He searched for the words, and in the end, all he could keep coming up with was “crazy.”
That’s how Bobby Bode described the engine-detonating, body-shredding, fireball of a Funny Car final-round spectacle that capped his 20th-birthday weekend Sunday at the NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.
“That was crazy. It was just a long weekend before that, and then on Sunday it was four rounds put together… it was just crazy,” he said Tuesday afternoon, declaring, “I’m still super-tired and wore out.”
By then he was back at Tempe, Ariz., with his mind on final exams in his economics, accounting, and business ethics classes at Arizona State University as much as it was about how he and his team are going to get his Mustang back on the racetrack. Thinking about his classroom obligations at that point were a distraction, as he still was processing the final few minutes of an already exhilarating breakout performance at the track where he made his October 2020 debut.
Bode, even today a relative newcomer to the Funny Car class, had won only one round of eliminations in his previous 14 races (he defeated Terry Haddock last fall at St. Louis). He didn’t enter the Gatornationals, but he had lost in the opening round in all three of his previous appearances this season. So even advancing to the final round – and against a three-time series champion, at that – was a huge accomplishment. Then to have it end in not only a devastating demise of all the team’s extraordinary work, but also the uncharacteristic display of raw emotion and the instant kudos from racing legend Tony Stewart, the whole incident was a lot to sort out.
What led up to the incident was a combination of Bode’s team going more rounds than ever before and then a massive thrash before the final call to the starting line, both of which can be taxing for a young team.
“We had a lot of work to do before the finals. We had to change motors. It was really hectic in the pit area. We barely made it,” he said.
“We didn’t hurt any parts all weekend until the semis, and then we hurt the motor there. It pulled a main stud loose. So then we had to change that motor. We did it, and we were a little behind. We had Paul Lee’s team helping us, Tim Wilkerson’s team helping us, and we got it all back together. It was really cool. I didn’t think we were going to make it up there,” Bode said. He said he wouldn’t have answered the bell “if we didn’t have the extra hands to help. That was really awesome of them.
“We went up there, and Hagan was waiting for us. As soon as we got up there, we started the car within, like, 20 seconds. Everything happened so fast. I was pretty ready for it,” Bode said. “I was super-nervous. All my adrenaline was sky-high. I was staging, and everything was pretty normal. I left – the car left good. It felt just like it did all day. And toward the end, it started kind of laboring a little bit, like the last couple hundred feet. And it just let go. And when it did that, when it blew the body off, it happened so fast. I was under it one second, and the next thing I know, it was really bright out.
“It was really terrifying,” he said, “and it kind of shot me to the left into Hagan’s lane. I didn’t want to hit him at all. I steered it back, but it just happened so fast. The concussion that I felt in the car, it was really…really.. really…um, crazy. I didn’t know I was on fire until I watched the video. It wasn’t that long or anything, but once the body blew off, there was a fire in front of me, on the motor. It was probably all the oil that went on the headers and all that stuff. But I was trying to steer it with a face-full of fire.”
He slammed down his gloves and flung his helmet, then fetched his gloves and slammed them down again and did the same with the part of the HANS device that had remained attached to his firesuit.
We put so much effort into it. And then just to destroy everything again, it just started hitting me all at once. And once I threw one of my gloves, it just kept escalating. – Bobby Bode
It didn’t go unnoticed that at that point, dad Bob Bode, whose race car he inherited, had a “mad dad” kind of reaction once he knew his son was safely out of the car and uninjured. He appeared to be scolding his son, like he disapproved of the reaction.
“Yeah, just a little bit,” Bobby Bode said, laughing. But he told his father later, “I don’t regret throwing it.
“For me, it wasn’t even the fact I lost the race,” he said. “If I win, it’s great. If I lose, I’m glad to have raced there. For me, it was the fact that we worked our butts off, just to make it up there. We had to have teams help us. We put so much effort into it. And then just to destroy everything again, it just started hitting me all at once. And once I threw one of my gloves, it just kept escalating.”
It grabbed the attention of Hagan’s team owner Stewart.
“Bobby Bode, I’m going to buy him a brand-new helmet,” Stewart said. “He threw his helmet, and they’ll take that certification sticker out. He’ll have to get a new helmet. I am personally going to buy him a new helmet, because I want guys like him who are that passionate about wanting to win races — that’s the kind of guys I want in my race cars. So I’m going to buy that kid a new helmet,” he said. “We don’t have to wear the gloves on our heads.” The helmet, he said, “costs a little more.
