It’s not at all uncommon for most kids to get their driver’s license at age 18. Unless of course that license happens to be an NHRA Competition License for the nitro Funny Car class. Then, it’s a very rare occurrence. Not since Billy Meyer came along in the mid-1970s has the Funny Car class featured a teenage driver but Bobby Bode changed that this weekend when he made his professional debut at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Springnationals presented by Pennzoil.
It didn’t take long for Bode to offer a glimpse of his potential. On his second run, he scored a top half qualifying spot with a 4.024 at just 259.51 mph.
“That was my fault; I lifted at about 800-900 feet so that’s why it only ran 259,” said Bode, who is a freshman at Arizona State University, majoring in business administration. “I think it would have run about 3.93 or 3.94 because we had the second best time of the round at half-track. I also hit the gas after the finish line which is why it popped in the shutdown area. Rookie mistakes basically.”
Bode grew up racing Jr. Dragsters and watching his father, Bob, compete in the Nitro Funny Car class. He got his first taste of “the big show” last year when he went to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in Gainesville to drive the school’s Top Alcohol Funny Car. Bode turned 18 in April, 2020, and a short time later, he began the transition to nitro racing by making license runs in his father’s Arbee Plastic Bags Mustang at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and later World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.
“We did four different test sessions between Indy and St. Louis and I think I made a total of 12 passes,” said Bode. “I’d run on Monday after races where dad was driving and we always seemed to have one issue or another which is why it took longer than we thought to get a license. I ran a 4.20 at 260 on my best run, which would have been a high 3.90.”
Prior to his debut on Satuday, Bode was admittedly nervous but after his strong qualifying effort, he now realizes that he’s got a chance to make some waves during Sunday’s opening round when he races Blake Alexander in round one. If Bode is looking for inspiration, he need look no further than his father, Bob, who scored one of the biggest wins for an underdog when he won the 2010 Brainerd race over Jack Beckman.
“I didn’t get much sleep on Saturday night; I was super nervous thinking about today,” Bode admitted. “If you had told me I’d come in here and qualify seventh and have lane choice in the first round I’d have said you were crazy.”