As Mike Looney was driving his truck and trailer to Martinsville Speedway (VA) in 2016 he caught himself day dreaming. He was thinking about the possibility of taking home a grandfather clock and winning the biggest Late Model Stock Car race in the country. Little did he know, his dream was about to become reality.
“In my mind I could picture myself going down to turn one after winning the race to do a burn out cause my family sat in turn one,” Looney told Speed51.com. “I could really see that happening and after we won I got to do that. It gave me chills and it was a special moment.”
Looney set fast time and paced the field for 120 of the 200 laps. That day, everyone kept waiting for the No. 87 to falter, but he never did. Despite a fierce challenge from Lee Pulliam, who rode up over the left rear tire well and damaged both cars, the race stayed green and Looney prevailed.
After the race, Looney told Speed51.com that he was just a "nobody from nowhere."
“I am glad in a way it’s over a year removed now,” Looney explained. “There were a lot of interviews and a lot of pressure put on you the year after you win the race. I am not a big talker and we don’t have to worry about that much this year.”
Looney’s win was considered an upset, but it was the very basis that Martinsville was built on. A short track regular could win on the big stage and beat the best in the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car region.
“A lot of people were proud of what we did that day. People came up to me and congratulated me for a long time after that win. It meant a lot to the smaller teams that race on a budget to see us pull that off.”
2017's ValleyStar 300 was a whole new ball game for Looney. The race transitioned from a day race to a night race, and he could no longer fly under the radar as the defending winner.
“I won the last daytime race at Martinsville for the Late Models,” Looney said. “I stuck with that same setup and it’s just not going to work at night. I was stubborn and we’ll have to make some changes during the test.”
Despite the challenges, Looney is confident that he can be as strong as he was in 2016. Even with the win in his pocket, he is realistic about the race.
“I love racing there," Looney stated. “I also know if you run there ten times and you bring a car back that car rolls twice then you are doing pretty good. We are looking forward to it. We got a good engine to go with the same race car we won with.
“Time flies. It seems like you pack her up and go home and in a blink of an eye it’s time to go back. That day I’ll remember for a long time.”
This coming weekend Looney will take the same car while looking for the same dream, but he’s no longer a nobody from nowhere.
-Story by Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com