Saturday was a good and bad night for two local late model drivers running for a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
Mike Looney, from Catawba and driving for Stuart’s Billy Martin Racing, won both late model races at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, giving him 13 victories this season and a track championship.
Heading into Saturday night, Looney was tied with Danville’s Peyton Sellers, who is sponsored by Clarence’s Steakhouse in Ridgeway, for fourth in the NWAAS national points standings, both just 10 points back of first place.
The mood in Radford was especially high for Looney and Martin, who won their first championship together since joining forces back in 2013. The Motor Mile Speedway championship was Looney’s first as a driver, and Martin’s first as an owner.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world. 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 told reporters at Motor Mile Saturday. “Everybody in my life has sacrificed for me to race. It’s just so special. Without Billy Martin, none of this would have been possible.”
The two wins will be especially helpful for Looney and Martin as they climb the national championship standings. No one above them in the points won more than one race this week.
Saturday wasn’t as good of a night for Sellers. He did enough to win his fifth overall track championship at South Boston Speedway, needing just to start both late model races on the night to accomplish the feat, but ran into trouble in the second race that likely will affect his standings in the national points.
Sellers finished second to Lee Pulliam in the first race of the night, and was right behind Pulliam in the second race for the final 30 laps of the 75 lap race. Pulliam kept a slight lead on Sellers, never letting him get past his back bumper.
On the final lap coming out of Turn 3, Sellers clipped Pulliam, forcing the No. 5 car to spin out, which allowed Sellers to drive past the finish line uncontested for the win.
“It was racing,” Sellers said after the race. “Any red-blooded American would have taken an attempt at it. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do try to win a national championship for me and my team and South Boston Speedway.”
Sellers was initially given the checkered flag for the win, but less than a minute later the flag was taken from him and given to driver Drew Dollar, who finished the race second. Dollar was awarded the win, and Sellers was forced to the back of the lead lap, a penalty for causing the caution.
He finished 10th in the final results.
Sellers and his team took a long time to get to victory lane, and spoke with track officials about protesting the call to NASCAR.
“I think we’re all just so sad right now because we’ve put a lot into this year for it to be jerked out from under us right here over a judgment call,” he said. “It’s just, it’s racing. It has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”
The updated national points standings will be released on Tuesday. Philip Morris, who was second in the nation prior to Saturday, picked up one win and a 12th place finish at Dominion Raceway. Jacob Goede, who was third in the nation, also won at Elko Speedway in Minnesota, meaning the gap between the top drivers and Sellers is likely to grow. He needed a win in one of the two races to stay within close range with just one week left in the season.
Despite the disappointment of the loss, Sellers said winning another track title at South Boston was “truly an honor.” He became the first driver in track history to win three late model championships in a row. He’s just two championships away from tying David Blankenship for most ever at the track.
“I poured my heart and soul into what we do with these cars, and you can see the way we were driving there at the end of that last race, I was putting it all on the line, just like everybody out here does,” Sellers said. “To be able to win five championships here is saying a lot.
“The competition is second to none here at South Boston Speedway. We go to other tracks and compete and race and come back home and it’s always harder to win at home. It’s supposed to be easier at home… The best drivers you’ll ever see in the country are here at South Boston Speedway.”
In addition to racing for a national title, both Sellers and Looney will most likely participate in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway on October 5.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.