Bobby Bode started 2022 hoping to show improvement following an encouraging 2021 Funny Car campaign that included his first career round win and qualifying at all nine races he attended. Bode achieved that and then some, also becoming an overnight sensation and receiving a gift from one of the top names in motorsports history.
Bode, who is a junior at Arizona State University, racked up four round wins this year heading into the finale at Pomona, including three during a memorable weekend at Houston. He advanced to the final, where he took on three-time world champ Matt Hagan of Tony Stewart Racing. After leading part of the race, the body blew off of Bode’s car during a massive explosion near the finish line, allowing Hagan to get past the 20-year-old standout.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #179, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2022.]
Displaying equal parts frustration, anger, and anguish over the explosion, Bode chucked his gloves onto the ground, knowing how close the underdog was to his first career victory. But Hall-of-Fame driver and team owner Tony Stewart also noticed the passion and offered to buy Bode a new helmet after the explosion. “That passion, that’s the kind of guy I like… I like that kid,” Stewart said.
Stewart followed through and sent Bode a new helmet, the culmination of a moment he won’t ever forget. “I wish the final would have ended differently, but when that moment happened, it took like a month for it to seem real,” says Bode, a former Jr. Dragster racer. “Tony getting me that new helmet, it was so cool. He’s one of the greatest drivers of all time.”
Beyond that, Bode has found the perfect balance of school and racing, reaching an ideal comfort level in the car and in his studies. He’s learned he can’t take homework on the road, but Bode has adjusted accordingly, thriving most of the year in his father’s Funny Car. He competed in his 10th race of the season in Pomona, showcasing all kinds of improvement and potential in the process.
“I’ve kind of surprised myself with how far I’ve come. I’m not making as many rookie mistakes and on the tuneup side of the car, we’ve come a long way,” Bode says. “It’s been a good combo. When you see the incremental sheets and see we’re in the top eight most of the time, it kind of blows my mind. In Houston, we had a big breakthrough with our tuning and it’s really gone well from there.”
Bode and his team have proven their worth as the little guy competing against the bigger teams, and that’s been remarkably satisfying for him. As for the immediate future, he loves every bit of being a college student and hitting 9-10 Funny Car races per year, and he is eager to see that continue.
“I’m happy being in school and having our racing schedule how it is now,” says Bode, who holds career bests of 3.891-seconds at 322.04 mph. “This year has probably been my smoothest year and I’ve really enjoyed it. Plus, I invited my friends from college to the Phoenix race and they all loved it, so that was awesome as well.”