Boris Said tops bobsled qualifying


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) – Boris Said shrugged and smiled. It was good to be king of the mountain again.

Said, one of the best road racers in the world, posted the fastest two runs Friday at Mount Van Hoevenberg and easily won the qualifying for the Chevrolet Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge. Said bested the driver who organized the unique event by nearly a second and was the target of more than a few barbs when he finished.

“When your competitors don’t like you, that’s a good thing because it means you’re fast,” said Said, who stunned the NASCAR Nextel Cup world by winning the pole for the Pepsi 400 last July at Daytona and finishing fourth.

Said figured to be the man to beat over the 17-turn layout. He won the first race in the event’s inaugural run a year ago and his late father, Bob, drove in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Olympics for the U.S. bobsled team.

“Man, he picked up a second,” NASCAR Busch Series driver Randy Lajoie said. “He’s got it figured out. He was heating up his runners.”

This is the second year for the Bobsled Challenge, which features race car drivers on ice. It’s an effort to raise funds to keep the U.S. men’s and women’s bobsled teams at the forefront of international racing.

Geoff Bodine, voted one of the top 50 drivers in NASCAR history, has been involved with bobsledding since 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 Inc. to help make sure U.S. sleds would be made in America, and his efforts have since helped provide the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation with sleds designed involving NASCAR technology.

The rest of the field of drivers, who will compete in two separate races Saturday, again includes Kevin Lepage, also a winner last year, 65-year-old Dick Trickle, and Craftsman Truck Series champion Todd Bodine, who won last year’s qualifying.

Besides Lajoie, other newcomers to the field are drag racers Morgan Lucas and J.R. Todd, Craftsman Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan, nine-time NASCAR modified champ Mike Stefanik, former NASCAR driver Phil Parsons, and Phillip Morris of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series.

“This is neat. It’s a different world,” Lajoie said. “It’s very much like three laps at Bristol. You get done and you’re like – ‘What just happened?’ – because you really don’t know.”

Unusually warm weather – the afternoon temperature hovered in the mid-50s – made practice and qualifying much different, and so did the sleds, which were fitted with racing runners by Bob Cuneo.

“I was told to do it,” said Cuneo, the primary designer of the current Bo-Dyn bobsleds used by the U.S. teams. “The other runners were tearing up the track and the drivers wanted to go faster.”

Especially Trickle, who showed no signs of slowing down by qualifying fourth.

“They’re a little faster, and being faster makes it a little tougher,” said Trickle, who was one of the fastest drivers last year but flipped his sled in each race and never finished. “And the weather conditions have made us drive them a little more.”

For the newcomers, the learning curve was steep. Todd, NHRA top fuel rookie of the year, qualified last, nearly 3.5 seconds behind the leader.

“I’ve got a whole lot more respect for the Olympic guys that do it for a living,” Todd said. “You’ve got to be on your toes and be in control of these things at all times. The driving we do, we’re not steering. There’s a lot of steering going on in this. It feels like you’re doing 100 miles an hour on ice. It’s definitely a big adrenaline rush, for sure.

“I’ve been 328 (mph in the quarter mile), but you get kind of the same adrenaline rush here at the end. You’re thinking about crashing, you’re jacked up.”

Gaughan qualified just ahead of Todd, and he wasn’t too happy about that.

“Being second to last is kind of embarrassing,” Gaughan said. “Me and J.R. are battling for the trunk. We both need to come back and make this look better.”

Stanton Barrett, the only driver to finish among the top three in each race last year, will be racing again on Saturday but not in the Bobsled Challenge. Barrett has been training with the U.S. bobsled team in the America’s Cup series and will compete for the Billy Fiske Trophy at the Whelen U.S. National Championships, which are being staged in conjunction with the Bobsled Challenge.

“We’re really proud of Stanton,” Geoff Bodine said. “He’s brought so much exposure to the sport. We’re anxious to watch him in that race tomorrow.”

AP-ES-01-05-07 1917EST