Mike Bliss Backs Out of Deal With Eel River for 2000

Bliss will not sign with Eel River By Dave Rodman MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 28, 1999) Eel River Racing, which has already been through a tumultuous 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, was thrown for a loop Wednesday when driver Mike Bliss, who...

Bliss will not sign with Eel River By Dave Rodman

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 28, 1999) Eel River Racing, which has already been through a tumultuous 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, was thrown for a loop Wednesday when driver Mike Bliss, who already had an unsigned Eel River contract in hand, inked a deal with another organization for the 2000 season, ERR co-owner and crew chief Barry Dodson said Thursday.

Bliss will finish the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season on Saturday in the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at California Speedway. The Milwaukie, Ore., driver seemed locked in to a deal with the team, which was purchased by a group including businessman Jack Birmingham and veteran crew chief Dodson.

Dodson, who has a successful and fairly lengthy history with Bliss, was particularly hard-hit by the phone call he received from his anticipated driver on Wednesday afternoon.

"I invested a lot of personal equity into Mike," Dodson said. "I went to bat for him, and I think the race team did. I sold him to the race team and to the owners. Man, I put a lot of personal equity into him, for the last three or four years.

"In 1995, after the (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) race at North Wilkesboro, he was out of a job but I begged (Ultra Motorsports team owner) Jimmy Smith to keep him, and we had a great career. I thought we could make a strong run at the (NASCAR Winston Cup Raybestos) rookie title next year in one of the best rookie classes ever -- if not the best."

Dodson just shook his head as he said that Bliss had come to the Eel River shop for a seat fitting on Monday, then left to run the final truck race "with a contract that he seemed to be very comfortable with."

"Then, he called yesterday afternoon and said he had taken another deal," said Dodson, who won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 1989 with Rusty Wallace, on a team that included Todd Parrott, Jimmy Makar, Buddy Barnes and engine builder Harold Elliott, among others. "Our conversation pretty much ended right there."

On Thursday, Bliss soft-pedaled talk that he had signed with anyone. Under the circumstances, Bliss said jilting Dodson was one of the tougher moves he'd made in a career that includes plenty of slicing and dicing in various divisions on countless dirt and pavement short tracks; but that his decision came down to money.

"The 30 deal is over -- a done deal," Bliss affirmed. "That was a tough decision, but it just came down to if they had a sponsor they were going to race next year. I had to think -- it's selfish to think of myself, but in this sport, you've got to think about yourself and your family. These days, sponsors are big right now."

With Bliss' decision, Dodson said his driver search might take a slightly different turn, but that the team would be no less aggressive and that it had several promising leads.

"I wish him the best," Dodson said, closing the door on the short-lived Bliss era with his latest team. "We'll move forward. We're gonna be fine, but we probably won't look at a rookie now and take that chance with a sponsor being put off by that.

"There's several ways for us to look at it. We're on the hunt again. We weren't expecting to be. We felt like we knew what we wanted to do, the whole team did, except for Mike. I think he got nervous because we hadn't signed a sponsor yet and he went and grabbed him something, but that didn't help us.

"He looked after himself and I guess that's what he needed to do. I don't do that. I care a lot about the guys who work here -- they come first."

The upheaval with Bliss may cost Eel River more than is readily visible. Todd Bodine, who scored several of the team's best qualifying and race finishes in limited outings in the car, had been slated to run at Atlanta in the season ending NAPA 500 on Nov. 21.

With Bliss seemingly locked in, Dodson released Bodine to take another ride in the finale. Although Bodine, a driver he courted heavily, has slipped through his fingers for the moment for one race, Dodson is still optimistic.

"Some things have happened on the positive side since Mike signed his deal," Dodson said of his short-term future. "For Phoenix and Homestead we'll probably use somebody out of the Busch Series since they are companion events, but we want somebody who's raced there before. You might see three different racers in there.

"Actually, those were two of Mike's better race tracks. We won at Phoenix with the truck and had awesome runs at Homestead. We had everything mapped out to end on a high note, but we'll be fine. Our program's headed in the right direction at least and I know that a little change of plans is all this is."

Dodson said he had a test scheduled on Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway with testing "handyman" Andy Hillenburg, proprietor of the Fast Track Driving School. Dodson said depending on circumstances Hillenburg might drive the Bryan Foods/State Fair/Jimmy Dean Pontiac on Nov. 21 at AMS if the test goes well and other deals don't materialize.

Eel River Racing bought the former Bahari' Racing operation from Chuck Rider in mid-summer. The team had experienced difficulties throughout the year in qualifying for races and driver Derrike Cope was released in August. Since then the team has used Bodine, Bliss and Buckshot Jones in its cars with varying degrees of success.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope , Rusty Wallace , Todd Bodine , Buckshot Jones , Andy Hillenburg , Mike Bliss