Eel river Racing on Road to Improvement

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 14, 1999) -- It's been seven weeks since Jack Birmingham purchased Chuck Rider's racing team and dubbed it Eel River Racing. In that brief period, the team has undergone a massive facelift in an effort to achieve a ...

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 14, 1999) -- It's been seven weeks since Jack Birmingham purchased Chuck Rider's racing team and dubbed it Eel River Racing. In that brief period, the team has undergone a massive facelift in an effort to achieve a competitive foothold on the NASCAR Winston Cup scene.

And it's happened in quick fashion. In Todd Bodine's last two starts with the team, he's logged top-20 finishes at Bristol and Richmond.

Eel River Racing is benefiting from a rotating sponsorship from four Sara Lee Corp. brands -- Jimmy Dean, Bryan, State Fair Brand Corn Dogs and Rudy's Farm. Birmingham hopes to retain them in an associate capacity for next season, but is also aggressively pursuing a primary sponsor for next year.

"In less than two months I think this team has shown a lot of improvement," Birmingham said. "We're not where we want to be by any means yet, but we said from the start it would be a long, gradual process. Our goal for the rest of this season is to consistently finish in the top-20 in races. This team has everything it takes to be competitive on the Winston Cup circuit. We've got a championship crew chief, a talented crew, solid engine program and a shop with all the tools at our disposal to build winning race cars.

"We want potential sponsors to know about our commitment and witness it themselves by viewing the improvements at our shop. We're not through yet, but I think any company would be impressed with what they see here."

The first step in Birmingham's rebuilding program was finding a top-notch crew chief to rally the organization. He quickly found him in Barry Dodson. In 1989, Dodson guided Rusty Wallace to his only NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Dodson has won 19 races in NASCAR's big leagues and gave the team instant name recognition and respect.

"All the pieces started to fall into place when Barry decided to take the job," Birmingham said. "He commands respect throughout the Winston Cup garage and his presence has allowed us to bring the necessary talented crewmen on board."

Dodson has meticulously selected a skillful crew. He immediately hired Buddy Barnes, the crew chief for Sterling Marlin when he won a twin qualifying race at Daytona last year. Barnes is a noted chassis specialist who has worked alongside the likes of Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield, too. Dodson still only has 11 crewmen at his disposal. He prefers a smaller, efficient crew staff so he can more effectively keep tabs on quality control. The smaller crew also aids in tighter communication within the team.

"We have a demanding job ahead in order to get Eel River Racing on a competitive level quickly," Dodson said. "A smaller crew allows us to get who we want. It also gives me a greater chance to pay attention to every little detail in making sure the turnaround here is permanent."

While the racing end is firmly in Dodson's hands, Birmingham has a talented motorsports veteran handling the business side of affairs. Bob Tomlinson is serving as the team's general manager, having worked in the past in that capacity for Cale Yarborough Motorsports. In the mid-1980s, Tomlinson served as Pontiac's director of racing operations.

The team is enjoying an improved engine program with its association with T&L Engine Development. Having struggled to make races before Birmingham's purchase of the team, T&L's powerplants helped the team earn a 20th-place qualifying effort at Bristol. It was only the second time this season the No. 30 Pontiac had made the starting field in first round qualifying.

Improvements are also evident at the team's shop. Equipment was moved to improve efficiency and storage areas cleared of outdated equipment in an effort to streamline the operation.

Birmingham released driver Derrike Cope from his contract last month, feeling a change was in the best interest of everyone involved. He's hired Bodine on a race-to-race basis. In his first start with the team, Bodine roared to a 15th-place finish in the Aug. 28 Goody's 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. It was the team's best finish of the season. He followed that up with a 19th-place run at Richmond.

Bodine is currently fourth in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings, but he jumped at the opportunity to run for Dodson.

"They've got the people behind them and they're getting better every week," Bodine said. "This is the kind of situation you look for. With Barry Dodson and the crew he's assembling, this team has its eye on the future. Eel River Racing is taking the steps it takes to be one of the stronger teams on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit."

The Eel River Racing team is back in action Friday when qualifying begins for Sunday's Dura-Lube/Kmart 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope , Rusty Wallace , Todd Bodine , Sterling Marlin , Cale Yarborough