INDIANAPOLIS – “Phoenix was great,” said Mike Bliss about winning the 1993 True Value USAC Silver Crown Series season opener. “I didn’t think it would get any better.”
Well, it did. Bliss added victories at Indianapolis Raceway Park and the Milwaukee Mile, then came from behind in the standings to beat Ron Shuman of Tempe, Ariz., by two points in the closest title race in series history.
Bliss, of Milwaukie, Ore, and longtime friend Del McClure of Portland teamed up for driver and entrant championships in the nine-race series, both claiming two-point margins over their closest rivals.
“I wasn’t sure until I got a call from USAC for my ring size,” said McClure about winning the championship. “We really weren’t focusing on the title. We were more concerned with Mike’s future and getting him the exposure he deserves in order to further his career in open wheel race cars.”
It was déjà vu for Bliss, who in 1989 came from behind to beat Washington state driver Mike Stryker by a single point for the WMRA Midget championship in the final race at Tenino, Wash.
“I don’t get excited easily,” Bliss said. “But I was really nervous going into the Sacramento finale. I feel like a ton of bricks is off my back.
“The IRP win surprised me,” Bliss admitted. “After we won Milwaukee, we started to get serious about the points. I was happy with the adaptation to dirt after seventh at Springfield. It was easier than I thought it would be. After DuQuoin, I started thinking we might have a shot at the title, but after Eldora, I thought it had slipped away. I didn’t see Shuman pit at Sacramento, but I noticed he wasn’t ahead of me on the restart. I just tried to save our tires and finish the best I could. I didn’t know where he was, so when I came into the pits, I still didn’t know the outcome.
“Then Johnny Capels came down and said, unofficially, we had won it.”
McClure’s first involvement with championship cars came in 1961, when Len Sutton drove for Don Collins in a sprint car race at the DuQuoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds.
He then supplied motors for Collins, who fielded Champ Cars for Art Pollard and Jerry “Scratch” Daniels in the mid and late 1960s. Pollard’s car at Du Quoin in 1968 was named the McClure Plastics Special.
McClure became a USAC Silver Crown car entrant in 1973 and his list of drivers since has included Larry Dickson, Mike Gregg, Joe Saldana, Bob Cicconi, Bobby Adkins, Steve Chassey, Jeff Swindell, Dave Feese and Davey Hamilton.
Bliss actually drove for McClure as early as 1987 at Indianapolis Raceway Park, then returned with a great second-place finish at Phoenix in 1992.
The three victories this season are not the first for McClure. Steve Chassey drove McClure’s car to victory in the 1988 100-miler at Springfield, Ill.
Chassey also had a second at Phoenix in 1987.
“I owe a lot to Del,” Bliss continued. “My mechanic, Doug Howells, gave me a great car all season and our wives Sue (Bliss) and Joanne (Howells) were very supportive. Keith Randol Automotive kept our engines in top shape too.”
Along with the championship accolades, Bliss collected the USAC Silver Crown division’s Most Improved Driver Award, while Randy Tolsma was named Rookie of the Year.