TULSA, Okla.—How did Cole Bodine spend his day off?
Racing his way to the podium during his preliminary for the Chili Bowl Nationals, where he finished third in Wednesday night's preliminary A-Feature, one position away from a guaranteed starting spot in Saturday night's A-Main.
The 20-year-old Rossville, Indiana, native showed up for work early on Wednesday morning at the Tulsa Expo Center for his day job—working on Tyler Courtney’s car—only to be turned away by team owner Tim Clauson. It was race day for Bodine. The wrenches could wait.
Yes, Bodine—no relation to the Chemung, New York, clan—is living that quintessential Cinderella story right now. For the last two years, the micro-sprint racer has driven about an hour each way to work at Clauson Marshall Racing. He couldn’t write a check for a full-time midget ride. His father works Subaru factory in Lafayette, Ind. His mother works for an insurance company.
But Bodine’s boss believes in rewarding young talent. There were plenty of benefactors that supported his son—the late Bryan Clauson—on his journey to the top ranks of open-wheel racing. The elder Clauson continues to pay it forward. Bodine’s work ethic and driving skills made him the ideal candidate for CMR.
“It’s really cool,” Bodine said. “A lot of people say hard work and dedication, putting your head down and digging, doesn’t do anything for you in the racing world now. There have been times that I’ve believed that it is true. That I’ve wanted to give up. But you just can’t. If you set your mind to it. You can do it.
“Nothing is easy. It never has been. But having this hard work pay off and to be standing here right now is incredible.”
Bodine’s first break came when he subbed for Zeb Wise, who broke his collarbone last June and was sidelined for eight weeks. Clauson then offered Bodine a midget for the Driven2SaveLives BC39 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Sept. He finished sixth in his qualifier.
In November, CMR announced that Bodine would replace Justin Grant in the No. 17bc midget for the remainder of the 2018 season.
And his performance on Wednesday did not disappoint. Bodine started second and won his heat race in the No. 57C midget. He came from fourth to win his qualifier and started from the pole in the feature. Two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu passed Bodine on Lap 8. Following the second caution on Lap 9, Bodine lost the battle for second to David Gravel when the No. 76g and 2006 Chili Bowl winner Tim McCreadie went three-wide on the restart. Still, Bodine held on for third. On Saturday, he’ll start in near the front in one of the B-Mains in his second CBN appearance.
After the race, Bodine described the moment as surreal—especially sitting alongside Abreu and Gravel in the press room.
“Rico is something else, I’ve always looked up to him,” Bodine said. “And I’ve followed David Gravel in the World of Outlaws. He’s amazing. But to be here, put my name on the map a little bit more, hopefully, that will bring up more opportunities this season.”
Bodine has become a role model to aspiring racers looking to forge a similar path. His advice: “Don’t give up.”
“I have young kids coming up to me saying, ‘That’s awesome what you’re doing,’” Bodine said. “I’ll have dads that say, ‘Man, my little boy looks up to you like crazy. He knows what you’re doing, he follows your racing.’ Stuff like that just keeps me going.”
And while most of the podium winners can’t wait to leave and start the party, Bodine just wanted to catch some sleep. The alarm rings early when you have to be back at work in the Chili Bowl pits at 7 a.m.
“I love what I do—working on the cars,” Bodine said. “But that isn’t my true passion. I would never ever take away from what I do. I always put 100 percent into my work whether it’s wrenching or washing the cars, wiping it down.
“But wheeling is my passion. I hope the opportunity comes along that I can make a career out of it.”