Night Train2® photo Courtesy Charlie Booker
MOORESVILLE, N.C. – It was only 13 months ago – March 2013 – that the Olympic medal-winning Night Train2® bobsled first saw ice. The four man sled that raced to a bronze medal in Sochi took its maiden voyage in Lake Placid, N.Y. with 2010 Vancouver gold medal driver Steve Holcomb at the helm of his crew.
With a basic sled setup and the sport’s best driver propelled by its most powerful push crew, the NT2 was close to the Lake Placid track record.
“That’s when we knew we were on to something,” said Geoff Bodine, the NASCAR legend and 1986 Daytona 500 winner who founded the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, Inc. in 1992.
The project, which has won seven Olympic medals, has been true to its mission for 22 years: build sleds in America, by Americans, only for American athletes, at no cost to them. The lead designer over the project’s existence has been Bob Cuneo, a Bodine colleague dating back to their NASCAR days. The project’s primary sponsor has been Whelen Engineering, the Connecticut company with the Made in America mantra on and off the ice. Whelen Engineering financed the design and construction of the NT and the NT2.
The NT2 sled that was born in 2012 – the son of the original Night Train which raced to Olympic gold four years ago – was engineered to put Holcomb and crew members Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt, on the podium. The Night Train2® incorporated much lighter carbon fiber material from deBotech in Mooresville, N.C. in its cowl. Engineers and technicians could now position more weight in the sled’s center of gravity. Three-dimensional, computer-aided design by SolidWorks Dassault Systemes enabled Night Train2® builders to perfect Cuneo’s creation, while Exa Corporation contributed aerodynamic simulations to optimize speed.
The emphasis on a lighter sled for weight redistribution resulted from the persona of the Sochi track. Its three uphill sections were unique unto itself.
“It had us thinking of the challenge to a race car in the uphill sections of tracks like the back S at Watkins Glen or Sonoma. We knew we had to be able to redistribute weight,” said Bodine.
The result was a sled that won its first three World Cup starts in November and December 2013, and added another tour win and a silver medal in January, prior to Sochi, to finish second in the overall rankings.
Only a crash in the second heat of the Winterberg, Germany World Cup, when Holcomb was in second position, prevented him from easily winning the World Cup title. Four gold medals and one silver medal in eight races was an extraordinary first season with new equipment.
The original Vancouver Night Train, driven by Nick Cunningham, had also started to show some results. Cunningham was in third place in St Moritz when he crashed near the finish. The following week, his crew had fast start times, comparable to Team Holcomb, and finished fourth at the Innsbruck, Austria World Cup behind Holcomb in the NT2 which placed second.
“Having two Night Train sleds in the top four right before the Games had us believing both sleds had a chance to medal,” said Phil Kurze, Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project President and Vice President of Whelen Engineering. “We were on the edge of our seats going into Sochi.
“You never know about a new sled, though, until you get into the heat of the battle,” he added. “That’s when you can compare times with other nations and see if they, too, are unveiling new equipment. It was clear to us that we were more than competitive right from the start.”
The Olympic bronze medal in February was a satisfying achievement, given the fact that Russian Alexander Zubkov, a past Olympic and World Championship medalist, was on home ice and afforded the luxury of having several hundred more training runs than his competitors. That familiarity led his coach, Canadian Olympic champion Pierre Lueders, to remark that Zubkov could drive lines on the Sanki Sliding Center track that others could not. That was crucial on a unique course, highlighted by those three uphill sections, where driver errors in the wrong part of the track cost valuable time.
With an avid, yet friendly crowd extolling their man, and the presence of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in the audience for the last two runs of the four man race it seemed that the amiable Zubkov was destined to win. In fact he swept both the two and four man gold medals, while Holcomb left Sochi with bronze in both events.
“I could not be more proud of how Steve and our athletes competed and conducted themselves in a difficult environment,” said Bodine. “But I’m also really happy with the team behind them. The support and effort we got from Whelen, SolidWorks, Exa, Bob Cuneo, Hans deBot and technician Cheech Garde all in collaboration with the athletes got us on the podium. That’s a real team effort, and that’s what the Night Train concept has been about….teamwork and sharing knowledge to put us in the medals. Now it’s time to re-assess what we did, and discuss where we need to go to keep the Night Train technology at the head of the field. We have had a great 22 year ‘Made in America’ run here, and our goals of providing American athletes with equipment made in the USA that they could win with, at no expense to them, has been accomplished.”
For the Night Train brand, created on the back of a napkin in 2008, it has been a great American success story. Since its creation Night Train sleds have achieved the following:
2002 – Three Olympic medals at the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games
2006 – Olympic silver medal at the Torino Olympic Winter Games
2009- Won first World Championship for the U.S. since 1959
2010-Won first Olympic gold for the U.S. since 1948; also claimed Olympic bronze medal
2011-Won a bronze medal at World Championships in Koenigssee, Germany
2012-Won its second World Championship in three of the last four years
2013-Won a bronze medal at the St. Moritz, Switzerland World Championships
2014-Won a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games
The Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project has scheduled a special meeting and internal discussions to lay out a plan to keep the Night Train sleds at the top of World Cup and World Championship racing over the next three years.
That plan will culminate with eyes on the Olympic podium, once again, four years from now in Korea.