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Associated Press

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) - When Jim France was picking his three-man team for a six-hour sports car endurance road race at Watkins Glen International, he asked two drivers with the same last name, and they quickly agreed.

Geoffrey Bodine and his brother, Brett, were going to race together on the same team for the first time in their careers, and they were excited about doing it only an hour from where they grew up.

Although a bad crash at Michigan International Speedway the week before the June race at The Glen prevented Brett from driving, he made the trip up from North Carolina to cheer for Geoffrey, despite the pain of a broken collarbone and fractured tailbone.

Time had not yet healed his aching body, but it had taken care of the family wounds. "We're as close as we've ever been," Brett said.

Too close for comfort Nine years ago, the only time the two were close was on the racetrack as a family feud festered. And in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway they got too close for comfort.

On a restart early in the race, Geoffrey bumped Brett out of the lead as Jeff Gordon challenged them, and Brett bumped back, knocking his older brother out of the race.

Gordon went on to beat Brett by a car length in what has become one of NASCAR's premier events. Geoffrey stewed.

"We were going to win that race, there's no doubt. We had them beat," said Geoffrey, whose success in the sport - he was named one of NASCAR's top 50 drivers - drew his brothers into it. "I was devastated to think that he would do that. What happened between us hurt more than what I lost. The trophy and the money weren't nearly as important."

"We let our emotions get ahead of our reality," Brett said. "We were both trying to win, and emotionally we made some mistakes. It was very difficult. You don't want that kind of relationship with your brother, especially one that you've been close to your whole life. But we both were going through some hard times."

Contributing factors If sibling rivalry was part of what went wrong, it easily was overshadowed by personal problems and the pressures of the sport. Geoffrey was going through a divorce, Brett had just been informed he was losing his Winston Cup ride, and a family crisis was at hand.

"My mom was having a heart operation, and Brett wasn't going to be there," Geoffrey said. "I got in between my parents and him. There was a fight because he wasn't going to be there. Just words. They're worse than fists. That's how it started.

"Our parents were aware of what happened," Geoffrey said. "It broke their hearts, but there was nothing they could do."

It was more than two years before they spoke again to one other, a far cry from their childhood days growing up in Chemung, a town of farms and pastures in what upstate New Yorkers call the Southern Tier.

As children, they had raced around the fields behind their home or at their uncle's racetrack, the Speedrome. Geoffrey was like a father to his younger brothers - 10 years older than Brett and 15 years older than Todd, who remained on the fringe during the fallout.

"The feud had been building and building," Geoffrey said. "But I'm the big brother. I knew better. I didn't want it to continue. I love my brother. Heck, I raised him. I changed his diapers, washed him and all that stuff. It really hurt me to think that he didn't want me to be a brother anymore. I wanted it resolved."

The resolution occurred in 1996, at their father's funeral.

"It came when we carried his casket to the grave," Geoffrey said. "That started the healing process."

And now it is complete. When Geoffrey was involved in a horrific crash during a truck race at Daytona three years ago, Brett sped to the infield care center.

"I thought I had just watched an accident that my brother got killed in," Brett said. "I was standing there and saw him move his arm and adjust his oxygen mask. I just was amazed."

Geoffrey to the rescue After Brett's crash in practice at Michigan, it was Geoffrey to the rescue. At age 54 and without a Winston Cup ride, he flew north at 3 a.m. the day of the race and filled in for Brett, then took him home.

"He came to my house, and Monday morning I drove him to the dentist," Geoffrey said. "Then I took him to lunch and we went home, and he went to sleep. It felt really good to be able to take care of him again. That's the way it's supposed to be."

And so the first family of Chemung is together again, even though they live in the South now.

"Mom is real happy that we're brothers again," Geoffrey said. "Family is very important to us."

"This is a pressure-filled business, and if you let it eat you up, it will eat you up," Brett said. "The thing that both of us learned is racing isn't the only thing in the world. When race cars are removed from our daily lives, we've got more important things that we hope are in place."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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