By lap 12, two calamitous cautions had maimed the WSLS10/ A-1 Heating and Cooling 150, with the carnage claiming half of the 21-car field.
But a yellow for debris was the biggest caution of all.
For the second consecutive race, Lee Pulliam was coasting toward the checkered flag at Motor Mile Speedway when a late-race caution changed everything. The incredible overtime finish that ensued produced an unlikely winner Saturday night. But then again, the race itself was unlike any other.
The rollercoaster relationship with luck that has defined Tommy Lemons, Jr.’s Late Model career at Motor Mile Speedway was encapsulated in Saturday night’s feature.
Although the Troy, NC, native captured the Price’s Body Shop pole award for the marquee, Lemons wouldn’t enjoy the benefits. The no. 27 was forced to pit road during the initial warm-up circuits of the contest, surrendering his first place starting position to fix a throttle issue.
Ironically, the misfortune proved fortuitous.
“Honestly, I had about given up,” Lemons said of the pre-race problem. “Getting that far behind at this racetrack is so tough to come back from. I guess luck was on our side with the throttle coming loose—we missed that carnage on lap one, and missed another wreck, and just eased our way toward the front.”
Mike Looney inherited the top spot as the green flag unfurled, but the lead was short-lived. One lap later, mayhem enveloped turn four as Looney’s black no. 47 snapped loose and into Josh Berry’s no. 88. The frontrunners became entangled in a tandem spin that sent the pair careening into the outside retaining wall.
The big one had begun. A high-speed traffic jam turned the fourth corner into a junkyard as nine cars became collected in the maylay. Looney incurred the most vicious impact, as the rear of the no. 47 was vaulted airborne momentarily.
“Me and Josh were racing hard. I was using a lot of racetrack, and I was crowding him up, and he was holding his ground. We got tangled up,” Looney explained. “It was more my fault than it was his. It’s a shame.
“It was a good lick. I thought I was going up into the stands. I saw some stars, saw some catch-fence…some fans. It was an interesting ride. It actually got quiet. They say when you get in the air it gets quiet, and I heard that for the first time.”
An extended red flag period followed. Berry was unavailable for comment.
Two laps after the restart, the race was back under the yellow flag on lap 12 for a three-car dustup on the front straightaway involving Frank Deiny, Jr. The incident retired two more competitors and warranted the event’s second red flag.
Eleven cars were left on track when the field came to the restart on lap 20. The rapid reduction of racers ushered in a prolonged green flag period, with Pulliam in command. And the best battle on the race track was for first.
After marching into the top five prior to the restart, Lemons maneuvered past three more competitors to occupy second by lap 34. Lemons rapidly erased Pulliam’s advantage, and by lap 44 the two leaders were inseparable.
The battle for first reached a climax at the three-quarter mark of the contest, with Lemons applying significant pressure to Pulliam’s no. 1. But the efforts were to no avail, and by lap 120, the tussle dissipated as Pulliam pulled away.
Lemons needed a caution, and on lap 142, he got one.
Debris on the front straightway from the no. 44 of Dylan Lupton converged the field and staged a dramatic eight-lap dash to the checkers. The racing was exhilarating…and the finish, phenomenal.
The restart favored Pulliam. On the inside, the no. 1 managed to claw out to a slight lead in the first two circuits, but Pulliam couldn’t close the door on Lemons. Clinging to Pulliam’s right rear quarter panel, Lemons inched up alongside the no. 1 with six laps to go.
One lap later, Lemons led his first lap of the race, having not led a single circuit in regulation.
With the pair deadlocked up front in a riveting race for the lead, Matt Bowling’s no. 88 managed to join the fray for first with three circuits remaining.
The engagement reached a fever pitch on the white flag lap, as Bowling shot to the inside of Pulliam off turn two, creating a three-wide drag race as the leaders barreled down the backstretch.
“They were hollering inside – outside down the back straightaway. By the time I got [Bowling] wowed-up, he hit me and got me a little loose coming up-off [turn four],” Pulliam explained. “When I drove out to the wall, the no. 27 was there, and it was all over.”
For a fleeting moment, the trio rounded turn four three abreast. As Pulliam protected his position on the bottom, momentum from the top groove propelled Lemons alongside Pulliam’s lead machine. The pair collided as they entered the front stretch, and a fender-bending, door-banging short track classic unfolded as the leaders lunged toward the finish line.
It was photo-finish at the stripe, with Lemons nipping Pulliam by a minuscule .038 margin of victory.
Dejected, the 2011 Bull & Bones Late Model Stock Car track champion still managed to put the finish in perspective, giving credit to the winner in the process.
“I drove the absolute crap out of that car,” Pulliam stated. “I did everything I could do. Tommy drove the wheels off that thing on the outside. And I was driving it for all she was worth. I washed him up some, and he kept digging. He just did a heckuva job. That’s all you can say.
“It’s hard to beat guys that work every week and have that kind of drive to win.”
Matt Bowling placed third, and struggled to find the words to sum up the spectacular display of driving that the top three showcased in the waning laps.
“It’s just racing…anything goes. Lee was running him up the racetrack. I just kept timing myself to make it three-wide. But he just got the better of me. Next time, I’ll know what to do,” said Bowling.
For Lemons, his first win of 2012 was a testament to perseverance.
“It’s been 2009 since we won here…it’s been a long dang time,” exclaimed Lemons. “There’s nothing better. The last year we’ve been chasing this no. 1, and we finally beat him with him on the race track.
“There’s nothing better.”
Frank Deiny, Jr. finished fourth, the last driver on the lead lap. David Polenz rounded out the top five, one lap down.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
COLLISION PLUS LIMITED SPORTSMAN
For 50 laps, the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman feature was caution free.
And leader Matt Taylor was home free.
But coming to the finish, Taylor received a caution flag in place of the checkers. What followed was a white-knuckle green-white-checkered finish.
“The race was over when the caution came out, in my mind…we didn’t need that,” Taylor said. “When I looked in the mirror and saw that orange car, I knew what was coming. I was driving it for all I had for two laps, and it worked out for us.”
Outside pole sitter Garrett Bunch was Taylor’s primary challenger throughout the feature. But as the race transitioned into overtime, Steve Dalton became Taylor’s chief threat. Dalton, who was making his return to the division after a five-race hiatus, applied pressure to the rear of Taylor’s No. 7 following the restart.
Taylor staved off Dalton’s onslaught, becoming only the second driver to net more than one win in the division this season. In his homecoming, Dalton placed a stout second. Limited Sportsman division points leader Preston McGhee rounded out the top three.
CARPET FACTORY OUTLET STREET STOCK
Another Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock feature. Another Barry Gregory win.
The Street Stock points leader showcased another dominating performance Saturday night, forestalling runner-up Brent Bell through 30 circuits to win his fourth race in six starts in 2012.
Throughout the majority of the contest Bell trailed Gregory by no more than two car lengths. Unwavered, Gregory notched the victory despite the pressure; a win dedicated to the willpower and perseverance of a fellow crew member.
“This is for Wes. He’s a real fighter. He’s lost his leg to cancer, but he’s still down here racing…it means the world to me,” Gregory said.
Chad Conner placed third.
Doug Lawrence notched the win in the 25-lap UCAR dash Saturday night, besting Rodney Howell at the finish.
Larry Showalter rounded out the top three.