By JW Martin
An underfunded race car. An underrated driver. An unassuming race team.
A storybook season culminated in a championship celebration at Motor Mile Speedway Saturday night, and the underdogs were overjoyed.
Billy Martin Racing and driver Mike Looney collected their first NASCAR Late Model track championship as an organization at the conclusion of the A-1 Heating & Cooling TWIN 50s presented by Pine Ridge Nursery. The crowning achievement was punctuated by a pair of victories in the Late Model season finale. In a symbolic twist, Looney won each 50-lap contest from last place on the grid.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Looney said. “I didn’t do this. I just get to hold the steering wheel. The Lord has had a plan for us all season; I didn’t understand the depth of the plan until now.”
Looney scored his first-career Late Model track championship on the strength of a 12-win season. For Looney, the coronation was the capstone to a toilsome 20-year Late Model career defined by insufficient funding and bootstrap ingenuity. Looney’s track championship was earned in just his fifth full season of Late Model competition at Motor Mile Speedway.
“Everybody in my life has sacrificed for me to race. It’s just so special,” Looney said. “Without Billy Martin, none of this would have been possible.”
The achievement marked car owner Billy Martin’s first championship earned outside of the cockpit. Martin boasts two Late Model track championships at Franklin County Speedway as a driver.
“It’s a dream come true. I need to thank God first. And that man is the greatest,” Martin exclaimed as he gazed in Looney’s direction.
Looney ended his 2019 Motor Mile Speedway Late Model championship campaign with six consecutive victories. The streak ties the Motor Mile Speedway-era record (2004-present) for most consecutive Late Model wins in a single season, a benchmark shared by Philip Morris and Lee Pulliam. Looney won his last three races from a last place starting position—an unprecedented feat.
Looney rallied from nineteenth in the Late Model opener to overtake Kres Vandyke for the top spot on lap 36, and led the final 15 circuits uncontested en route to Victory Lane. Vandyke trailed Looney by 2.301 seconds at the checkers. Justin Carroll rounded out the podium. Derrick Lancaster placed fourth, and Bryan Reedy rounded out the top five.
Looney forestalled the field through a two-lap shootout to capture the checkers in the nightcap. Looney had knifed his way from eighteenth on the grid to first in 36 circuits, and was coasting to the win when a single-car spin in turn four necessitated the first and only caution flag of the race on lap 38. Looney outpaced Reedy for the win by a 1.058-second margin of victory. Vandyke placed third, with Carroll and Kyle Dudley placing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Looney’s 12-win Late Model season ranks third overall in Motor Mile Speedway’s NASCAR-sanctioned era (1988-present) behind Pulliam’s 16-win Late Model season in 2011 and Morris’ 13-win Late Model season in 2008. Morris, an eight-time Motor Mile Speedway Late Model track champion, competed in seven of Looney’s 12 victories, underscoring the magnitude of Looney’s remarkable run. Morris notched four wins in 11 starts this season.
Looney’s 2019 season isn’t over. By virtue of the team’s success at Motor Mile Speedway, Looney is in contention for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Virginia state championship, as well as the coveted NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship. Looney was ranked fourth in the national standings entering Saturday night’s twinbill, a mere 10 points out of first. Looney was a miniscule two points behind Morris in the Virginia state standings. Looney’s points totals are expected to improve following his two full-field wins Saturday night.
“Most folks have seen the hard years and the dues I’ve paid. They see me at the Sheetz down here in Fairlawn, or the Walmart, or down at Taco Bell eating. I’m just like them, I’m out here working to try and make a living. We’re not wealthy,” Looney stated. “It does my heart good to know that so many people are pulling for us. The support has been unbelievable.”
Regardless of the outcome in NASCAR’s state and national points races, the 41-year-old throwback racer from Catawba, Virginia and the Billy Martin Racing no. 87 team have already overachieved. This season, the perennial underdogs became Motor Mile Speedway’s top dogs.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
He started the 2019 season vying for Rookie of the Year honors in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division. Saturday night, the newly-minted Rookie of the Year hoisted the championship trophy.
Cory Dunn secured the 2019 Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division track championship with a second-place showing in the division’s 40-lap season finale over division runner-up Karl Budzevski, the 2017 Limited Sportsman track titlist.
“This means everything,” Dunn exclaimed. “I grew up watching the no. 75 in the stands from the time I was born. To be able to bring this number – the team that my Dad managed that had great race car drivers like Tink Reedy and Chad Harris – to bring this number full circle and get a championship with it…it leaves me speechless.”
Dale Cline captured the checkers, with Dunn and Budzevski rounding out the podium.