PRESS PAST: Mike Looney
THE PIT LIZARD REPORT: With a strong family partnership, Mike Looney makes the move from Franklin Co. Pure Stock to NRVS Limited Sportsman
Harriet Andrews- PRINTED: NRVS Official Program, July 31, 1999
Motor Mile Speedway is celebrating its twenty-fifth season as a NASCAR-sanctioned facility in 2013. As part of its commemorative program, motormilespeedway.com will be reprinting a selection of stories from our archives that highlight the rich history and heritage of the New River Valley short track.
Fans of racing at New River Valley Speedway may know that Mike Looney is a newcomer to this track, but what they may not know is that this gentlemanly young 21-year old is no newcomer to winning in the sport of racing. In three years of racing at Franklin County Speedway beginning in 1996, he collected awards ranging from “Rookie of the Year” (1996) “Most Improved Driver” (1996,1997) to “Most Popular Driver” (1997,1998). In 1998, at age 20, he won the FCS Pure Stock division championship. Now Mike and his family are ready to leave those accolades behind and grow in another, more competitive division of the sport. Similar in size and competitive spirit, the Limited Sportsman is basically one step behind the Late Model division and a good place to learn for a guy who is serious about racing as a career- not a hobby.
When one uses the word “serious” here, he or she can bet that this is no idle talk. The following paragraph is quoted from an information sheet about Mike. It leaves little doubt about the strong character and purpose of this young man.
“Mike made up his mind to be a professional race car driver when he was about 15 years old. His family thought it was a teen “fancy” that would soon pass. But Mike proved them wrong. While attending high school during the day, he scored 4.0 in night welding courses at Virginia Western Community College. At the same time, he delivered newspapers and washed dishes in a restaurant. In the summer, he put up hay and worked at Camp Easter Seal to pay a $1,400 loan from the Farmers & Merchants Bank of Newcastle which he had used to buy a 1974 Ford Torino. He worked on it every spare minute to make it a winner. Racing is no longer just a “good ole boy” sport. It is a serious business and Mike’s racing success is a result of his dedication which has not wavered since he decided to be a racing professional. His accomplishments in only three years of actual racing on the track stands out as shining proof of his character as well as his engineering ability and driving talent.”
While the above quote speaks volumes about Mike Looney and his career goals, it doesn’t tell the full story. Mike lives next door to his parents on upper Craig Creek in Craig County, Va. He is a mechanic for VDOT in real life. Married to the former Rebecca Burton from Princeton, WV, they are expecting their first baby in December. His Dad, Ronnie Looney, retired early from AEP/APCO and went to work on a part-time basis with Designed Telecommunication* in Salem to help with expenses for the family race business- Looney Motor Sports*. Ronnie raced in 1965 at the Roanoke Drag Strip, running 13 races, and winning 13 trophies. In 1967, he raced at Pulaski Speedway for Joe and the late Gene Dudding. His round track career last only the one season- his wife Helen asked him to quit. It must have been a painful decision for this close-knit young family. But racing in those days with no fire suits and cheap helmets must have been a scary proposition for a young wife with two small children- and no insurance to cover hospital costs resulting from accidents on the track.
But another time and place would come. When NRVS reopened in the late eighties, Ronnie would bring Mike (then age 10) to watch the races and meet with other racing enthusiasts like Mason Ayers, Hank Turman, Wilton Cromer, and Grump Wills. That must have done it. From that point, it was racing parts for Christmas presents and “play” was racing anything on wheels…or tynes as in the case of the Great Tiller Races! Older brothers Jim and David and their families have all pitched in to help Mike pursue his dream. As his Mom said… “the whole family supports Mike’s racing and have made many personal sacrifices for it. Mike would be the first to tell you that he couldn’t have gotten as far as he has without them.” He’s on his way with a third place in the Limited to his credit. Remember his name.