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Bodine Ready to Fasten Seat Belt at California 500

Geoffrey Bodine will be at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday as a spectator but he expects to return to racing his Winston Cup car at the California 500 on April 30 at Fontana.

Anyone who saw Bodine’s truck explode and bounce around like a pinball during a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race last month at Daytona International Speedway will find that almost impossible to believe. That Bodine is still alive is pretty much a miracle. And now he says he’ll be racing again in a month.

“I still have that burning desire to get behind the steering wheel and go out there and compete and it might even be stronger than ever,” Bodine said during a teleconference. “I love a challenge, and this has been one of the largest, biggest challenges of my life, to deal with this accident and the injuries and to overcome all of that and to get back behind the wheel and start driving again.”

Although Bodine’s body was battered and bruised in the accident, his specific injuries were limited to a broken wrist and a fractured vertebra in his back.

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“I had four pins in my wrist and I still have a cast on it, but it comes off next week,” he said. “I’ve been driving on the highways with one hand, so I don’t expect any problems with two hands in the race car.”

Bodine, at 50 the oldest of three racing brothers from Chemung, N.Y., plans to test at Richmond, Va., before coming to California Speedway.

“I’ll still be wearing a back brace, but California Speedway is the ideal place to make my comeback because it is fairly easy on a driver,” he said. “It’s a very fast track, very technical track but it’s smooth, it isn’t a rough track. It’s fairly flat and it’s pretty darn easy physically on a driver so that’s really why I want to go there for my first race.”

BIGGER IS BETTER

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A.J. Foyt acknowledges having gained about 35 pounds since he quit driving race cars and says he’s happy just the way he is.

For one thing, the added weight may be the only thing keeping him from climbing into his No. 14 Conseco Pontiac to show his drivers how a Winston Cup car is supposed to be raced. His car has qualified only three times in six races and for someone like Super Tex, that’s frustrating.

“I’ll tell you what, it has been tempting a couple of times,” Foyt said of returning to the cockpit. “Not that I could have done any better, but I haven’t been out of them very long and it’s tempting.

“Believe me, if I didn’t have this weight on me that I’ve gained, it’s very likely I would have crawled through that window. But I’m going to keep the weight on so I can’t be tempted.”

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Mike Bliss, a rookie from the Craftsman Truck series, started the season with Foyt, but after qualifying for the Daytona 500 failed to make the next three races.

At Atlanta, for the third race, Foyt suggested to team manager Waddell Wilson that maybe they should try another driver on the second day of qualifying. Wilson asked Mike Helton, NASCAR chief operating officer, if he could make a change in midstream.

“I guess Mike told him, ‘Anybody but A.J.,’ ” Foyt said. “I guess Mike thought I was going to get in. It didn’t matter because the second session got rained out.

“It’s been frustrating. We tested well down there and then we couldn’t back it up. When I raced, I never worried about making races. But I’m not behind the wheel. I knew this year, starting out with a new car and new crew and a rookie driver, was going to be tough, but not like this.”

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Foyt replaced Bliss with veteran Dick Trickle at Darlington and Trickle managed to get into the race there and last week at Bristol. This week there will be another change to yet another veteran, Rick Mast.

Mast, a longtime favorite of Wilson, has not won in 309 races over 12 seasons. However, he was the only driver in Winston Cup racing last season who was running at the end of every race.

“I think the ultimate for me would be to score my first NASCAR Winston Cup series win driving for A.J. Foyt,” Mast said. “How many drivers can say that?”

Foyt, who also fields Indy Racing League cars for Jeff Ward and Eliseo Salazar, acknowledged that jumping into Winston Cup with a new team was not as easy as he had anticipated.

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“I used to get mad if we didn’t get in the front row or right up front,” he said. “But I knew this would be bumpy. All in all, if I think about how we didn’t get the electricity turned on in our new shop that we built in Charlotte until January, the team has done a hell of a job. We’ve got 11 brand-new cars, we’re building our own motors and when we got in races, we’ve run pretty good.

“I really want to make the race Sunday because all my Texas friends will be there.”

The DirecTV 500 is at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

THE LOCAL SCENE

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After a successful opening night with NASCAR Weekly Racing Series cars last week, Irwindale Speedway will feature U.S. Auto Club midgets and sprint cars and SRL supermodifieds on Saturday night.

