LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (Jan. 2) — The first day of practice for the fourth annual Whelan Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge ended with 2008 Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. on top of the timing sheet. Coughlin drove his brand-new bobsled down legendary Mount Van Hoevenberg in 48.99 seconds from the No. 4 (practice) start gate to lead a group of 12 professional racers from NASCAR and NHRA.

“We had a chance to walk the course with cleats on our feet and I had that ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ feeling again,” said Coughlin, who competed in this event for the first time last January. “But once I got in the sled and made a run with Marine Corps Master Sergeant Frank Bellini as my brakeman, that got the juices following again. Then we saw our time (50.33) for that run and we knew we were real quick out of the first few sleds down. After that, it was on.

“The track just got better as it got later in the day and right before they closed up for the evening I had a chance to take my girlfriend Samantha Kenny with me and we had a great push from Frank at the start gate and put that 48 up there. That was exciting. Of course, we won’t have pushers during the actual race; it’s all gravity then to even it out, but it gave us a good idea of what this new sled can do.”

Todd Bodine, the brother of event organizer Geoff Bodine, was the quickest of Team NASCAR, clipping the timers in 49.04 seconds. He was followed by Boris Said, who posted a 49.05. Said is the man to beat at this event as he’s won it five times, including the first outing before it was an organized race.

“Boris is so smooth and that’s the key to this deal,” Team NHRA sledder Morgan Lucas said after his best of 49.39 placed him sixth overall. “We’re having a blast. They’ve put different runners on the sleds this year to make them all as equal as possible and you can see by the times that it’s going to be very, very close when we get to racing.

“I can say this without a doubt — bobsledding is so underrated as a sport. It’s very hard to learn. It just takes guts to climb in there and make a run, but to make a smooth run and keep it off the walls takes a lot of skill. The guys and girls up here with USA Bobsledding are the best of the best. They’re awesome.”

Since it was a casual practice day, Lucas had a chance to take his teammate Shawn Langdon, his mother Charlotte Lucas, and his father Forrest Lucas down the course. His run of record came with Forrest serving as brakeman.

“That was an honor,” Morgan said. “Dad was freaking out down there at the end. He was as excited as I’ve ever seen him. It’s cool because him and mom sponsor a sled also so I was able to take them down in the Lucas Oil bobsled. It’s something we’ll talk about for a long time.”

Fellow Team NHRA sledders J.R. Todd and Bob Vandergriff Jr. made two runs each amid the snow flurries at the Olympic Sports Complex. Todd coaxed a 50.00 out of his sled, while Vandergriff went 50.76.

The best pass of the day was a stellar 48.74 posted by Funny Car pro Phil Burkart Jr. and brakeman Rob Geiger. Burkart is part of SPEED TV’s broadcast crew this weekend, while Geiger is covering the event for multiple media outlets.

Everyone will have more time to practice on Saturday before squaring off for real on Sunday. That’s when the NASCAR drivers will compete heads-up against the NHRA professionals, first against the clock and then against one another in a team format.

The charity event created by NASCAR veteran Bodine raises money for the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, which designs and makes bobsleds exclusively for Team USA. Prior to Bodine’s involvement, U.S. bobsledders were afterthoughts on the world stage, racing the castoff bobsleds from their European counterparts. Now they routinely win medals at the highest level of the sport, including the Olympic Games and World Bobsled Championships.

Friday’s best elapsed times
48.99 — Jeg Coughlin Jr.
49.04 — Todd Bodine
49.05 — Boris Said
49.08 — Joey Logano
49.37 — Eric Curran
49.39 — Morgan Lucas
49.45 — Phillip Morris
49.71 — Geoff Bodine
49.81 — Danny Bagwell
50.00 — J.R. Todd
50.76 — Bob Vandergriff Jr.
50.87 — Brian Lofton


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