With fourth track title, Pulliam now among Motor Mile Speedway’s all-time best – JW Martin
Lee Pulliam’s seven-year career has been spent competing against Late Model heavyweights. Now, he’s competing against his heroes.
Saturday night, Pulliam raced alongside Jeff Agnew in the record books. Pulliam’s newly-minted fourth Motor Mile Speedway O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship ties the legendary Late Model wheelman for second place all-time on the elite NASCAR-era shortlist.
Philip Morris tops the category with a benchmark of seven track championships. With his latest crown, Pulliam joins Morris as the only NASCAR-era track champions to compile three consecutive Late Model titles at the .416-mile oval.
Encapsulating the essence of Championship Night, Pulliam poignantly reflected on his latest milestone.
“It gives you goosebumps,” Pulliam explained. “When I was a kid sitting in the stands, like so many kids are today, I always wanted to be a racecar driver. Always. It was my dream. And as you get older, you begin to feel like it’s never going to happen…. that it’s never going to work out. Nothing was in place for me. Financially, I couldn’t do it.
“Those guys though, they were better than Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt to me as a kid,” the emotional 27 year-old continued. “I would sit in the stands and act like I was driving the cars. It’s pretty special, really, looking back on it. Thinking that there’s some kid up there in the stands right now… and I’m his hero… and he wants to do what I do one day. That’s the really cool part of it, watching it come full circle.”
For Pulliam, the first-place trophies were more important than the championship trophy, however. The THOR Construction/ PEPSI TWIN 75s presented by Comcast Spotlight had national championship implications, with Pulliam entering the twinbill with a slim 10-point edge over rookie standout Thomas Tillison, Jr. in the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national standings.
With the season’s final weekend looming, a pair of full car-count (18) victories were pivotal to Pulliam’s national championship campaign. Twenty-one cars started the opener, with the nightcap boasting a field of 20 entries— a figurative goldmine of points for Pulliam. Could team no. 5 capitalize?
If Tillison were to win the national title, he’s got Matt Bowling to thank.
Pulliam notched his 11th win of the season in the first 75-lap sprint, staving off Tommy Lemons, Jr. in the waning circuits of the caution-free event. Lemons, who led a race high of 50 laps, finished .413-seconds behind Pulliam’s winning machine. Bowling placed third.
Entering the season finale facing an insurmountable 84-point deficit in the track standings, Bowling – a prolific ringer in seasons past at MMS – re-assumed the role of spoiler in the nightcap. He saved the best for last.
Bowling snared the lead on lap 10, having started in fourth due to the pre-race inversion. A rash of cautions slowed the pace of the race in the opening circuits, with four yellow flags unfurling prior to lap 25. Bowling remained unyielding out front, however, fending off numerous challenges on restarts and showcasing significant strength through the proceeding green flag run.
A late-race caution on lap 60 staged a 15-lap dash to the checkers, birthing a spirited struggle for the win. It was a battle that mirrored Bowling’s first victory of the 2015 season. And it produced the same result.
Pulliam, who had maneuvered to second from his sixth-place starting spot, began to mount repeated maneuvers on Bowling’s no. 83 from the apron of the track following the restart. Gravitating topside, Bowling continually thwarted Pulliam’s attempts at a pass, and despite the intensifying pressure from Pulliam’s no. 5, Bowling’s machine proved superior.
In a resilient last-lap drag race, Pulliam lunged for the stripe .188 seconds behind Bowling as the checkers unfurled.
The stunning outcome of the epic duel surprised many, including the race winner.
“I feel like we left our best car at home— we were saving it for next weekend,” Bowling stated, referring to the upcoming South Boston Speedway season finale. “To come up here and get a win with this car is pretty awesome. This will be one to remember, right here.”
Tommy Lemons, Jr. completed the podium.
The results create a national championship cliffhanger with one weekend of racing remaining before the 2015 NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series season concludes on Sunday, September 20th. Jason Christley, the Senior Manager of Competition Communications for NASCAR’s regional and touring series, reported via Twitter Sunday that Pulliam’s points lead increased in the aftermath of the Motor Mile Speedway double feature. Unofficially, Pulliam currently leads by 12 markers, with 693 total points to Tillison’s 681 points total.
Asked if his performance Saturday night was enough to secure a third national title, Pulliam was succinct.
“Close,” said Pulliam. “It’s close.”
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
She became the first female to win a Limited Sportsman division feature. She became the first female to lead the Limited Sportsman division standings. Saturday night, Julia Landauer became the first female to win a Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division track championship.
Landauer trailed Scott Lancaster and Dylan Saul at the finish of the 50-lap season finale; the third-place effort secured her first NASCAR title by a margin of 10 points in the track standings.
“This is huge! While I would’ve loved to have gotten that fifth win, the championship was more important,” exclaimed Landauer of the record-setting accomplishment. “This is so exciting to be the first woman to do this… hopefully it shows that many more can.”
A first-place finish on the racetrack produced a first-place finish in the standings for Scooter Hollandsworth. The Motor Mile Speedway mainstay captured his third consecutive track championship in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division after overcoming a four-point deficit to Doug Williams entering the final feature.
“It’s special,” Hollandsworth explained. “Every other time I came into the season finale I had a little bit of a lead, and I just played it safe. Tonight, I didn’t have to worry about playing it safe. My objective was to go win… That’s what I was shootin’ to do. I’m just blessed that it happened.”
A trio of cars were disqualified following the 30-lap race, including Williams. The former points leader finished the season as the division runner-up, trailing Hollandsworth by four markers.
New River Nissan MOD-4 veteran Doodle Lang celebrated his first-ever track championship at Motor Mile Speedway Saturday night, sewing up the title with a victory in the season finale. The six-time winner bested Drew Holdren and Dennis Holdren, who placed second and third, respectively.
“It feels pretty good,” Lang said. “We’ve been running up here for a few years, and have had some good finishes… but every time it felt like we were a contender for the championship, we’d get that monkey on our back. To overcome it this year…it’s a blessing.”
Ricky Howell, Jr. claimed Motor Mile Speedway’s first UCAR class championship since 2006 Saturday night; his first-ever track championship at the .416-mile oval. It was a momentous accomplishment for the longtime UCAR racer, who edged out Rodney Howell by two markers for top honors in the division.
“This means the world to me; I started in 2005…this makes 10 years,” said an emotional Howell. “This is my first official track championship; it means a lot.”
Motor Mile Speedway congratulates its 2015 track champions: Lee Pulliam, Julia Landauer, Scooter Hollandsworth, Doodle Lang & Ricky Howell, Jr.