It all started with a tweet from Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis. Soon, there was a rallying cry to get longtime veteran and fan favorite Todd Bodine to 800 starts across NASCAR’s three national series.
One night at dinner during the spring of 2019, Bodine, 58, recalled a friend reminding him that he was closing in on 800 NASCAR starts. At that time, it had been nearly two years since he strapped behind the wheel of a race car, making his last start in the Xfinity Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2017.
Despite missing the competitive side of racing, Bodine was enjoying his analyst role at FOX Sports – but there was something missing.
“It’s all I’ve ever done since I was 16 years old, was go to the race track on the weekend in some capacity,” Bodine told NASCAR.com on Thursday. “It was really tough not going to the races.”
Bodine thought more and more about reaching 800 starts, something just 26 previous drivers in the history of NASCAR had accomplished. Hitting that mark would be an achievement in itself, completing his NASCAR journey after starting his career 36 years ago.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Bodine didn’t actively pursue a ride to reach 800.
Until out of the blue, Lemonis tweeted to Bodine’s fans to give him 800 reasons why he should rekindle his sponsorship of the two-time Truck Series champion.
Bodine’s fans came through, responding to Lemonis’ call with “thousands” of reasons.
“It makes us all realize how much he pays attention to the series and the guys that have helped build it,” Bodine said of Lemonis. “For him to step up and do this for us was pretty special.”
Fellow series driver Stewart Friesen was the first person to reach out to Bodine to ask if Lemonis’ tweet was accurate. Given Lemonis tweeted it out, Bodine thought so but wasn’t certain.
Friesen was interested because Chris Larsen, CEO of Halmar International and Friesen’s partner in Halmar Friesen Racing, wanted to run a partial schedule with a second truck during the 2022 season. The criteria for the second truck was to find someone with experience.
Bodine fit the mold perfectly.
“We texted back and forth and Chris was all in on it,” Bodine said, “so here we are.”
Bodine will make his first of six starts in the No. 62 Toyota on Friday evening at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He will compete next at Darlington Raceway on Mother’s Day weekend before getting in the truck at Texas Motor Speedway in late May. His final three races will come at Sonoma Raceway – he’s one of the few drivers in the field with experience at Sonoma, which the Truck Series returns to this year for the first time since 1998 – Nashville Superspeedway and Pocono Raceway.
MORE: Full Las Vegas schedule
The series competes 23 times throughout the 2022 season, and Bodine’s boss at FOX Sports gave him nine potential races that he could compete in. From there, the 2006 and 2010 champ narrowed it down to the six he most wanted where his friends, family and fans could celebrate.
“The first criteria for picking the races was: which ones can we have the most fun after the race,” Bodine states. “I want to go out and I want to win and do well, but we’re going to have fun. This is the last hurrah, this is the retirement tour. We’re going to have fun.”
Bodine said when he flew into Las Vegas on Thursday, he had 40 friends from around the country showing up with him for moral support, looking to have a good time.
Once Bodine straps in for practice and qualifying on Friday, it will be time to get serious. He hasn’t competed in a truck race since 2013; his last start at Las Vegas came in 2012. But he does enter the weekend riding a streak of four consecutive top-five efforts in Sin City, with an additional top 10 coming in 2008. He also won there in 2005.
His goal for the race: methodically make his way through the field and hope to be in contention come the end of the 200-mile event.
“The start of the first stage, just feel it out and get used to racing with these kids,” Bodine said. “The second stage, hopefully get up in the top 10 and put ourselves in a position for the end. We’re here to win, don’t get us wrong, we’re not riding around in the back. Realistically, a top five would be a win. I’m not crazy; I understand the position I’m put in.”
Though Pocono is four months away, Bodine can’t fathom the emotional roller coaster his next six starts will be. After his final NASCAR start, he’s hoping to run Trans-Am and vintage car races.
And while he never won a Cup Series race in 241 starts – which to this day he calls his biggest disappointment in NASCAR – Bodine is a 22-time winner in the Truck Series, with another 15 checkered flags coming in the Xfinity Series.
Whether or not there are more trophies added to the collection, he’s just going to live in the moment.
“I think there’s going to be a certain amount of happiness, celebration about it,” Bodine said of his retirement tour. “At the same time, it’s going to be sad that it’s definitely over.
“That’s going to be the end of professional racing.”