They let the rough-side drag Saturday night at Motor Mile Speedway.
Fireworks erupted under a lightning-laced sky as the closing laps of the 105.3 The Bear TWIN 50s Late Model finale climaxed in a breathtaking battle for the checkered flag.
A white-knuckle, four-car fray over the final 11 circuits produced three lead changes among three drivers and culminated in Mike Looney’s fourth win of the season.
Speaking of the short track showcase, Looney’s summation was succinct: “That was a real talent show.”
The game-changer of the 50-lap nightcap began with an eight-car invert following the opener, and ended in a multi-car collision on lap 7 that collected many of the field’s heavyweights. Derrick Lancaster garnered the pole by virtue of the redraw, and paced the first three circuits before surrendering the point to Will Burns. The event’s first caution unfurled two circuits later on lap 6, with Lancaster restarting to the outside of Burns. As the field thundered into turn one on lap 7, Lancaster and C.E. Falk converged on the same section of pavement. The contact sent Lancaster’s no. 25 careening up the banking in front of the 16-car field.
“I felt like I had a little bit of position, but I wasn’t in a place to really challenge for it,” Falk explained. “I just didn’t have time to react…to make a move either way. It’s not like I overdrove the corner and ran into him. I feel like I was making the corner properly.”
The two-car tangle triggered a multi-car collision in the apex of the corner that enveloped Kyle Dudley, Philip Morris, and Mike Looney, among others. In all, seven cars were involved. Of those sustaining damage, only Lancaster was relegated to the garage.
“Me and C.E. [Falk] have always gotten along good,” acknowledged Lancaster. “He just run in there and turned me. There was no checking up…no nothing.”
Morris was forced to pit road in the aftermath of the crash with extensive front-end cosmetic damage; the team discarded Morris’ left front fender as a result. A subsequent incident would warrant the removal of the no. 01’s hood. By race’s end, Morris’ Chevrolet was missing the majority of its front-end bodywork, and ratchet straps were applied to sections of the nose.
Looney’s no. 87 escaped the lap 7 fracas with minor left front damage that produced a tire rub during the midway portion of the race.
“It was like shark week out there. It was every man for himself. They were really dicing it up. We were trying to be really patient and keep the fenders on it, but we done a pretty good job of beating all the fenders off of it,” joked Looney, who started the contest in seventh.
The early-race plot twist presented an opportunity for a pair of newcomers. Burns and Jacob Hefner were making their first career Late Model starts at Motor Mile Speedway, and the duo acclimated quickly. Collectively, the two drivers led a total of 25 laps in the finale, with Burns pacing the race for 18 circuits. A promising night for Burns ended on lap 26, when underbody complications sidelined the no. 41. Meanwhile, Hefner became a contender for the win.
Dudley became the fourth different leader of the race after eclipsing Hefner for first on lap 28. Hefner remained in close pursuit of Dudley, ratcheting up the pressure on the Motor Mile Speedway regular as the laps began to dwindle. With 11 laps remaining, Hefner applied the bump-and-run maneuver to Dudley in turn four, sparking an epic dash to the checkers.
Hefner and Dudley exchanged the top spot twice as they wrestled for first, and the side-by-side racing that ensued afforded the resurgent machines of Morris and Looney the chance to reel in the leaders. With nine laps to go, the top four cars were dueling for the win inches apart, with Dudley clinging to the lead.
Morris was the first to execute a pass on Hefner; with five laps to go, Looney had also surpassed Hefner’s no. 95.
“I’m not surprised at how good the car was, but I’m surprised at how good I did as a driver,” Hefner said afterward. “That was four cars going as hard as they could for the win. All gloves were off. We were sliding… bumping into each other… it was really fun.”
Accordion contact in turn two on lap 45 between Dudley, Morris and Looney created an opening for the no. 87 to the inside of Morris in turn three. As Looney and Morris engulfed Dudley in a side-by-side assault on the top spot, Looney orchestrated a maneuver on Dudley from the bottom groove. The preferred lane paid dividends for Looney; with three to go, Looney completed the pass on Dudley in turn four with an assist from Morris, who applied a slight shove to Dudley in the apex of the corner.
“I left it all out there. We just came up a few laps short,” Dudley said. “I don’t think I could’ve done a thing different. I was taking it on the outside for all it was worth. It was just sliding the tires too bad for me to hold them off.”
Morris, tracing the tire tracks of Looney, glided past Dudley as the pack came to the line on lap 48. Morris sprinted to the back bumper of Looney as the white flag unfurled, but no laps remained for Morris to unseat the leader. Soldiering to the finish in a wounded racecar, Morris’ remarkable rally fell .129 seconds shy of victory lane.
“It runs good with no body parts… some body parts… it had a shot at winning,” grinned Morris. “That was a really incredible race. It was fun. I wouldn’t have minded being a fan right there. It seemed like I could see the whole thing… watching the race unfold. I wanted to be in second place with two to go. Mike Looney was where I wanted to be.”
Hefner placed third, with Dudley and Falk rounding out the top five.
“Good Lord, what a race,” exclaimed Looney. “At any second we could’ve trashed four race cars. That was three or four drivers under a blanket doing everything we could.
“That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a race car in a really long time.”
Morris coasted to the win in the 50-lap Late Model companion race. Looney finished second. Kres Van Dyke completed the podium, with Hefner and Dudley rounding out the top five. After seven races, Looney’s lead in the Late Model track standings has swelled to 65 points over Morris.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS:
Cory Dunn collected his second Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division victory of the season Saturday night, expanding his lead in the track standings to 30 points over Karl Budzevski as a result. Daryn Cockram ran second, with Budzevski tallying third.
Dennis Holdren became the first driver to visit victory lane in multiple divisions this season after scoring the win in the 25-lap Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 feature. Holdren, driving for the injured Jessie Yopp, outdueled Kirby Gobble and Taylor Asberry for top honors.
Ryan Cox captured the checkers in the UCAR feature. Scott Howell placed second, and William Venth notched third.
–J.W. Martin, Motor Mile Speedway