Bob Bode ran .892 to the 60-foot mark. He knew he was on a good pass, even if he didn’t know he the number yet. Then he felt the car shove him to the right. The veteran Funny Car racer grabbed the steering wheel with all his might and wrenched it to the left. There wasn’t a car in the other lane, and he knew the car had something in it.
The Funny Car that wears his company’s name (Arbee Plastic Bags) rushed across the centerline and sent a timing block to outer space. Bode immediately blamed himself. So did his team, a group of part-timers that do this when they can – and they always can for the Route 66 NHRA Nationals. He’s been coming here for 19 years; some of them longer than others.
“We suck right now,” Bode said with a specific, midwestern self-effacing charm. “But the car…”
The centerline infraction hung too recent for him to complement the Funny Car, still sitting in two pieces feet away. But it is a good car. Better than any he has ever had. He gets help from Tim Wilkerson, which means Bode is closer to his second win than he has ever been. But better equipment leads to greater frustration when failure sets in.
So, what happened?
“A broken rocker arm,” Bode says. “Without that, we probably get her down there. Don’t get me wrong, we were definitely moving around a little bit, but I think we would have gotten there in 4 seconds.”
The early numbers back him up. The car put a cylinder out, but the tune-up seemed solid otherwise, something that didn’t exactly make Bode feel better in the moment. Now his team faces the task of getting back into the Funny Car field from the No. 18 position in warmer conditions. It’s not impossible – he ran a 4.15 in a first session littered with excellence.
“I’ve never seen anything like that first qualifying session,” said Bode. “Every single car got down the track. That’s just amazing. I don’t think it’s ever happened before.”
He might be right. The bump spot is now 4.061-seconds, held by Paul Lee. That’s under .04-second away from the quickest field in NHRA history (4.029), run at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in 2016. Four spots need to improve for that record field to be surpassed – but that’s not Bode’s concern; he just needs to qualify.
He knows he has a car capable of doing it, and he’s got the help of one of the best tuners in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing. The drag racer just needs to keep his head on straight – and the car in the groove. If everything stays together, that shouldn’t be a problem for Bode.