Tommy Lemons is expecting two special deliveries in the next month: A child and a grandfather. The child will be he and his wife, Laura’s, first. The grandfather – Martinsville Speedway’s famous grandfather clock trophy – will be his second.
Lemons backed up his 2013 triumph in Late Model Stock Car’s biggest race, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, with another heart-pounding victory in the 2015 edition and earned a $27,000 payday to go with his year’s only real highlight.
“I’m still overjoyed,” Lemons told Speed51.com in our winner’s 1-on-1 interview after doing his other media obligations. “I feel like it’s sunk in a little faster than last time, but I’m just overwhelmed with happiness. Luck was on our side. I felt like we had a decent car but not a winning car. But then we had a 50-lap race to get us a shot at it. It’s all you can ask for.”
Lemons’ vault into contention seemed unlikely most of the day as Lemons rode in the back half of the top-ten. When the competition caution for tire changes and adjustments flew, Lemons and crew went to major work on their race car. But the best adjustment the car made was happening yards away as a track representative drew a pill and inverted the top eight drivers for the final 50-lap dash.
Lemons restarted first and with clean air and a new Five Star Race Cars body, quickly disposed of his competition and logged laps. As R.D. Smith and even stalwart Lee Pulliam began to fade in his rearview mirror, Lemon’s biggest concern quickly became 15-year-old Todd Gilliland.
Gilliland had dominated all day after a frustrating Saturday for his team. In Saturday’s stopwatch-timed qualifications, Gilliland’s team felt they had run pole speed based on their calculations. NASCAR only credit Gilliland with 14th. The car and driver quickly proved the speed was real as the #98 stormed to the qualifying heat race victory Sunday afternoon and then to the feature race lead within forty laps.
Gilliland got to second and was pulling up to Lemons’ door on lap 185 when a caution flew for a wreck back in the pack. Gilliland got shuffled around on the next two subsequent restarts, particularly on lap 192 when Jake Crum pulled a gutsy three-wide move that sent Gilliland skittering towards the turn three wall. He would save it, but have a dejecting 24th place finish.
“It’s just a frustrating way to end the night”, Gilliland told Speed51.com . “We had the dominant car. I mean, we led over half the race. After they inverted eight, we knew it was going to be a task to get back up there. We did get back up there but we couldn’t quite get the green flag run we needed to get past Tommy Lemons. I learned a lot racing with all those guys. We just kind of got moved on our last restart. Just a little more aggressive than I expected”
The final restart would instead see R.D. Smith and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Timothy Peters pull up to challenge Lemons. After getting past Smith, Peters drove Lemons hard for the white flag lap. Coming to the checkered, Peters ducked under Lemons. They clanged wheels as they moved onto the frontstretch, sending Peters careering into the inside wall and richoeting back out into the field.
Lemons crossed the line ahead of Pulliam and R.D. Smith. Peters would be officially credited with fourth and unofficially credited with a torn up racecar.
“I was just focused on getting a good restart there,” Lemons said. “I know there was a little contact behind us but I was just focused on that clock and the big check. It was make or break for him [Peters].”
“I had a good run on Tommy going into turn three,” Peters told the media after the crash. “He came up, and I was just trying to chase him up the racetrack and try to slow him down a little bit coming off turn four, maybe rub against his door panel, and I ended up hitting his tire. that’s what caused us to go head-on into the wall. Nothing he done.”
He also credited the SAFER Barrier for helping protect him in what was a wild crash at the stripe.
“It makes a lot of difference. If you hit like that at South Boston, or hit like that here before the SAFER barrier, it would have hurt a lot more.
Despite finishing second, it would be safe to say Pulliam was a non-factor in his attempt to grab his third Martinsville win. He never ran higher than 4th until the final restart and didn’t seem to have the speed to mount a serious challenge. Still, Pulliam grabbed an extra $10,000 check for winning the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown.
“I felt like we were really good the first part of the race,” Pulliam said after posing with the big check. “No one really had anything for that 98 car. He was just humping it down the straightaway. When they roll these tires, you never know what you’re going to get. And the second set just weren’t as good as what I had in the first half. We struggled there and I had to get up on the wheel. They got aggressive with me first and got me on the hot side. But it worked out. Tommy did a great job saving that car after that contact, congrats to him.”
The next major Late Model Stock race will be November 1st in the CARS Racing Tour finale. Later in November, many of the same teams will go down for the other big NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model Stock race of the year, the Myrtle Beach 400 at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC). Speed51.com will have live Trackside Now coverage from both events.
— Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn(powered by 51's Third Turn)
| 1||27||Tommy Lemons, Jr.||200|
| 2||5||Lee Pulliam||200|
| 3||16||R.D. Smith, III||200|
| 4||12B||Timothy Peters||200|
| 5||21C||Travis Swaim||200|
| 6||01B||Jake Crum||200|
| 7||41||Brayton Haws||200|
| 8||83||Matt Bowling||200|
| 9||50||Jamey Caudill||200|
| 10||12C||Ryan Wilson||200|
| 11||73||Bruce Anderson||200|
| 12||58||Tyler Ankrum||200|
| 13||88||Josh Berry||200|
| 14||07||Spencer Davis||200|
| 15||3||Kaz Grala||200|
| 16||77||Blake Stallings||200|
| 17||33C||Alex Yontz||200|
| 18||11||Juan Garcia||200|
| 19||40||C.E. Falk, III||200|
| 20||2A||Dennis Holdren||200|
| 21||00||Shane Lee||200|
| 22||03||Brenden Queen||200|
| 23||18||Quin Houff||200|
| 24||98||Todd Gilliland||200|
| 25||81C||Patrick Coleman||199|
| 26||57||Eddie Johnson||199|
| 27||2B||Myatt Snider||197|
| 28||2||Matt Waltz||191|
| 29||8||Thomas Scott||190|
| 30||15||Kres VanDyke||186|
| 31||25||Derrick Lancaster||186|
| 32||51C||Dalton Sargeant||183|
| 33||36||Anthony Anders||172|
| 34||44||Dillon Bassett||103|
| 35||17B||Stacy Puryear||102|
| 36||10||Nick Smith||93|
| 37||21||Chad McCumbee||89|
| 38||01||G.R. Waldrop||83|
| 39||20||Sam Yarbrough||78|
| 40||06||Davin Scites||70|
| 41||99||Tony Keen||51|
| 42||02||Brandon Butler||49|