Barrett trades tires for runners

NASCAR driver goes back to school - bobsledding school

When Stanton Barrett failed to qualify for last weekend’s Busch Series race, he figured it was time to go back to driving school.

Barrett, an accomplished Hollywood stunt driver trying to make it in NASCAR, has made only eight Busch starts this season, and maybe it’s because he’s been distracted. The driving school he’s attending this week is one for budding bobsled drivers in Calgary, Alberta.

“I’m ecstatic to be running with all these world-class drivers,” Barrett said. “I’m like a little kid. I get to watch them and I get to drive on the same track.”

Since participating with nine other race car drivers in the inaugural Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge at Lake Placid, N.Y., last January, Barrett, a former ski racer, hasn’t been able to get the sport out of his mind. That he was the only driver to record a top-three finish in each of the event’s two races probably has something to do with his newfound passion.

“He fell in love with it,” Bodine said. “All weekend long he said, ‘I need a bobsled, I need to do this, I want to go from the top.’ Those sleds weren’t designed to go from the top. We couldn’t let him.”

Next time they will.

After Barrett learns the nuances of driving, he hopes to run two races in the America’s Cup series, sort of the minor league of bobsledding, and maybe even compete at the U.S. championships. They will be staged the first weekend in January at Lake Placid in conjunction with the second Bobsled Challenge.

“He’s a good athlete,” said John Morgan, a former U.S. bobsledder and now a television commentator who suggested the bobsled school to Barrett. “Those guys are drivers. They don’t like riding.”

NASCAR driver Stanton Barrett guides a modified bobsled down the race track during the Chevrolet Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge. The event was Jan. 7 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Barrett’s foray into the sport is being taped by the Speed Channel for a show that will air during the winter, but he’s not doing it for the publicity. Like Bodine, Barrett wants to raise awareness of the sport and help generate support for U.S. athletes.

“I have quite a passion for winter sports,” said Barrett, whose grandfather was a coach on the U.S. ski team and whose mom skied in World Cup races and won a medal at the world championships. “I always told Geoff I’d sure like to be a part of it. They need a lot of help.”

Bodine’s been helping the U.S. team for more than a decade. 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 to help make sure U.S. sleds would be made in America.

Bodine’s efforts have helped provide the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation with sleds designed involving NASCAR technology.

Bo-Dyn sleds finally broke through at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, where the U.S. team ended its 46-year Olympic medal drought, capturing a medal of each metal.

“He appreciates how dedicated the athletes are and the expense involved. That was part of why I got involved,” Bodine said. “I’m real excited for Stanton. I believe an experienced NASCAR driver has the potential to make a very good bobsled pilot. I expect he will do just fine. He’s going to figure out how to get that sled down without crashing.”

Morgan and sled designer Bob Cuneo did the legwork for Barrett. And Cuneo, whose Connecticut-based company, Chassis Dynamics, also creates race-car setups, is retrofitting a bobsled for Barrett.

“He didn’t give up,” Bodine said. “A lot of guys have impulse ideas. When I went to Lake Placid, that’s what they thought I would do. I’m real proud of Stanton. It’s going to bring awareness to the sport, and I really believe he’s going to show other race drivers that potentially they could be an Olympian.”

Added Barrett: “My goal is to show the competitive side and the technological side of the sport and what it takes, what’s behind it. We want to take it to the next level.”