Philip Morris is racing after one more first.
The seven-time O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division track champion has enjoyed a record-setting career at Motor Mile Speedway. Now, a victory in the season-opening Kesler Contracting TWIN 75’s has Morris on the brink of another historic milestone. According to Morris, the achievement would be his biggest racing accomplishment–Late Model win no. 100 at Motor Mile Speedway.
“The next time we come here, it will feel like a month has passed. I’m already wanting to get back and have a chance at no. 100,” Morris said after notching career win no. 99 Saturday night.
Although win no. 100 would be an extraordinary feat, win no. 99 will be tough to beat.
Capitalizing on a late-race caution, Morris out-muscled Lee Pulliam in the waning circuits of the first 75-lap feature to capture the checkers by mere inches in a spectacular drag race to the finish line.
“Lee had the race won,” acknowledged Morris. “I was waiting for a caution, and we got it.”
Pulliam bested a 17-car field brimming with heavyweights to collect the first Price’s Body Shop pole award of the 2017 season. The list of headliners included NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Timothy Peters, who started the race alongside Pulliam on the front row.
The class of the field, however, was Pulliam. The no. 5 proved peerless as the event unfolded, pacing the race uncontested until a lap 62 caution changed the complexion of the contest.
Underbody issues on Peters’ no. 12 entry triggered a spin exiting turn two on lap 61. Although Peters incurred no damage in the single-car incident, suspension complications relegated Peters to the garage, thwarting a top-three performance.
The event’s lone yellow flag erased Pulliam’s comfortable advantage. Morris had utilized the long green flag stint to maneuver into contention from his sixth-place starting position, and the caution was the opportunity driver no. 01 needed.
The lap 62 restart staged a 13-lap dash to the finish. Morris rocketed alongside Pulliam as the duo exited turn two, with topside momentum propelling Morris past Pulliam as the pair plunged into turn three. Morris edged Pulliam at the stripe to lead lap 63, and in the white-knuckle moments that ensued, Morris established a slight advantage from the outer groove of the .416-mile oval.
Pulliam affixed the no. 5 to Morris’ back bumper in the closing laps. Although relentless in his efforts to reclaim the top spot, Pulliam failed to find an avenue around Morris. The epic duel climaxed in turn four on the final lap, with Pulliam executing a bump-and-run that punted Morris from the bottom lane. The leaders exited the corner two abreast, lunging for the line in a photo-finish that favored Morris. The official margin of victory: a miniscule .019 seconds.
“It was a heckuva show for the fans. It was close; I really felt like we had beat him,” Pulliam said of the last-lap sprint. “I hated to see that caution— we were inching away from him. But win or lose, it was a great battle.”
Ryan Repko rounded out the podium in the first feature. Kyle Dudley and Dennis Holdren completed the top five.
After a dismal 15th- place finish in the opener, the 75-lap nightcap was a race of redemption for Mike Looney. The Catawba native wrestled the lead away from Holdren on lap 14; the pass was the second and final lead change of the race. Looney snared his sixth-career Late Model win in a rout, with Pulliam and Morris placing second and third, respectively. Repko and newcomer Tyler Hughes rounded out the top five.
Morris will become the first driver in Motor Mile Speedway’s NASCAR-sanctioned era (1988-present) to reach the 100-win benchmark with a victory in the upcoming twin bill on May 13th. While Morris is anticipating his next victory lane appearance, the decorated 51-year-old from Ruckersville, Va., will be taking the time to savor his latest triumph.
“This is huge,” exclaimed Morris. “I’m going to celebrate all week.”
In other divisions:
Karl Budzevski dominated the 50-lap Collision Plus Limited Sportsman feature Saturday night, besting Daryn Cockram and John Thornton for top honors.
Back-to-back defending Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 track champion Doodle Lang scored the win in the division’s season-opening sprint, continuing a remarkable streak of 20 top-two finishes at Motor Mile Speedway. Rocky Yates placed second. Brittany Cockram completed the podium.
2016 Street Stock track champion Doug Williams captured the checkers in the first-ever Super Street contest at Motor Mile Speedway, with three-time Street Stock track titlist Scooter Hollandsworth and Dan Martin placing second and third, respectively.
–J.W. Martin, Motor Mile Speedway