CHAMPION CLOSE-UPS: PART 1
Revisiting Motor Mile Speedway’s championship campaigns – JW Martin
Lee Pulliam didn’t drive into victory lane to celebrate his first track championship of the evening on September 12th. He walked.
Pulliam collected two track titles on Championship Night. Overshadowed by his fourth O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship was the preceding coronation of his first Collision Plus Limited Sportsman track championship.
Like his rookie driver Julia Landauer, the achievement marked Pulliam’s first track championship in his first season in the Limited Sportsman division, and his first NASCAR championship overall—as a car owner.
Collectively, Pulliam and Landauer authored one of the most record-setting seasons in the history of the storied .416-mile oval. Motor Mile Speedway witnessed the emergence of the Lee Pulliam Performance juggernaut in 2015; along with Landauer’s success, sophomore Late Model driver G.R. Waldrop enjoyed a career year in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division with a third-place finish in the standings.
In the first installment of a two-part series spotlighting the class of 2015, the campaigns of the Late Model and Limited Sportsman division champions are revisited.
As it turns out, Lee Pulliam is faster than once thought.
Pulliam notched his third consecutive Motor Mile Speedway O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship in 2015— his fourth crown overall, which tied Jeff Agnew for second place all-time on the NASCAR-era championship shortlist. Moreover, Pulliam joined Philip Morris -who tops the aforementioned category with a benchmark of seven track championships- as the only NASCAR-era track champions to compile three straight Late Model titles at the .416-mile oval.
But it is the chronology of the achievement that ranks foremost among the bevy of footnotes associated with Pulliam’s newly-minted track championship.
Among his championship contemporaries, Pulliam attained his fourth title the quickest. The Semora, NC, native has amassed four track championships in four full-time seasons, a perfect record that is unprecedented in the NASCAR era at Motor Mile Speedway. By contrast, Agnew logged his fourth track championship in what is believed to be his seventh full season of competition. Likewise, it took Morris at least seven full seasons, potentially as many as twelve, to accumulate four track championships. Although track records suggest the latter, a definitive tally cannot be confirmed.
This season, Pulliam improved on perfection. In the shadow of a six-win season in 2014, a resurgent Pulliam posted 11 wins in 14 starts at MMS in 2015. As Pulliam’s trophy case expanded, so did the history books.
Pulliam became the first Motor Mile Speedway-era racer to open the season with six straight victories, a milestone that equaled Morris’ all-time record (MMS era) of single-season consecutive victories. The success precipitated a $1,000 bounty entering the July 24th event. A rarity, it marked the first time since Derrick Lancaster’s 2007 Limited Sportsman campaign that a driver’s dominance has warranted an additional monetary incentive.
The recurring victory lane appearances overshadowed a staggering MMS-era Late Model record: Pulliam’s worst finish in 2015 was second, equating to a 1.21 average finish. Statistically, it was Pulliam’s most dominant championship campaign; the remainder of the first-place trophies went to division runner-up Matt Bowling and Tommy Lemons, Jr., who managed just three victories collectively.
Pulliam’s local success proved instrumental to his national pursuits.
Trailing by 30 points in the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national standings entering September, Pulliam orchestrated a late-season surge that produced a plethora of full-field victories in the final month of racing. Back in contention for the national crown, Motor Mile Speedway’s season finale on September 12th provided the springboard to national stardom. Pulliam parlayed his eleventh on-track victory into his fourteenth full-field win in the national standings, effectively securing his third national title. Pulliam’s Motor Mile Speedway triumphs accounted for eight of his 17 full-field wins, with the remainder splintered among four different racetracks.
“Looking back on it, that night was enough to win it,” explains Pulliam. “That win that night gave us just enough… just a small cushion going into the final weekend.
“It wouldn’t have even been close without Motor Mile,” Pulliam continues. “We had a great car count all year, and that’s what it’s all about. We probably got more points from Motor Mile Speedway than from any other track. It was a big part of the equation.”
Pulliam’s third NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national championship is accompanied by -ironically – his fourth consecutive Virginia state championship. Coupled with his fourth O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship, Pulliam’s 2015 season is peerless. Where does the 27 year-old rank his latest accomplishments?
