheel got overshadowed on occasion by an uncanny ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Some of his most notable racing feuds with  fellow competitors are well documented (Bones Bourcier’s RICHIE and BUGSY” books) and every once in a while it would happen outside of the car and make the papers.

The NERF had an additional reason for starting his anti-Bodine campaign and it all started when Geoff and his Big Red Machine decided to compete regularly at Riverside Park Speedway in 1977.

Geoff Bodine in Dick Armstrong's Big Red Machine speeds down the backstretch at Riverside Park Speedway, in Agawam (MA) 1977. Mario Fiore Photo.
Geoff Bodine in Dick Armstrong’s Big Red Machine speeds down the backstretch at Riverside Park Speedway, in Agawam (MA) 1977. Mario Fiore Photo.

Back in the mid to late 70’s Riverside Park Speedway featured Modifieds and Figure Eights.  After intermission the Modifieds would roll out of the pit gates, run over the scales in the infield in turns three and four, and park in their respective positions on the front stretch.  The drivers would then get out of their Mods and start signing autographs for the mobs of fans at the fence.  On this night in ’77, my older brother Shane was in that mob hoping to get an autograph from his new favorite driver, Geoff Bodine.

After waiting his turn, Shane started to pass the driver his new WINSTON Racing hat through the fence.  Geoff looked up at my brother with a distasteful expression and blurted out; “Sorry, but I don’t sign autographs for older kids.  Go bug someone else.”

Up until that moment my family attended the Park with an equal amount of interest each Saturday evening.  After that night the trips were less a family member.  The negative response wiped out my brother’s interest of attending the Park for quite some time and his new favorite driver became his last.  On a scale of 1 to 10 my father’s anger reading was nothing short of severely pissed off.

Obviously many years have passed since then and as I stated earlier, every driver sees their fair share of not so good days, but at that moment in 1978 and being as it was his son, it was taken personally.

The next week Robert Echo began setting aside space in every article he submitted to the local paper and that space focussed on Geoff Bodine.  When he left that local publication and started writing NERF’ers Corner, it only took one nasty incident at Stafford Speedway for that space to creep back into his column.  So, to quote Apollo Creed in ROCKY III; “Ding.. Ding..”

-Jared

Friday, May 26th, 1978 – NEW ENGLAND SPEEDWAY SCENE

NERFer's-Corner

Hello once again from Fan Club Headquarters here in NERF’ers Land. I’m sitting here at my rickety old wooden desk, that must have been left over from the days of President Washington, typin’ my column for all you NERF’s. In fact I think ol’ George used this desk to cross the Delaware in. It’s not really a bad old desk as there are only a couple of minor things wrong with it. The top drawer on the right side has never been open cause I ain’t gotta key and when you pullout the drawer on the bottom left, the right front leg falls off. Oh yes, I call my desk “Sexy” because the top has more bumps in it than Raquel Welch or Charo.

Well back to fan club news.

One New England fan club is presently planning their second trip to the “Cardinal 500” in Martinsville, VA in late October. Details have not been completed and the fan club’s president has asked that the club not be named at this time. When full details are set, we will pass them on to you.

I know there must be several fan clubs out there with some news for all the NERF’s in the Northeast. It could be you who might want to add some new members to support your favorite driver or you could need information on how to start a fan club. Drop us a line and we’ll put your news in this column or we’d be glad to help you organize a club for support of your favorite track gladiator.

Do you remember the old “I hate Elvis” clubs when the late Elvis Presley hit the scene in the 1950’s. Well after last Friday nights 30 lap Modified feature at Stafford Motor Speedway, there may be a new ”I hate” club and with all the tee shirts around with ones favorite driver scrolled across the front with a picture of his car, the new shirts would read “I Hate Bodine” with a big “X” across the picture of Bodine’s Pinto.

The Sherwood Industries No. 12 Vega Modified of Ken Bouchard get some attention in the Stafford Motor Speedway pit area in Stafford Springs (CT). Howie Hodge Photo.
The Sherwood Industries No. 12 Vega Modified of Ken Bouchard gets some attention in the Stafford Motor Speedway pit area in Stafford Springs (CT). Howie Hodge Photo.

