It’s Been Said Anticipation is Better Than the Reality, not so for Bob Bode

February 8th, 2011

Text by Pete Ward

Photos by Randy Fish

As I write this, two days following the conclusion of NHRA’s Lucas Oil Nationals, somewhere outside of Chicago there’s one really happy guy—actually a bunch of really happy people: Bob Bode, his wife (and “bug”) Alice, son Bobby and crew. After 10 years of competing, they’ve just won their first NHRA National Event. Bob Bode notes wistfully, “There’s just no way to put into words what this feels like…what this means to my family, crew and me.”

Make no mistake, this is a big deal. In this era of multi-car, highly financed teams, it’s extremely difficult to break into the Funny Car winner’s circle. Bob’s very philosophical about it, “NHRA is one of the very few places where a little guy racer still has a chance to win. In NASCAR or IRL this would have been impossible.”

Bob’s path to this accomplishment is very different from most of his fellow competitors. Instead of cutting his teeth in less competitive racing classes, for 20 years prior, he competed on the American Power Boat Association’s national circuit. Racing Flat Bottom Super Stock and K Boat classes, circling lakes at over 150 mph. He nabbed two national championships in the Super Stock class. It’s well known that drag boat racing is extremely dangerous, and Bob was the first to make use of a capsule in the K Boat class. It was eventually that element of risk that brought him permanently back to shore, “I just got tired of going to friends’ funerals.”

In 1998 a friend persuaded Bob to attend the NHRA Winternationals, the first drag race he’d attended since he was a kid. “When the Funny Cars left the line and I felt that pounding against my chest, I knew I had to try it.”  Before the race was over he’d purchased Tom Hoover’s Pioneer Electronics Funny Car body and chassis. Glen Mikres signed on as his crew chief/guide to get the fledgling operation up and running.

After a year’s gestation, the car and Bode made their debut at a Tucson, Arizona, test session prior to the start of the 2000 season. He was towed to the line, which was his first time sitting in his new ride as it was actually moving. From absolutely zero seat time in any kind of drag car to making his first pass down a drag strip in a nitro Funny Car—talk about trial by fire! By the end of that test session he was up to making almost two-second squirts. “During this learning process I kept asking Glen about things I should expect to encounter, one being tire shake. He simply said ‘You’ll know it when it happens.’  When it did finally happen, everything was just a blur, and then I lifted, and it was like refocusing a TV picture, everything returned to normal. In a Funny Car everything happens so fast, you don’t have to think, just react. By the time you complete a thought process it’s too late and you’ve blown up an engine or stuffed it into a wall. With my boats, I had time to process information.”  Because of the pre-season testing schedule, he was able to quickly accumulate enough laps to get his license, on which John Force signed off. His first race was in Atlanta that same year—DNQ.

He and Glen soldiered on for two years of limited budgets and event attendance, but he kept making laps, gaining knowledge and most importantly, not doing anything stupid.  Finally, at Brainerd in 2001, he made that giant leap and qualified for his first race.

Richard Hogan replaced Glen and that relationship lasted another two years; the budget and schedule remained limited. By then the team was qualifying for at least 30 percent of the races. More qualifying equated to more seat time and improved driving. But just as importantly, Bob became much more comfortable with the mechanics of his race car.  “Early in my career, when something didn’t work as it should, I’d label it as voodoo. I’ve gotten very hands-on, doing the clutch, bottom end, working on the heads.  Now I do the fuel and pack the chutes.” The high point of Hogan’s tenure was qualifying for Indy. “Early on, qualifying was almost as good as winning.”

All the while Glen and then Richard ran the operation, crew member Walt Przybyl (wrap that one around your tongue!) was gaining experience, starting out as the bottom end guy. Now not only is Walt the crew chief, his company, PRZ Tech, welded up the chassis for Bob’s latest flopper.

They debuted the car last year at (wait for it) Brainerd. This northern Minnesota track seems to hold some special magic for the Bode bunch.

Walt’s engine combination doesn’t vary much from his fellow competitors: BAE block, Sonny Bryant crank, swinging Bill Miller rods and Venolia pistons, FX cam, Williams oil pan and RCD pump, Alan Johnson heads and blower manifold, PSI blower, Rage fuel pump, XR hoses/fittings, MSD ignition, and Smiley headers. The five-disc clutch assembly is AFT/Bonnifante. Walt’s choice of rearends is Chrisman.

Performance has increased incrementally through the years. Bob bemoans the fact that last year they got a bit over-center.  “We wanted to slam a homerun, so we bumped everything up to accomplish that. This year we backed everything down and our performance level has picked back up.”

Along with the increased performance, Bob’s reaction times have improved. “I have a practice tree at home and am on it constantly. So much so, my eight-year-old son Bobby was getting jealous of it, because it seemed to be taking time away from him.”  So, Bob got his son involved with the equipment. It looks like he’s created a holeshot monster. In Junior Dragster competition, young Bob has received two awards for Best Reaction Time. He regularly kicks his dad’s butt on that practice tree. “It motivates me. I figure if my boy can be so darned sharp, I should be able to cut those lights, too.”

Bob is eager to share this victory with those who around him, most of whom have been with him since the team’s inception. “One of the keys to this success has been the loyalty and determination of my crew. We’ve all continued to pull together no matter how good or bad things have been.”

In addition to Crew Chief Walt Przybyl, the team includes Car Chief Mike Stock, clutch doctor Jake Fahy, Rich Carp and Alex Diekfuss on heads, bottom end Mike Dusinski, superchargers Jim Marone, truck driver and tire guy Eugene Gray. Also displaying a high degree of loyalty have been his long-time sponsors, Arbee Transparent Products and Alard Machine Products.

Watching Bode hoist his Wally, seeing that ear-to-ear grin, knowing that one individual trophy carries as much weight as a room full of them, it will motivate a pit full of people to continue to load up their racers and head for the strip.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention Bob’s wife and “bug,” Alice.  Anyone who watches Bob race, whether it’s on TV or in person, has come to appreciate Alice and her level of enthusiasm.  She’s continuing a long tradition of women and drag cars, epitomized by “Jungle Pam”—Alice is Bob’s Back Up Girl!

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