CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Dec. 17, 1999) Barry Dodson is back in the crew chief saddle once again -- and he's back with a vengeance.
Dodson, who guided Rusty Wallace from relative obscurity to the 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in just four years, has taken the reigns of Eel River Racing's No. 27 Viagra Pontiac with something to prove in the 2000 season. He has intentions of returning to past glory with Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Jeff Fuller behind the wheel.
"I'm very excited," Dodson said Friday at the team's announcement in Charlotte. "As well as having Pfizer (Viagra), to be with a stellar race program, one that we basically hand-picked. I'm excited about having our old championship number back too.
"Like I said earlier, that is a reminder of our responsibility to perform, and that came from the heart, not a piece of paper. We'll spread that feeling around the race team as the year goes on. We have a commitment to a lot of people here to do a good job. We feel like Pfizer's No. 1 in the world in what they do, and we're gonna try to build a program to be right there with them."
In trying to build a successful program, a quality driver is paramount. So why did Dodson and Eel River owner Jack Birmingham choose Fuller, a driver who has never so much as started a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race?
"I stood there in 1986 and answered the same exact question, 'Why Rusty Wallace?'" Dodson said. "He had driven for Cliff Stewart, and every year was rocky -- 23 or 24 DNFs, you know. And, not taking anything away from that program, but I've always had an eye for talent, and I saw that this year in the Busch Series with little Hank Parker Jr. Rusty, to me, was a diamond in the rough, and Jeff's the same way.
"Anybody who's won a championship in a series, and we pulled up Jeff's stats and accomplishments, and he knows this is his big chance and that's why he hasn't just hopped in any ride. He doesn't wanna mess that chance up. I know we're gonna get 100 percent from him every day, and that's part of the reason why we chose him."
Fuller won the 1992 Featherlite Modified Series, NASCAR Touring, championship, as well as 1995 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Rookie of the Year honors, propelling him into the seat of the No. 27 Pontiacs in the NASCAR 2000 season. Beyond that, terms for the driver have not been discussed.
"We signed Jeff to a one-year deal, which I think is what any driver should, have," Dodson said. "I think you'd see more parity across the board were that the case. He's totally happy with that and we are too. Four- or five-year contracts aren't worth anything. If nobody's happy, you're asking for a lot of attorney fees and a lot of grief. The best thing to do is forget about that and go out and perform."
If the Eel River program succeeds, Pfizer has expressed interest in continuing the program in the future.
"Pfizer could be a multi-year deal, a lot of that has to do with our performance, and the job we do on and off the race track," Dodson said. "Pfizer's been looking for a way to get the point across about men's health and the importance of men's health, and this is a good way to do it. This is America's No. 1 spectator sport. They felt like they could reach more people this way. They expect to test up to 40,000 people next season at the race track, and there's no better way to do that."
And they couldn't have picked a more seasoned individual to lead the way. Dodson knows how to build a contending race team.
"We just really want to be the best we can be," he said. "The Pontiac Grand Prix is an awesome race car right now, and we're on the mend with this program. It being new, to make our Pontiac competitive is what we need to do.
"I've changed my approach totally already. Starting back in August at the Brickyard when we were trying to help Eel River survive, buying out the Bahari operation, we took on a lot. We took on a lot that a lot of people would not entertain doing in the midst of the season when everyone else has raced half the year. We jumped right in the frying pan.
"And, at the end of the season I told my guys, most of these teams are as good as they're gonna be. Look at Joe Gibbs. They're an extremely strong team with two cars, Pontiacs, and they're seven years old. It took me and Rusty four years to get to that point. It's not gonna be an overnight sensation, but I do think we'll surprise a lot of people."