Bellingham’s (Ma.) Geoff Bodine and Ken Bouchard of Fitchburg (Ma.) are the only ones who really know what happened on the 25th lap restart with the possible exception of Ken’s brother Ron and Rehobeth’s (Ma.) Bugsy Stevens who lined up behind Bodine and Ken Bouchard.

With Bodine in the number one spot and Ken Bouchard on the outside, the two touched wheels sending the latter for a wild ride into the fourth turn wall. He then rolled back down across the track through traffic where he collided with Plainfield (Ct.) Dick Traynor.

A confrontation between Ron Bouchard and Bodine was thwarted by starter Frank Sgambato and several drivers sitting out the action in the infield.

It was twenty minutes before they removed the badly shaken Ken from his modified and he was later taken to the hospital for examination and release.

I don’t know who or what really caused the accident as there are many versions of the accident, but I do know Ron stirred the crowd up to a frenzy by going after Bodine and rightfully so as he was disturbed over his brother being hurt.

A couple of things cost Bodine a lot of his faithful fans. One was when he climbed from his car after the accident and raised his arms in what everyone in attendance thought was a gesture of victory. This brought a loud booing from the stands. Bodine also later remarked to fans in a “Victory Lane” interview with Pete Falconi; “If these people were real racing fans, they would understand.” Again the boos rose loud and strong from the spectators. The statement was a bad mistake. The people that attend Stafford week after week would have to be considered good dedicated racing fans and without them there would be no payday for winners like Bodine.

Just wonderin’ who’ll be the first to dawn an “I Hate Bodine” shirt or who’ll be the first to start a club under the same name.

NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo DISCLAIMER

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15 thoughts on “Geoff Bodine and the Big Red Machine: ROUND 1”

  1. Wow still bashing a guy 37 years later pretty sad. I will say this these same people who booed him were the same ones who would cheer when it was announced he was leading a cup race when he first got into the cup series.

  2. I am sorry you feel this column was a bashing. The back story at the beginning was only that, a back story. It’s a true story about incidents of 37 years ago as is the posting of this column. It’s racing history. It does not represent the present.

    Please read the disclaimer for my father’s old NERF’ers Corner, which was purposely linked at the bottom of the column.

    Thank you for joining us.

    Note: This is the first of many NERF’ers Corner columns by Robert Echo that make mention of Geoff Bodine. Hence, “ROUND 1”.

  3. I remember that night. If I recall correctly, the #1 team remained in the infield after race, loaded up there and drove out the back gate to avoid the crowds.

  4. Rich, I believe you are correct, but I can’t verify that for sure as we left by that time. I do remember Ronnie ripping his helmet off and tearing the window net down as his #7 Modified before he came to a halt. Bugsy, Frank and a few others had to hold Ronnie back.

  5. The first time that I met Geoff was in the line to the food trailer in the pits at the park. There was a non positive buzz around the pits about the Stafford drivers invading “our”turf and Geoff’s name was close to the top of the list. Well anyways, after what seemed like a half an hour in line I finally got my burger and was walking back to our car, #18 sportsman, Geoff walked up to me and asked if the burgers were any good. My reply was I don’t know yet, I haven’t tried it yet. He grabbed it out of my hand and took a bite out of it, gave it back to me and said it’s not bad. Well I was pissed. I let the little prick know it too. He started to laugh and held his hand out and shook my hand and introduced himself and said he would buy me another one. He did too. He came by our car about ten minutes later with two of them for me. He said he hoped I wasn’t sill mad and said good luck on the track tonite. From then on he always said hello to me whenever saw me. Long story short, a driver has his priorities on the track and in a lot of cases, personalities can be altered under competition. I saw another side of Geoff and that he was a good guy on the outside of the fence.

  6. I seem to recall reading in Speedway Scene that it was later determined to not be Geoff’s fault at all. I could be wrong but I did study that paper every saturday. the day after my stepfather finished it.

