APRIL 7, 2012

Several racing champs got their start in Berlin

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By Brian Danko

 

A small race shop on Hart St. in Kensington has spawned the career of many NASCAR racing personalities, from drivers to crew chiefs.

The list is quite impressive, as the then-red garage back in the 1980’s hosted two drivers who would go on to NASCAR’s elite touring series, two brothers who would become top tier crew chiefs, as well as a race track rat who became a modified tour and Busch series crew chief.

Brett Bodine and Mike McLaughlin drove the potent NASCAR modified, with McLaughlin winning the 1988 Whelen modified tour title, while Clyde McLeod, the track rat, would eventually become a Busch series crew chief when he and McLaughlin moved south and formed an incredible tandem.

The cars were worked on by Scott and Greg Zipadelli and other racing people from Berlin.

Bodine, now the Director of Competition for NASCAR’s Research and Development, said if it wasn’t for that offer to drive for the Billy Corazzo-owned, Sherri Cup-sponsored modified, who knows where his career might have been.

“When I went to drive for them, I was down and out.” Bodine said from his office in Concord, N.C. But after posting several big wins, it propelled Bodine to a then-Busch series ride and eventually a Sprint Cup ride.

“Little did I know when I came to the shop in Kensington what it would do for my racing career,” he said. “It just shows if you will it and work hard that you can do it.”

Bodine would have 480 Sprint Cup starts, securing one win, 16 top fives and 61 top 10’s while winning $13 million in his career.

Bodine also noted how his younger brother, Todd, started working in the shop, as he started his driving days in the SK modified division. Todd is also a two-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion and he too enjoyed a long and successful NASCAR career in the Nationwide and Busch series while also making several Sprint Cup starts.

It was at the shop that Bodine formed a relationship with Southington’s Clyde McLeod, who was crew chief on the modified car that was worked on by many, including the Zipadellis. Today, Bodine and McLeod are best of friends.

After Bodine left the team to pursue his dream of racing on NASCAR’s top series, and then later the Sprint Cup series, the Sherri Cup team hired McLaughlin to wheel the machine and, in addition to winning the title, he became one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, winning three times in three series.

McLaughlin, who retired in 2004 after many seasons on the NASCAR Nationwide series in which he finished several times in the top five in the final points standing, said he knew they would be successful from the beginning.

“I thought we would, that’s why I went there,” he said. “It was a rude awakening for us as they were used to Brett and his driving style and I come in with another style and liked things a certain way, but it was the most fun I ever had with a team. It was a group of good people who got along, became friends and had goals.”

McLaughlin now works for Joe Gibbs as a coach and is still fabricating race car bodies and building hot rods. McLaughlin also won six times on the Busch/Nationwide series with 58 top fives and 110 top 10’s as well as earning $6.3 million.

For the Zipadelli brothers, Greg moved south and when he teamed with former Indy Car star Tony Stewart, they formed a deadly duo, winning two NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and then Zippy helped Middletown’s Joey Logano secure his first and only Cup win for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Greg, after last season, left Gibbs Racing and is taking over as competition director for Haas-Stewart Racing and will be the crew chief for Danica Patrick.

Younger brother Scott is crew chief for Kenny Wallace and helped turn a low budget team into a top 10 unit.

When asked about the talent that emerged from the shop, Bodine said it was “simply amazing,” while McLeod said, “it’s pretty cool.”

McLeod became a member of Eddie Flemke’s team, winning many races. Today, McLeod is working with Revolution Racing, one of NASCAR’s developmental series, helping get minorities involved in racing.

All live within a few minutes of each in the Charlotte area and often get together, but everyone said if it wasn’t for Bill and Paul Corazzo keeping the racing team intact and their passion for the sport, a lot of lives and careers could have been entirely different.

Brian Danko has covered racing for the past 30 years.

Copyright 2012 Brian Danko