PARK CITY — The black sled may not exactly strike fear into the hearts of the world’s bobsledders, but it certainly makes them nervous.
And that’s just the way the members of USA 1, otherwise known as the Night Train, like it. Some of the names associated with the sled have changed since the sled made its first appearance in 2008, but the mystique remains the same.
“We like to think of the Night Train, it isn’t a specific set of guys, it’s an overall idea, this aura, this attitude,” said veteran brakeman Curt Tomasevicz, who along with driver and Park City native Steve Holcomb navigated the famous black sled to an Olympic Gold medal and two world championships. “Hopefully when we walk on the hill, and people talk about the Night Train, the Germans, they’re intimidated. The Russian teams, they don’t understand much English, but if they hear ‘Night Train’ they know they’re talking about us and that black sled that nobody knows about that somehow goes fast. That’s an intimidating factor, and we love it.”
The Night Train may have had an unremarkable birth, but it immediately took Holcomb and his crew from middle of the pack to the top of the podium.
“I love telling this story,” said Tomasevicz, a veteran push athlete competing for a spot in his third Olympic Games this winter. “In 2009, Bo-Dyn (a company started by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine) brought out this four-man sled. It was just a plain black sled with primer on it. We tested it, and it was beating our sled that we’d won World Cup races in. We said, ‘We want to take this on tour now.’ It was about a week before our tour started, and Bob Cuneo, the chief engineer, said, ‘I don’t really have time to paint it, and I didn’t expect you guys to want to take it yet.’”
So Cuneo “threw a logo on the side and called it the Night Train,” Tomasevicz said with a grin. “It wasn’t much of a sticker, more of a bumper sticker on the side of the sled. We won some races with it, and we were like, ‘We’re not letting this go and that name is sticking!’ It was a persona. People looked at us like, ‘Oh, the Night Train is here. Let’s battle for second place.’ It was a huge advantage for us.”
That was important because before Holcomb and Tomasevicz won the 2009 World Championship in the original Night Train sled, the U.S. bobsled teams weren’t much more than an also-ran in most races.
Geoff Bodine was watching the Olympic Games in 1992 when an announcer theorized that the reason the Americans hadn’t won an Olympic medal since 1948 was because they had to buy sleds from their competitors. He started what became knowns as the Bo-Dyn project and was determined to engineer the best, fastest bobsleds in the world. That led eventually to the black sled that became known as the Night Train.
In 2010, the Night Train carried Holcomb and his USA 1 crew to the first U.S. Olympic gold medal in 62 years. One member of that team retired and the other is dealing with injuries, which means two new members, including another Utah native, Chris Fogt, and Steve Langton. Fogt and Langton competed in the 2010 Games in USA 2 but unfortunately crashed on their second run and were unable to finish all four runs.
Fogt said being part of USA 1 has been a much different experience.
“There is just a little more of a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose,” Fogt said. “Instead of just trying to make the (Olympic) team, we want to win a gold medal. It’s a little more serious.”
Bo-Dyn has made a second generation Night Train sled, and Holcomb and his crew will get to compete in the sled Friday and Saturday night at the Utah Olympic Park as part of the U.S. team trials. The competition decides who will compete in which sleds on the World Cup circuit and hopefully qualify for Olympic spots.
Holcomb and Langton won the two-man competition in Lake Placid three weeks ago and Holcomb and Fogt won the two-man competition last weekend in Park City in record-setting time.
Holcomb said he’s taking nothing for granted this season as he tries to drive the Night Train to a second Olympic gold in Russia in February.
“It counts this year,” he said of his focus. “It’s a long four years. It goes very quickly, but it’s a long grueling four years. It’s an endurance race. You can’t go out post-Olympic year and crush everybody and keep doing it. It takes a toll.”
Holcomb did drive the Night Train to another World Championship in 2012.
The new sleds are still a work in progress, he said. “We’re still putting them through the ringer,” he said. “Every day we tinker with them. It’s just growing pains. Next week we pull out the new Night Train, we’ll take it up the hill and we’ll tinker with it and hopefully make it even faster.”
The races begin at 7 both Friday and Saturday nights and are free to the public.