  7. What made Speedway Scene so fantastic back in the day was the variety of writers and how they could express their opinions and views. I don’t recall that particular story, but I don’t doubt it made up part of a writer or two’s articles.

  8. I remember well those nites at Stafford and the park. Geoff got shafted for just about everything. NASCAR seemed to look the other way at anyone who wanted to wreck him. I was only 12 yrs old at the time. Surrounded by many adults who hated him and had nothing but malice for the guy. I began to question my own inner judgement and ability to process right from wrong how to determine good from bad. In hindsight it was one of my first lessons in having a mind of my own

  9. Well said, Michael.
    I remember those days as well. It was a little bit of both on both sides. Geoff was a constant winner and if the event did not end with Geoff in the winners circle he was up front. I saw much of all that you described. Fingers were indeed pointed at him many times when he was involved in an incident because of how many fans painted his proverbial portrait. Add that to the quantity that he visited victory lane and those ill timed animated moments back in the 70’s after some incidents and what you have is fuel for those fans who’s drivers were being beat. One thing is for sure, no matter what side of the fence we were on back then, we should all look back and feel extremely fortunate for the great racing we were witness to.
    Thank you for commenting Michael.

  10. Great.racing it was man and machine quite offen his own machine. Different chassis set ups and engine combos You didn’t have to wreck the guy in front to pass just find his weak area and your strong In a way I guess the money ruined the sport. Many said that Dick Armstrongs deep pockets bought those 55 wins. Not long after Geoff came out with I believe Satch Worleys back up car and put the heat on Staffords best with what looked to me like a last minute shoe polish number on the car deal There was some grins and elbow in the ribs nudgin all across the bleaches that nite

  11. Geoff was every bit as good setting up and working on the car as he was a driver. As many have clearly stated, he showed up at the track to compete and win. He didn’t come to socialize and party. It was all business. Many believed the NERF vs. Geoff thing lasted for over a decade, but Geoff and my father really only had issue with each other for about 3 total seasons. They spoke on many occasions at the Oxford 250 and a couple times at Oswego. These columns of his are from 36 years ago and should be looked at for his writing, reliving the memories and times that were. There is no intent of disrespect to anyone mentioned in these old columns.
    Glad they brought back great memories for you as they do for me. That’s what it’s all about.

  12. Just had a moment to reflect on the 1978 Ken Bouchard Geoff Bodine incident. I seem to have a great memory for certain things. I believe it was very late in the race maybe even a green white checker restart Ken was running exceptionally well but facing some very big problems. 1. He had Geoff on the inside and 2 the mess that had just been swept up mostly in the outside groove. I remember the extra effort all the drivers gave during the yellow laps to scruff the junk away. And 3 one has to think of the mind set Ken was in and the possibility of beating out Geoff and the probability of the effect it had on his right foot All in all it was a recipe for disaster. I was a 12 yr old in the bleachers and I knew it I m certain the drivers and track people saw it coming too. Lots of fun to talk about 36 years later

  13. Mike, I believe another writer back then pointed that out as well. Good memory. What set many of the fans off involved two things. The first is obvious. Geoff was winning everything and as we all know nothing causes fans to turn on a driver more than dominating. Secondly, is what happened when they red flagged it. It just added fuel to the fire. Many have suggested that my father and others misinterpreted Geoff’s raised arms to the crowd as he threw his arms up in reaction to the booing crowd in the same way a football player would raise his arms at a referee’s flag, not a “victory” sign. I tend to agree with that idea.
    It is fun to discuss all these years later.

  14. What a time it was the 70s at Stafford. I remember Seymour driving his go cart on 2 wheels around the whole track then challenged Geoff to a dual then his bag of lollipops went missing next heat race Bugsy tossed them out of the 15 at speed. All those great racers the side shows the antics theme from Shaft big Frankie hanging out of the starter stand wavin that green. As for me there has been nothing since in auto racing that could replace those times

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