Just a few days remain in 2019, and we at Speed51 are reflecting on not just the end of this season, but the end of an exciting decade of short track racing. Our work will culminate with a top 10 list of short track drivers who have performed the best and have left the biggest mark on the sport in the 2010’s.
Before we get to that point, we are looking back at some of the top drivers of their respective disciplines, settling debates between some of the best to strap in over the past 10 years. On Tuesday, we looked at the debate between Stewart Friesen and Matt Sheppard for the honor of best Dirt Modified racer of the 2010s.
Much like in the Dirt Modified wars, several great drivers have battled for the top honors in Late Model Stock Car racing since 2010. Late Model Stock racers won eight consecutive NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championships between 2011 and 2018. Anthony Anders and Matt Bowling each won a national title, while Philip Morris returned from a hiatus that lasted most of the decade to join Larry Phillips as a five-time champion.
However, any debate on the best Late Model Stock pilot of the decade boils down to two names: Josh Berry and Lee Pulliam.
The Case for Josh Berry
When the 2000s concluded, Josh Berry was a championship-winning Legends racer at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN) who had just been tabbed to join JR Motorsports’ Late Model program. Since then, Berry’s star has only grown, winning several championships and some of the biggest races in the discipline.
Berry’s first title came in 2012, taking the track championship at Motor Mile Speedway (VA). Berry followed that up with a title at The Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars, Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) in 2014.
However, the formation of the CARS Solid Rock Carriers Tour in the wake of the demise of the UARA STARS Late Model Series provided Berry the platform of some of his largest successes. Berry only competed four times with the series in its inaugural season in 2015, but he won three of those races, taking the checkered flag at Motor Mile, Orange County Speedway (NC) and Hickory.
Since then, Berry has been a series regular, and its most dominant driver across both divisions. With a win in the 2019 season finale at South Boston Speedway (VA), he finishes the decade with 18 CARS Tour wins in 48 starts. Deac McCaskill, the 2016 series champion, is the closest driver on the series win list with seven victories.
Even with missing a race during the 2016 and 2018 seasons to pursue opportunities at higher levels of the racing ladder, Berry has not finished worse than fourth in the series points standings. He won the series championship in 2017, and missed out on the 2019 championship by just one point to Bobby McCarty after a dramatic finale.
While Berry has been committed to the CARS Tour rather than chasing a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship, he has also won some of the traditional “majors” of the sport. 2017 saw Berry win the Myrtle Beach 400 at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC), while Berry closed out the decade with one of the truly dominant performances in the history of the Martinsville 300.
After years of struggling to even finish the incredibly challenging crown jewel of Late Model Stock racing, Berry led every lap from the pole of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway (VA) to claim a record $44,000 payday, the signature Martinsville grandfather clock and the biggest win of his career.
The Case for Lee Pulliam
While Josh Berry has been the face of the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, Lee Pulliam has been the man to beat in the 2010s in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Pulliam scored four national championships during the decade, earning a spot among the greats in short track racing.
With the fourth championship in 2017, Pulliam briefly tied “King” Philip Morris at four national titles before Morris broke the tie in 2018. That year, Pulliam scaled back his racing schedule and competed on the CARS Tour. Pulliam also won national championships in 2012, 2013 and 2015, while finishing second in 2014.
While Pulliam missed out on the CARS Tour title in his one full-time season with that series, finishing second to Bobby McCarty, he has won virtually everything else there is to win in the cars.
Pulliam has won multiple track championships, with five titles at Motor Mile, one at South Boston and one at Myrtle Beach. He is a two-time champion of the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown and has won some of the biggest Late Model Stock races.
Pulliam won the South Boston 200 in six consecutive years before Morris snapped that streak in 2017. Pulliam also holds wins in the 2013 Myrtle Beach 400, the 2015 Hampton Heat 200 at Langley Speedway (VA), the 2015 Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park (NC) and the inaugural CARS Tour Old North State Nationals at Orange County.
However, perhaps there is no greater sign of Pulliam’s excellence than his decade at Martinsville. Pulliam has twice won the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, collecting grandfather clocks in 2011 and 2014.
Even when he doesn’t win, Pulliam has frequently factored into the finish. He is a five-time runner-up in the race after finishing second to Berry this year. In a race known for attrition and chaos, Pulliam has completed all but seven laps since 2010, and every lap since crashing out in overtime of the 2013 event.
Who’s It Going to Be?
Both Berry and Pulliam have been dominant during the 2010s, especially near the end of the decade. However, the opportunities for the two drivers to face each other on-track have been limited. While Berry and his JR Motorsports team have been loyal to the CARS Tour, Pulliam has largely stuck to NASCAR-sanctioned competition.
Both have dominated their respective scenes, and both have won some of the biggest races you can win. Which resume is more impressive? That is the great debate for Late Model Stock fans from the 2010s.
Let us know which Late Model Stock driver you think is the best driver of this past decade by voting below.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Stats provided by: Third Turn
-Photo credit: Speed51