Motor Mile Speedway in Radford reopened its doors this season after taking 2018 off from racing.
The first season back at the track has been owned by Mike Looney and Billy Martin Racing.
Looney picked up his 10th late model win this season at Motor Mile last week, and will be racing for a championship this Saturday. Looney drives the No. 87 car of Billy Martin, who is from Stuart. The win was just the third time in track history a driver has reached double-digit victories in a single season at the track.
Looney, from Catawba, has the 2019 track championship at Motor Mile all but locked up heading into the final race this Saturday. His 1070 points is 245 better than second place Kyle Dudley. Former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Philip Morris is third in the track standings. Looney has bested Morris eight times this season.
The No. 87 has also won one race at Langley Speedway this season, and is currently tied with Danville’s Peyton Sellers for fourth in the national championship points standings, just 16 points behind first.
With 35 races under his belt at Motor Mile, Langley and South Boston Speedways, Morris is third in the national standings, two points better than Looney.
There was a point earlier in the season when Looney was leading in the national championship points.
“This season has surpassed our goals and expectations. We’ve always just picked up the scraps from what Philip and Lee (Pulliam) didn’t win,” Looney told reporters at Motor Mile last week. “This is a dream come true. Twenty-five years of hard work and experience, coupled with good equipment. … We always wondered what we could do, and now we know. This is unbelievable.”
Looney has been driving for Martin for several years, and the duo have seen some big wins in that time, including winning a grandfather clock at Martinsville Speedway in the 2016 ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
The win at The Paperclip, and the winnings from it, allowed Looney and Martin to travel and race more than they were financially able to do in the past, which is undoubtedly a reason behind the team’s resurgence in the world of late models around Virginia and now the country.
Seventy-two year old Martin has been a fixture in racing around southern Virginia for decades, and is known around his hometown of Stuart for selling watermelon and produce to help fund his team. The “Watermelon Man” leads the “Open Trailer Gang,” another name for the underfunded team that drives to races with their racecar on the back of an open trailer.
“Billy is not a wealthy man. He’s retired, and has gone back to work for half a week just so we can buy tires. That means a lot,” Looney said earlier this season. “A man that age going back to work so that I can race…it means a lot to me.”
Prior to joining Martin’s team, Looney had little experience in a late model, with just three full seasons racing in NASCAR’s top division. He spent years just driving races here and there in a late model, and previously won a pure stock track championship at Franklin County Speedway, and a limited sportsman championship at Motor Mile.
After bouncing around from team-to-team for more than a decade, Looney told Motor Mile Speedway that when it comes to driving for Martin, “I’ve never had anything this good.”
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship race will be wrapped up in two weeks, meaning this Saturday’s race at Motor Mile could be Looney and Martin’s last chance to get as many national points as possible as they chase that title.
First though, the focus will be on this Saturday in Radford. Motor Mile will host two 50 lap late model races beginning at 7 p.m.
“I guess we are underdogs,” Martin told reporters at Motor Mile this season. “I never thought we would accomplish so much. I can’t explain it. It’s a dream. Just a dream.”
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241. JW Martin at Motor Mile Speedway contributed reporting for this story.