For Mike Looney, it was worth the wait.
The Catawba, Va., racer celebrated a storybook homecoming Saturday night in the Shelor Motor Mile TWIN 50s, winning Motor Mile Speedway’s first Late Model race since September 9th, 2017.
“This is a new era,” exclaimed Looney from victory lane.
Motor Mile Speedway’s racing revival was punctuated by a thrilling photo-finish in the Late Model opener, with Looney edging defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Philip Morris by a miniscule 0.09 margin of victory.
Admittedly, the white-knuckle climax at the checkers was an unexpected ending for Looney.
“I had given up,” Looney said. “We were just too free to run [Morris] down.”
Looney and the remainder of the brimming 21-car Late Model field had given chase to Morris throughout the 50-lap race; the Price’s Body Shop pole award recipient appeared the predetermined winner after pacing the opening 44 circuits uncontested.
However, the second and final caution period of the race on lap 44 erased Morris’ lead advantage and staged a six-lap dash to the finish. It was a fortuitous plot twist for Looney, and on the restart, the driver of the no. 87 capitalized on the opportunity.
“It’s better to be lucky than good any day. We caught a really good break with the caution,” Looney acknowledged. “The no. 2 car raced Philip [Morris] really hard on the restart, and that gave me the break I needed.”
Newcomer Brandon Pierce had impressed in his first-career Late Model start at Motor Mile Speedway. Pierce had overcome a sixth-place starting spot to restart third in the Lee Pulliam Performance no. 2 entry. Like Looney, Pierce was primed for the chance to unseat Morris for the top spot.
As the field entered turn one, Pierce muscled Morris from the bottom groove. The maneuver afforded Pierce a fleeting opportunity to inch alongside Morris’ no. 01 in the apex of the corner, and for a brief, frenzied moment, Pierce, Morris and Looney were three abreast.
“I had an opportunity, and my job is not to ride behind him. I didn’t wreck him; I just gave him a little bit of a shot. I had a heckuva run getting down in [the corner], and as soon as I saw him get crossed-up, I let off of him,” Pierce explained.
With Morris preoccupied with Pierce, Looney rocketed off turn two unabated from the top side of the track, completing the pass for the lead down the back straightaway.
“I knew I was really going to have to get after it,” Morris said of the decisive restart. “This Ford crate motor doesn’t take off like the built motors do, and those guys had me picked up in the back there. It gave Looney a good run, and my hat’s off to him--- he did a great job of holding me off.”
Morris rallied as the laps dwindled. After shadowing Looney for two laps, Morris forged beneath the no. 87 through turn two with two circuits to go. The frontrunners came to the white flag side-by-side, but Morris failed to garner enough real estate to execute a pass. Looney navigated the high groove expertly, successfully forestalling Morris in a two-lap, door-to-door duel for the win.
Pierce placed third, with C.E. Falk and Kyle Dudley rounding out the top five.
The 50-lap finale mirrored the first feature, with another late-race yellow coming to the aid of Morris’ challengers. Morris proved superior in the nightcap, however, besting Looney and Pierce in a race that featured three lead changes and two cautions. Morris led 30 laps en route to the win.
The twinbill marked Motor Mile Speedway’s first NASCAR action in 594 days. In his post-race comments, Looney echoed the sentiment shared by the track’s racing community.
“We’re just really blessed,” Looney stated. “A special thanks to Motor Mile Speedway for making it possible for all of us to come out here and enjoy what we love.”
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
2017 Collision Plus Limited Sportsman track champion Karl Budzevski authored a statement race in the division’s 40-lap season opener, coasting to victory lane in a .69-second win over runner-up Travis Watson. Rookie of the Year contender Cory Dunn showcased veteran savvy in his first-career Limited Sportsman race, patiently marching from tenth to third in a remarkable podium effort. Wesley Thomason and Charles Smith completed the top five.
Newcomer Kevin Canter survived a rash of cautions to claim the checkers in the Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 division season opener. Six cautions and two red flag periods plagued the 25-lap race. Drew Holdren and Taylor Asbury completed the podium.
Scooter Hollandsworth snared the win in the 25-lap Super Street race after a spirited duel with Wayne Corprew in the waning circuits. It was an incredible drive for the 2015 track champion, who was relegated to ninth on the grid due to the post-qualifying re-draw. Matt Gusler rounded out the top three.
Ricky Howell, Jr. took top honors in the 20-lap UCAR division feature. Mike Reed placed second. Ryan Cox finished third.
-Motor Mile Speedway / J.W. Martin Press Release
-Photo credit: Chad Fletcher