“This was our biggest year, period. To win 11 out of 14 races—that’s just unreal,” acknowledges Pulliam, who earned the title by 86 markers—the largest points margin division-wide in 2015. “Our first year winning the championship we won 16 out of 20. That would be the only year to rival this one.”
A storybook start to Julia Landauer’s NASCAR Limited Sportsman career ended in the history books.
In her Motor Mile Speedway debut on May 2nd, Landauer became the first female to win a Collision Plus Limited Sportsman race at the .416-mile oval. She subsequently became the first female to lead the Limited Sportsman division standings. And on September 12th, Landauer became the first female to celebrate a Limited Sportsman division track championship.
Indeed, it was a season of firsts for the 23 year-old from New York City, NY.
Embarking on her first full-time NASCAR season, Landauer forged a partnership with NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion Lee Pulliam, who had expanded his Lee Pulliam Performance operation to accommodate a Limited Sportsman program. Under the guidance of three-time Limited Sportsman track champion Matt Taylor, Landauer’s no. 70 team was projected to be a formidable threat for the title at the outset of the season. The division was brimming with championship-caliber talent, however. Defending track champion Scott Lancaster and 2012 track titlist Preston McGhee, along with perennial leadfoot Karl Budzevski, were considered the favorites for the division crown.
Landauer enjoyed an early-season breakthrough, vaulting to the forefront of the division standings on the strength of back-to-back victories in the first two outings. But the spellbinding start was tempered by a nightmare night on June 28th, when a pair of disqualifications threatened to thwart her championship aspirations.
In a sweeping series of penalties, an unprecedented total of five race teams were disqualified from the Limited Sportsman twinbill on June 28th following post-race inspection. Those impacted by the fallout included Lancaster, Budzevski, and the points leader…Julia Landauer.
Of the top-tier teams involved, only Landauer’s no. 70 entry recovered. Budzevski’s no. 26 team finished tenth in the standings, one year removed from a runner-up finish in the points. Lancaster was ranked as low as tenth, rebounding to place fourth at season’s end.
The underdogs emerged in the aftermath, with Richard Caldwell seizing command of the standings. Caldwell maintained the division points lead until the August 22nd event, when Landauer scored her season-salvaging fourth win. Entering the season finale, the duo was separated by two points— the equivalent of one position on the track.
Handicapped to sixth place on the grid per Motor Mile Speedway’s “Two-Wins-in-a-Row Policy” rule, Landauer methodically marched through the field during the 50-lap feature. When the final yellow flag of the race unfurled on lap 41, Landauer was scored third.
Showcasing veteran savvy, the Limited Sportsman rookie patiently coasted in the waning circuits, trailing the frontrunners by .935 seconds at the checkers. The third-place effort secured the track championship by a margin of ten points.
For more on Julia Landauer, view the NASCAR Home Tracks article HERE
The outcome marked the closest championship battle since 2011 in the Limited Sportsman division— especially noteworthy considering the teams in contention for the title. Of the top five points finishers, only Lancaster managed a top-five result a season ago. Aside from Landauer, the remainder of the top five was comprised of division mainstays that tallied finishes of seventh or worse in the 2014 standings.
Statistically, the Limited Sportsman division was the most competitive class in 2015, with the division showcasing five different winners. Entering the season finale, a total of four drivers had a mathematical chance at the championship— a division-wide best.
The headline in a season teeming with history-making storylines, Landauer’s recording-setting 2015 slate was simply remarkable. Landauer became the second female racer ever to capture a Motor Mile Speedway track championship, joining Street Stock standout Dr. Sheryl Carls on the elite all-time shortlist. The seventh female to compete in the Limited Sportsman division during the Motor Mile Speedway era, Landauer’s championship campaign was the best result for a female driver since Lindsey Holman’s sixth-place effort in 2005.
“This season has been so incredible. That we were actually able to win [the championship]… it’s very special. I’m just so proud of myself, my team and my support system,” says Landauer.
“It proves once again that perseverance really wins in the end, and that an incredible amount of work can really pay off.”
Champion Close-Ups: Part 2, highlighting the championships of Doodle Lang, Scooter Hollandsworth and Ricky Howell, Jr., is forthcoming.