There are photo-finishes. And then there are picture-perfect finishes.
They made history at Motor Mile Speedway Friday night. A white-knuckle scramble for first between Tommy Lemons, Jr. and Peyton Sellers on the final lap of the New River Bank TWIN 75’s nightcap produced an unprecedented outcome at the finish line…
Motor Mile Speedway’s first-ever electronically recorded tie.
It’s now the closest finish in Motor Mile Speedway history: 0.00. According to the track’s electronic scoring system, the pair of frontrunners posted identical times; an interval from first to second didn’t exist. A margin of victory? There was none.
Track officials credited the win to Sellers Friday night based on the finishing order compiled by the ESS, which listed Sellers’ no. 99 in first. Following a comprehensive review of all available data and an extensive post-race inspection process, track officials overturned the decision at 2:00PM Tuesday afternoon, declaring Tommy Lemons, Jr. the winner.
“It’s just relief to know the results one way or the other. But the true winner is the fans,” Lemons said by phone Tuesday afternoon.
From the cockpit, the 2005 NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series National Champion admitted that he couldn’t tell who won.
“I truly didn’t know,” acknowledged Sellers. “I didn’t have a clue. Tommy pulled up beside me going down the backstretch, and I don’t think he really knew.”
Tuesday afternoon, Sellers summed up the emotions of the past five days.
“I went to sleep Saturday night feeling assured that I was the winner based on everything we could see at the time. But obviously, we have more information now,” Sellers said by phone. “It’s heartbreaking, but Tommy said it best when said the fans were the ones who won in this deal, not me or him.”
It was an epic ending to a bizarre race that bordered on the unbelievable. Thirty-one cars started the Bull & Bones Late Model division finale, with newcomer Dalton Sargeant on the pole by virtue of the inversion following the opener.
After a fleeting battle for the top spot, Mike Looney eclipsed Sargeant for first on the opening lap. Looney paced the race uncontested for 20 circuits, until a plethora of cautions irreparably changed the complexion of the contest.
The first yellow flag of the race on lap 20 ushered in a flurry of four succeeding caution periods within a span of 28 circuits, with the most calamitous incident occurring on the lap 20 restart.
A three-wide bout for first on the front straightaway involving the top three machines of Looney, Sargeant and Lee Pulliam turned disastrous just past the start-finish line, sparking a 13-car melee entering turn one. Slight contact between Sargeant’s no. 45 and Looney’s no. 02 sent Looney careening into the path of Pulliam’s no. 5. The two cars pummeled the inside retaining wall entering the corner as carnage enveloped the field.
The lap 21 crash claimed a majority of the top ten competitors, including Justin Johnson, Alex Yontz, and Dillon Bassett.
“The no. 45 hit the no. 02, and the no. 02 was going to hit the inside wall. But I was down there, instead,” Pulliam said of the multi-car collision, which warranted the event’s only red flag. “It got us wrecked.”
Subsequent yellow flags continued to thin the field as the contest devolved into a race of attrition. Following the fifth and final caution flag of the night, just 13 of the original 31 starters remained on-track.
The final 27 circuits showcased what proved to be an unparalleled struggle for the win. A lap 49 pass propelled Sellers to the point, but the driver of the no. 99 had company up front. Mired in twenty-seventh at the start of the race, Lemons had methodically worked his car into contention. With what appeared to be a superior machine, Lemons was relentless in his pursuit of the leader. As the laps began to wane, Lemons continued to ratchet up the pressure, with Sellers utilizing the top groove in a successful effort to forestall a pass.
By lap 72 Lemons had muscled his no. 27 entry alongside Sellers. They remained two-abreast as the white flag unfurled, with Sellers crossing the stripe inches ahead of Lemons as the stellar sprint to the checkers began.
The two drivers were inseparable as they plunged into turn three, and as they rounded the final corner, Lemons’ machine made insignificant contact with Sellers. The pair launched off of turn four door-to-door, with the front stretch transforming into a dragstrip as the leaders lunged for the line. The rest is history.
“Most of the time, at this level of racing, everybody just crashes everybody for the win. That seems to be the mindset. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about what happened tonight,” Sellers explained Friday night. “I moved up and took advantage of the high line. Tommy moved down and tried to work the bottom. That was hard racing.
“I think it’s one for the history books,” continued Sellers. “It came down to the wire, and that’s what we all want to see. To be a part of history…it’s pretty neat.”
The magnitude of the finish wasn’t lost on Lemons… and ultimately, the win wasn’t, either.
“It was an awesome battle right ‘till the end. I’ve never been involved in anything where it comes down to where you’re arguing over transponder location and timing. It’s probably something that won’t ever happen again.
“He had the preferred line, and I couldn’t keep a good enough run up-off underneath him. It had to be a helluva show for the fans,” Lemons stated Friday night. “It’s definitely the closest race I’ve ever been in.”
Adam Long placed third, with Craig Stallard and Sargeant rounding out the top five.
The final 75-lap race overshadowed a dramatic finish in the opener that featured a spirited battle for the win. Dillon Bassett, in his debut at MMS, wrestled the victory away from Lee Pulliam coming to the white flag—five laps after Pulliam used aggressive tactics to maneuver past leader Matt Bowling.
Bowling collected third, with Sellers and Looney rounding out the top five.
Transponder timing and scoring ties are exceedingly rare in NASCAR, and are not recognized by the sanctioning body. While the tie may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for the drivers involved, the perfect finish will not be reflected in NASCAR’s record books. Following a precedent established by NASCAR pertaining to transponder ties, the interval will be manipulated to 0.01 to correspond with Lemons’ victory.
Collectively, it was among the most incredible nights of racing ever at the New River Valley short track. Long, who rounded out the podium in the finale, summed up the indelible highlight of the event.
“I had a front row seat to one of the best finishes there [ever] was. It was awesome watching these guys race to the line. They put on a good show.”
…Perhaps Motor Mile Speedway’s greatest NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series Late Model show of all time.
Story: JW Martin
Photos: Joey Mills