THE MOTOR MILE MAVERICK
Mike Looney scores stunning upset win in Coors Light TWIN 75s – JW Martin
He’s always been the best with less.
In race one of the Coors Light TWIN 75’s, Mike Looney was simply the best.
Willpower trumped horsepower Saturday night as Looney orchestrated an improbable upset win over division powerhouses Philip Morris and Lee Pulliam in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division opener.
Piloting an underfunded and unassuming plain white Chevrolet, the Catawba, Va., throwback beat the odds, a 22-car Late Model field, and two NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champions to capture his first checkered flag at Motor Mile Speedway since April 14, 2012.
“Lee [Pulliam] had a better car… I just wanted it so bad,” Looney explained. “I guess the Good Lord likes an underdog sometimes.”
Pulliam bested the largest Late Model contingent of the season to collect the Price’s Body Shop pole award, and paced the race uncontested through the opening 66 circuits before the second and final caution staged a riveting seven-lap dash to the finish line.
From the outside of the front row at the outset, Looney’s no. 87 had shadowed Pulliam throughout the contest. The restart was a reprieve for Looney, who had been incapable of showcasing the speed of his division counterpart during the extended green flag stints. The impending sprint afforded Looney one final opportunity at the top spot, and the veteran wheelman capitalized.
Tenacious from the top side of the track, Looney wrangled the lead away from Pulliam’s no. 5 following three circuits of white-knuckle, two abreast racing. Looney completed the pass on lap 70, out-muscling Pulliam entering turn one.
In a fleeting attempt to regain command of the point, Pulliam launched an aggressive maneuver in turn two on the following circuit. Slight contact exiting the corner forced Pulliam out of the groove down the backstretch, allowing Morris’ no. 01 to join the fray for first.
“I got into Looney out of [turn] two more than I intended to. It got us all jacked up, and I had to check way up not to wreck him,” explained Pulliam. “That gave the no. 01 a chance to get on the outside. Once I got pinned to the bottom, I was done.”
Following an atypical sixth-place qualifying effort, Morris had methodically marched into contention preceding the final yellow flag. Seizing the chance to factor into the outcome of the race, Morris sailed alongside Pulliam entering turn three; the duo remained side-by-side throughout the final three circuits.
The close-quarter racing between the pair of national champions was a favorable development for Looney. In the closing laps Looney amassed a two-car-length buffer, stunning the field by .419-seconds at the checkers. Morris eclipsed Pulliam for second in a drag race to the stripe.
“I started to go to the outside on that restart, and I should have. That was a mistake,” acknowledged Pulliam. “If you’re going to lose to someone, Mike Looney is a heckuva good guy. They deserve it.”
Brandon Butler and Ryan Repko completed the top five.
It was a storybook ending for the underfinanced team headquartered in Looney’s backyard garage. Mavericks in an era dominated by bloated Late Model budgets, Looney and car owner Billy Martin are a testament to the gritty, bootstrap mentality of yesteryear.
Looney’s fourth-career triumph was an early birthday present for Martin, who will be celebrating his 69th birthday on July 20th. A perennial underdog, Martin had been winless in Late Model competition at Motor Mile Speedway since 1990.
“I cried!” said Martin, whose expansive racing career dates back to the 1970s. “This is the one I wanted to win.”
Looney summed up the magnitude of the achievement.
“I can’t put in words what it means to park this car in front of seven national championships,” Looney said in deference to his closest competition. “I think every win I’ve had here, I’ve had to beat Philip Morris. And to beat Lee Pulliam… he’s amazing. Those drivers are the best I’ve ever raced against.”
Pulliam coasted to the win in the 75-lap nightcap, besting Morris and Looney in a race slowed by two caution periods. Repko placed fourth, and Jeb Burton, in his first-career Late Model start at the .416-mile oval, tallied fifth.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Karl Budzevski swept the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman twinbill Saturday night, edging out Scott Lancaster in both 50-lap features. The pair of division standouts are tied atop the track standings; Budzevski has a season-high five wins in pursuit of his first track championship.
Amber Balcaen placed third in the opener; Dylan Saul captured the final podium spot in the nightcap.
Doodle Lang survived a plethora of cautions to tally his fourth win of the season in MOD-4 competition. Josh Gobble rallied from the rear of the field twice to claim second. Cory Dunn celebrated a career-best finish with a third place effort.
Photo Credits: Shane Green