Vern Bliss finally has shaken the monkey from his back, but not before it became a gorilla.
Bliss overcame seemingingly overwhelming setbacks to win the NASCAR Late Model Budweiser 100 Saturday night at Holland Speedway.
Bliss has been close to winning the Budweiser 100 in the two previous years only to see victory elude him. Last year, a tire went flat when he was leading with five laps to go.
Saturday, Bliss was penalized twice for two different incidents but still managed to score his first Budweiser 100 win.
"I don't know if a race track ever owes you one," said Bliss said. "You just got to work hard, do the best you can and sooner or later it will probably pay off for you."
At the start of the race, Mark Donahue took the lead with Kirk Sherwood, Sammy Fullone and Matt Alix chasing. Sherwood grabbed the lead from Donahue on lap five, and Fullone advanced to second two laps later. Bliss progressed to fourth on lap 11 and third by lap 17.
Following a lap-17 caution for a stalled Donahue, Bliss continued his charge. On lap 25, Bliss tried to pass Fullone but hit him, sending both cars spinning, as well as Todd Wier and Rick Jones. Fullone was done for the night and Bliss was restarted from the back of the field.
"I thought I was underneath him enough but came down and made contact with him," Bliss said.
On the restart, Alix, who had missed the wreck, took the lead from Sherwood. Several contenders, such as Rick Wylie and Mark Bliss, left the race during the next several laps with various problems. Sherwood reclaimed the lead from Alix on lap 45, but Alix would jump back up front following a lap 59 restart from the fourth caution period.
With 37 laps remaining, Bliss was now back in the top five. Alix was still leading, followed by Gary Schwab, Sherwood and Bliss. Bliss went to third with 26 laps remaining and then tried to fly by Schwab for second on lap 75. Instead, Bliss's car shot up into Schwab's and Schwab hit the fence in turn four as the race's seventh caution flag waved. Bliss was accessed a penalty for his contact and was sent to the rear of the lead-lap cars.
"The incident with Gary was totally my fault," Bliss said. "I don't know if I hit something on the track but I lost total control of my car. I think gear oil might have been in the low groove."
As the race was in the late stages and the attrition rate was high, Schwab restarted sixth and Bliss seventh. By lap 80, Alix was leading Sherwood, Schwab and Bliss.
With 11 laps remaining, the front two cars went to pass the lapped car of Henry Secord on the backstretch. Alix went high around Secord and Sherwood took the low side. All three cars came together with Sherwood and Secord spinning. Alix flew through the infield but came back onto the track as the caution flag again waved.
Schwab inherited the lead with Bliss second. Alix restarted fifth. When the green flag reappeared with 10 laps left, Bliss passed Schwab on the 94th circuit. Schwab fought back hard but settled for second in a duel to the checkered flag. Alix was third.
"We had a ball," Schwab said of the late race duel. "I'm glad nothing happened here like what happened at Bristol last week." That was a reference to the controversial Winston Cup finish between Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte.
"I thank Gary for racing me clean at the end," Bliss said. "We didn't spin each other out."
At Lancaster Motorsports Park Friday, Fred Hahn broke the LMP Super-charged Door slammer record for speed, hitting 181.45 mph in both the second and third runs of the Labatt's Pro-Mod Shootout.
Kasey Janzen topped Mike Stawicki in the Top Sportsman Shootout. Andy Gregoire was best in Super Gas.
Chuck Hossfeld claimed both the Modified feature and the season championship at Lancaster Saturday. Joe Torrisi won the Sportsman race and Jeff Ulrich the championship. John Julicher was a winner in Late Models, Tim DiPasquale in Street Stocks and Terry Weldy in Strictly Stocks.