February 9, 2011

Powering bobsleds and racecars - by Curt Tomasevicz

I have to admit that as I grew up, I didn’t pay much attention to NASCAR. Of course I watched SportsCenter religiously and the NASCAR highlights took up a few minutes of the program every weekend. I never sat and watched an entire race on a Sunday afternoon although I would have to say that Dale Earnhart became my favorite driver simply for the fact that he drove a black car and was known as the “Intimidator”. But, for the most part, I thought the sport was pretty simple and I didn’t think that my life would ever be connected to it.

Well, I was wrong. I know all about going fast – mine is powered with Nebraska corn-fed beef but those NASCAR drivers are now powered with good all-American corn ethanol. There are a number of ways that bobsledding can be compared to NASCAR. In fact, our sleds often display all of our sponsor decals and can look similar to a racecar. There are similarities in aerodynamics as well as in steering principles. Both types of drivers have to learn how to handle their cars or sleds in order to be the best drivers possible. In NASCAR, the driver and the equipment determine the chances of a team’s success. The same can be said for bobsledding.

Interestingly, all the sleds that were used at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver were created and designed by Geoff Bodine’s bobsled project. Geoff Bodine is a retired racecar driver. He won the Daytona 500 in 1985. He learned in 1992 that the American bobsled team must buy their sleds and equipment from their international competitors. Obviously, our opponents aren’t going to sell us competitive equipment. So Geoff decided to use his NASCAR technology to better the American bobsled program. He assigned one of his top engineers to begin designing bobsleds instead of racecars. (Ironically, the chief engineer’s name is Bob!) . Eighteen years later, he was able to see his project help produce an Olympic Gold Medal.
In addition to being able to turn right, the biggest difference between the two sports is of course the fact that NASCAR’s racecars are powered by engines with hundreds of horsepower and bobsleds are powered by two or four athletes pushing as hard as they can. My job as a brakeman can be looked as being the fuel for the sled. I push as hard as I can and sprint with the sled until I reach top speed. Our starts are measured by the hundredth of a second, and each hundredth can mean the difference between winning and losing. And now, starting this year, the fuel for a NASCAR is ethanol. That’s right, all-American ethanol made from the corn produced in Nebraska and in the Midwest.

When I’m back in Nebraska and people tell me that they were proud to hear that the a fellow Nebraskan provided the power for the Night Train bobsled in the 2010 Olympics, I can also tell them that the power for all the NASCAR races – starting with the first race of the season, Daytona 500 on February 20 – is also from Nebraska. There is a great amount of pride that all Nebraskan farmers and sports fans should feel about E15, a homegrown, renewable fuel that is environmentally friendly – not to mention a high performance fuel.

Bobsleds. NASCARs. What will Nebraskans power next?

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