Eel River turns new chapter with 'old' number By Dave Rodman
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 7, 1999) Eel River Racing -- with a new sponsor, new driver and new number on its Pontiacs for the NASCAR 2000 season -- hopes its refurbished look brings back a championship performance in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
In addition to wearing the No. 27 on its cars in the NASCAR 2000 season, the team has also signed a primary sponsor and will shortly announce its driver, as well as its backer.
The nucleus of owner Raymond Beadle's 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship Blue Max Racing Pontiac team for driver Rusty Wallace is at Eel River, and crew chief and part owner Barry Dodson says bringing the number back at Speedweeks 2000 at Daytona International Speedway should make a huge statement.
"I think having the number back on there compliments what we're trying to do here," Dodson said Tuesday. "Everything is new -- why not change the number?"
Dodson was part of the group spearheaded by Massachusetts businessman Jack Birmingham who purchased the former No. 30 Bahari' Racing team last summer. The team was sponsored in 1999 by a variety of Sara Lee Corp. brands.
Dodson has engineered a restructuring of the team that included bringing Blue Max veterans Buddy "Red Dog" Barnes in as car chief, his brother John Dodson as shop foreman and another brother Brad as a mechanic.
"When we see that number again on a car it's got to build a fire within me and the people who were a part of that organization," said Barry Dodson, who added that there was a mutual feeling for the change in the racing community. The crew chiefs for the first- and second-place teams in the 1999 standings -- Todd Parrott and Jimmy Makar were members of Blue Max in 1989.
"There's a respect there," Dodson said of the significance of the change. "That number's run well and I think it's a plus for us to have it. I think it's a positive move as a morale booster. It's ran well in the past -- it deserves recognition again and the only way to get that is to run well."
Dodson called the shots from the pits during Wallace's 1989 championship, which included six wins and four Busch Poles. Wallace drove the No. 27 Pontiac for five years, but he is not the only NASCAR legend to sit behind the wheel of a car with those decals on its side.
The late Tim Richmond drove Beadle's Pontiacs from 1983-85, storming his way to the verge of stardom along with two wins and 39 top-10s. Wallace took over for Richmond from 1986-90 en route to 18 wins in 145 starts and the 1989 championship.
"Since we formed Eel River Racing, we have only been interested in forming a championship-caliber Winston Cup team," Birmingham said. "We have hired people who have been part of championship teams, so why not associate ourselves with a number that has a little bit of championship history behind it?"
Hiring a driver is the most critical piece of the puzzle left, Dodson said.
"We've made a great amount of progress over the past few months, and the next couple of months will be critical," Dodson said, agreeing the driver hunt was his biggest concern. "Most of the talent is already committed. Now we're weighing out our options and trying to decide whether you take somebody who'll allow you seven tests or a Winston Cup rookie and get 12 test?
"My desk is full (of resumes) and I've spent some sleepless nights over who is gonna drive. We're very happy with the progress of the team and we're very happy with the engine program with T&L Engines, which we're continuing.
"You know, we're in a little bit of an unusual situation in that we're sitting here with a sponsor and looking for a driver. There is a lot of work involved and a lot of tough decisions, but we are all well equipped to make the decisions."
Especially now that they've settled on a big identifying mark.
"The number is a reminder of our responsibility to perform," Dodson said.