GOOD MORNING, BOWLING
Pulliam, Bowling split Michael Huffman Memorial TWIN 125s – JW Martin
Lee Pulliam brought the brooms to Motor Mile Speedway. After a dominating victory in the opener, the 2011 Bull & Bones Late Model track champion was poised to pull off the sweep in the Michael Huffman Memorial Twin 125s.
Instead, they would need the brooms to sweep up the mess.
Complete with conflict and controversy, the Late Model nightcap brought a bizarre end to a riveting opening night of racing at the .416-mile oval. The finale embroiled some of NASCAR Late Model racing’s premier drivers–including two National Champions- in dustups that sent the 125-lap feature 28 circuits past the scheduled distance, opening the door for a first-time winner in the process.
After pacing all 125 laps in the first feature to best Price’s Body Shop pole sitter Peyton Sellers and Deac McCaskill for the win, Pulliam was saddled with a sixth-place starting spot in the second race by virtue of the re-draw.
Pulliam had coasted to victory lane in a race slowed by just three caution flags. In contrast, the latter feature devolved into a race of attrition that extended well past midnight. And it would be anything but a Sunday drive for the frontrunners.
The re-draw placed Brandon Brown on the pole, and after exchanging the lead with Matt Bowling through the first caution period of the race, Pulliam had vaulted to the top spot by the event’s second yellow flag on lap 57. And he had brought Tommy Lemons, Jr. with him.
The pair of Motor Mile Speedway veterans showcased stellar side-by-side action in the succeeding circuits. Lemons toiled on the top side of the race track, and although the No. 27 could maintain Pulliam’s pace, the bottom groove proved superior.
Three restarts converged the field through the midway portion of the contest, with the fifth yellow flag of the night unfurling on lap 107. With 10 laps remaining, the restart on lap 115 offered Lemons the best opportunity to mount a maneuverer around Pulliam’s No. 1.
The battle for first reached a fever pitch as the duo rounded turn two following the restart. Exiting the corner, Pulliam’s silver and blue Chevrolet pushed up and into Lemons, sending the No. 27 careening head-on into the outside wall. A vicious spin down the back straightaway decimated the front end of Lemons’ machine, forcing the team to retire from competition.
After a fourth place finish in the opener, Lemons tallied a dismal sixteenth place outcome in the finale. Lemons declined to comment on the incident.
“First, I’d like to apologize to Tommy [Lemons] and the No. 27 team. It was a freak deal—we hit tire-to-tire. I hate conflict with anybody, especially Tommy, because he’s always raced me clean,” an apologetic Pulliam stated. “I can promise you, it was 100 percent unintentional. I’ve been on the bad end of deals like that, and it’s hard to believe the guy. It really stinks; it puts a damper on the win tonight.
“We found out we had a right front tire going down. When I got in the corner, it pushed. When I got on the gas, it pushed. I tried to ride it out [beside Tommy Lemons, Jr.]. On the next restart, it got worse—it was going down pretty fast. That’s why the guys got by me on the outside and I got wrecked.”
Five laps after the restart, the first overtime caution and seventh yellow overall was brandished for Pulliam. A spirited attempt by Bowling to snare the lead on the high side of the race track proved successful on lap 127. One lap later, trouble enveloped turn four as Pulliam’s No. 1 snapped sideways after incurring contact from Sellers. Several of the top contenders sustained damage in the bedlam, including McCaskill, whose left front fender was sheered away after attempting to avoid Pulliam’s spinning car.
In the aftermath, Sellers received the black flag, and Pulliam limped to pit road to change the failing right front tire.
“Lee had a little hiccup in the middle of the corner. I was racing Deac pretty hard on the outside, and I was more focused on trying to get by Deac, because I knew once Lee got to going, he would take off. But he didn’t get going,” explained Sellers. “I just barely hit him, and it got him sideways. Deac was right there, and that’s what jerked his fender off. It was just a bad chain reaction… I plan on racing him side-by-side for the win here next time, so I definitely wasn’t going to take a cheap shot running for third.
“Based on the racing we had earlier in the night with everybody, I don’t know that a black flag was warranted, because we were all racing door-to-door and beating-and-banging,” continued Sellers. “Overall, two top tens and a pole—that’s a good night. We had a really fast car tonight.”
After out-performing the field in the first race, the pair of WHELEN All-American Series National Champions would spend the remainder of finale rallying from the rear of the field. Sellers rebounded to seventh, and Pulliam capped a remarkable effort with a fifth place finish.
The eighth and final caution on lap 141 delayed the outcome further, as Motor Mile Speedway track policy provides for a ten-lap, all- green-flag finish. The yellow flag staged a three-lap shootout on lap 150, with Bowling eclipsing a hard-charging Brandon Brown to capture the first checkered flag of his career at Motor Mile Speedway.
“We just hung in there until the end. It was a long race. We just had a really good car on the outside; we could make it work,” said Bowling. “This win is right up there with the Hampton Heat. I’ve always wanted to win up here. We’ve always ran pretty decent, and it feels good to finally get one.”
Brandon Brown, a relative newcomer to the Late Model ranks at MMS, impressed with finishes of sixth and second in the twinbill. The young driver’s perspective sums up the racing on display early Sunday morning.
“Everybody was beating and banging,” recalled Brown. “When Tommy Lemons got moved out of the way, I thought that was going to be our front clip. Then Lee Pulliam went around, and it got really hairy, really fast. And then you’re sitting up there, running with the top dogs in the nation…I’m just grateful to be up here and bring the car home second.”
“Is it always this crazy up here?” McCaskill said with a smile as he exited the No. 08. The Southern National Motorsports Park regular capitalized on his first start in five years at the Radford oval with a pair of third place podium efforts, while expanding his lead in “The Dirty Dozen” points race.
“I thought we had a shot [at the win], but when Peyton [Sellers] and Lee [Pulliam] got together, I caught Lee’s right rear; we hit it with the left front pretty hard and it knocked the steering wheel off,” McCaskill said. “I didn’t know these races are this crazy up here, but it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed it; we’ll be back.”
The exclamation point to a wild and weird opening night: After the first two races of the season, Matt Bowling, Deac McCaskill and Lee Pulliam are deadlocked in a three-way tie for first in the Bull & Bones Late Model point standings.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS:
Matt Taylor outlasted a 21-car Collision Plus Limited Sportsman field and a flurry of cautions to win the 50-lap season opener. Garrett Bunch and Karl Budzevski rounded out the podium.
Chad Conner claimed the checkers in an exhilarating last lap battle with Gary Ledbetter, Jr. in the 25-lap Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock event. Pole sitter Jessica Harmon rebounded from an early spin to take third.
Chucky Williams took top honors in the New River Nissan MOD-4 heat, besting pole sitter Drew Holdren and Doodle Lang at the completion of 25 laps.
Fan favorite Ricky Howell, Jr. snared the win in the 15-circuit UCAR feature. Charles Smith and Rodney Howell took second and third, respectively.