The USAC standings will have a new look after Saturday night’s races, a 40-lap main event for sprint cars and 30 laps for the midgets.

Bud Kaeding, 20-year-old Western USAC champion, has headed East to try his fortunes on the national scene. Kaeding, son of veteran open-wheel racer Brent Kaeding, won six of Irwindale’s seven sprint car races last season.

Tony Hunt and Davey Hamilton, winners of the last two USAC sprint car races at Madera and Stockton, respectively, are both entered, along with former Silver Crown champion Jimmy Sills and Amy Barnes, runner-up to Hunt at Madera.

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Kasey Kahne, 19-year-old midget car phenom from Enumclaw, Wash., is also planning to race on the national circuit in one of Steve Lewis’ Beast Fords. Kahne won the last three regional races at Stockton, Madera and Bakersfield.

Ryan Newman, 1999 Silver Crown champion and runner-up to Kahne in this year’s USAC Western standings, heads a strong field that includes Western regional champion Marc DeBeaumont.

Troy Regier, defending supermodified series champion, has finished first in all three SRL races this season, although he was disqualified last Sunday at Stockton because of a post-race rules infraction. His crew started pushing the car to the pits after the trophy presentation, forgetting that it needed to pass tech inspection first.

Earlier, Regier won at Phoenix in the Copper Classic for the third consecutive year. He also won at Madera.

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Richard Griffin, winner of three of the last six Sprint Car Racing Assn. main events, will be the favorite when the SCRA returns to Perris Auto Speedway on Saturday night after a three-week absence. Griffin leads J.J. Yeley in series points, 330-265. Longtime Perris favorite Rip Williams is third with 252, although he has yet to win this season.

Mike English won the last Perris race, scoring his first SCRA victory in nearly five years. His last previous win was July 1, 1995, at Ventura.

GET WELL, WALLY

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Wally Parks, founder and president emeritus of the National Hot Rod Assn., is recovering from a heart attack suffered last Friday. He had an angioplasty at Eisenhower Hospital in Palm Springs.

“Wally still hopes to be in Las Vegas next week to see the new drag racing track,” said his wife, Barbara. The NHRA will debut the 35,000-seat Strip at Las Vegas April 7-9.

GET A LIFE, MARK

When NASCAR drivers were asked who they thought would win the NCAA basketball tournament this weekend, this was Mark Martin’s answer:

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“I don’t know who is in the tournament. I’ve heard people at the track talking about it the last few weeks, but I haven’t paid attention. I don’t care about sports except racing.”

LAST LAPS

Football’s John Elway and baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount will try their skills at racing when they compete in the 24th annual Toyota pro-celebrity race during the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 15. Because he has driven professionally, Yount has been assigned to the “pro” category with Lyn St. James, Derek Daly and extreme sports guru Shaun Palmer. Elway will be in the “celebrity” category with entertainment personalities.

Metrolink will provide special transportation to California Speedway April 29-30 for NASCAR’s Winston Cup and Busch Grand National races. From the track’s special station, train riders will be transported to the grandstand area by one of 30 speedway trams.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

This Week’s Races

WINSTON CUP, DirecTV 500

* When: Today, first-round qualifying, 12:30 p.m.; Saturday, second-round qualifying, 7:45 a.m.; Sunday, race (Channel 2, 11 a.m.).

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* Where: Texas Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns), Fort Worth.

* Race distance: 501 miles, 334 laps.

* Defending champion: Terry Labonte.

* Last week: Rusty Wallace won the Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn., for his 50th Winston Cup victory and eighth win at Bristol Motor Speedway. Johnny Benson finished second.

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* Next race: Goody’s 500, April 9, Martinsville, Va.

BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL, Albertson’s 300

* When: Today, second-round qualifying, 11 a.m.; Saturday, race (Channel 2, 10 a.m.)

* Where: Texas Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns), Fort Worth.

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* Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.

* Defending champion: Mark Martin.

* Last week: Sterling Marlin, winless in Grand National competition for 10 years, avoided a series of crashes to win the Cheez-It 250 in Bristol, Tenn.

* Next race: Music City 320, April 8, Nashville.

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