Brett Bodine's NASCAR Winston Cup driving record suggests mediocrity--an also-ran making a comfortable living. But it is misleading and unfair to measure Bodine by his track statistics, because they have no heart or soul. Granted, Bodine, 40, the middle of the three racing brothers, has only one big-league victory: a controversial outing at defunct North Wilkesboro (North Carolina) Speedway in 1990.

The owner/driver of #11 Ford hasn't logged a top-five finish since 1994, and shows just 16 in more than 350 starts spread over 14 major-league seasons. Three times he has rattled the gates of Victory Lane as runner-up. He has finished in the top 25 in points--with a high of 12th--in all but one season since 1987. He has grossed $7.6 million in race earnings. His best finish through the first nine races this season is a respectable and admirable 10th at Martinsville, his first top 10 since 1997.

Beneath those numbers, however, is a survivor whose dream to be a team owner became a financial and legal nightmare. For three years, Bodine and his wife Diane fought desperately and sacrificed mightily to buy and save their team. Winning races and top fives became a low priority--to survival.

Looking BackBodine was impressive coming up through the NASCAR Modified and Busch Series to Winston Cup driving for others. In the big league, they included Rick Hendrick, Hoss Ellington, Bud Moore, Kenny Bernstein, and legendary Junior Johnson, none of whom--except for Hendrick--is currently involved in Winston Cup.

But Bodine, born in Elmira, New York; 10 years younger than his brother, Geoffrey, a Winston Cup veteran; and five years older than Busch Series regular Todd, had entertained the idea of owning a team and controlling his destiny since his youth. The seed was planted by his late father, an entrepreneur who owned and operated several businesses, including Chemung (New York) Speedrome, a quarter-mile dirt bull ring where the Bodine brood cut their racing groove. Eli Bodine also owned a dairy farm and store, along with a bakery.

Brett Bodine's first effort as an owner at age 16, a partnership with a friend in a $350 race car, was short-lived and perhaps prophetic. "Bill Chandler and I couldn't afford to build two cars," Bodine recalls, "so we built one and took turns driving it at my dad's track. The second time I drove, I totaled the car. I was devastated to make a mistake that wiped out my $175 investment."

It wasn't until 1995, however, that Bodine got the chance to realize his dream, though it became a nightmare. In 1992, he had offered to buy drag racer Kenny Bernstein's team, for which he drove five seasons and who was folding his Winston Cup operation. However, the deal fell through at the last minute. Bodine moved to the team led by Junior Johnson, one of the sport's most successful car owners, with Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse as its primary sponsor in 1995. For years it was a coup to drive for the legendary mountaineer, but the team fell into disarray and mediocrity. It also lacked guidance because Johnson was contemplating selling his racing assets and retiring.

"Racing was not Junior's top priority at that time," says Bodine. "About mid-season, there were guys in business suits visiting the shop, and the rumor was that Junior was selling. I asked if he would sell to me, and he agreed. The asking price for practically everything in racing he owned--inventory, buildings and property--was $4 million."