“I like to see that passion in somebody,” he said. “I mean, it’s definitely not easy to win at this level. There’s so many quality teams and people. And it’s people that truly make the difference in this sport. To have a day where you get to the finals like this, that was a big deal. He could have been shaken up pretty easy with how you’re under a body one minute then a second later that body is gone and you’re having to get it slowed down and stopped. To have that kind of composure is pretty impressive – and to have that kind of passion when you get out.
“That kid’s going to win some races,” Stewart said. “That kid’s done an awesome job. That whole team’s done a great job all weekend. We watched that kid every session go down through there and make solid laps. That passion, that’s the kind of guy I like. I like hanging out with people like that. I like that kid,” he said.
With mock innocence, Stewart said, “I’ve never thrown anything before — never thrown a fit, a tantrum, or anything in my life.” But turning truthful again, he said, “I can appreciate a kid like him that has some passion.”
Bode said, “I watched what he said about me probably 100 times. Every time I watch it, I keep thinking, ‘There’s no way this is real.’”
It was no act of mugging for the cameras, he assured.
“Once I got out of the car and I was doing all that, it wasn’t even in the back of my mind that I was being watched, like on TV and all that. That was just me, in the moment,” Bode said. “The cameras, if they weren’t on me in the moment, no one would have known I did that. The way it worked out, I wouldn’t have crossed paths with Tony Stewart if I didn’t do that.
That passion, that’s the kind of guy I like. I like hanging out with people like that. I like that kid. – Tony Stewart
“I kind of wish I had been more mild in doing it. But my emotions got the better of me. It was just the fact we did all that work, and that was the result. And the other part of it was that was my favorite body. When I looked back and saw it was all gone, then it all started. Then it kept escalating and escalating and escalating. When you see red, you can’t stop,” he said, a bit chagrined. “Everyone kind of knows me as a mild-mannered guy. You wouldn’t imagine me doing that. Just the fact that I did it gives a different perspective. Most of the friends that watched, people I raced with growing up, [who have] been around me a lot, they all thought it was so funny because they knew it wasn’t a sore-loser type of thing. I was just mad that the car did that.”
That incident arguably overshadowed the fact points-leader Hagan delivered a second victory for the new Tony Stewart Racing team in his third consecutive final-round appearance. Even Hagan began his post-race interview with a word about Bode, whose birthday card, incidentally, he had signed with a “You freakin’ stud” show of approval.
Hagan said, “This kid is doing a great job driving, and I’m super-proud of him. We need youngsters like that coming up in the sport. I hated to rain on his parade for his birthday weekend. The kid, he’s a good kid, and he’s passionate about it. That passion is what you need in this sport.
“I’ve done that. I’ve blown bodies up. I’ve had my old man pull me aside [after displaying frustration] and say, ‘If you ever do that again, I’ll never let you drive again,” he said with a reminiscent smile.
Top Fuel racer and budget-minded new team owner Krista Baldwin, who earned her crossover license from the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks at St. Louis with Bode, said, “I felt everything Bobby was feeling at the top end. I’ve blown up engines before, and it’s really tough. I know from my experience, and I’m sure it’s the same for Bobby, these cars are so fast, and we’re still learning. I know exactly how he felt when that motor exploded. They’re a small team, like I am. And everything that goes wrong is going to take us a little while to rebuild.”
Indeed, the Bode team was planning to compete next in mid-May at Richmond, Va., but might not be ready in time for that race or the following one, at Epping, N.H. So it’s possible they won’t return to the Camping World Drag Racing Series until the late-June event at Norwalk (five races from now) – “if we can rebuild everything in time.”
“We are completely out of parts,” Bode said. “We used every part we had in the trailer. By going to the final, we used our last set of pistons, one of our last sets of heads, our last blower, one of our last sets of clutch discs. So we’re kind of low on parts inventory. We did hurt some parts.”
“When I got back to the pit area, there were NHRA officials there. Tony Stewart was there. Fans were there. It was such a surreal moment. I had people that came over, like drivers and crew chiefs. It was really cool to see, from my perspective, like, so many people saw that and came over to make sure I was OK,” he said. “They offered me up advice, like, ‘If you feel a certain way if you feel this, go check this out or do this or do that. It was really cool to see all the support from all the racers.”
Stewart was on the phone with Bode the next day, making arrangements to keep his promise.
Bode, of Deer Park, Ill., said all in all, “It was a great day for me. We barely made that round. We had so many teams helping us. That shows the true friendship out here, how everyone helps each other. I can’t put into words how proud I am of my team.
“It was cool that I made the finals in Houston for the last race. But Houston is where I made my debut in 2020. I’ve only raced there three times in my short career, but I feel like I have so much history there.”
What happened Sunday – the positive and the painful – will outlive Houston Raceway Park. How crazy.