CHAMPION CLOSE-UPS: CLASS OF 2016
Lee Pulliam has become synonymous with winning. But considering his most recent accomplishment, second isn’t so bad.
Pulliam collected his fourth consecutive O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division track championship in 2016; his fifth overall in five full-time seasons at Motor Mile Speedway. The feat vaulted Pulliam to second place all-time in NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model track championships behind Philip Morris, who tops the category with seven track titles.
With each passing season, Pulliam’s aura of invincibility becomes increasingly palpable. Since his initial title in 2011, a carousel of championship-caliber heavyweights have challenged for the division crown, but none have outdueled the 28 year-old from Semora, NC.
Beginning in 2013, back-to-back bids at the track championship resulted in a pair of runner-up finishes for Peyton Sellers. The 2005 NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion came within eight points of the title in 2014; to date, it remains Pulliam’s closest championship battle.
Pulliam was pitted against Matt Bowling in 2015. The prelude to his 2016 national championship campaign, Bowling’s pursuit of a Motor Mile Speedway track title fell short by a considerable 86 points.
Pulliam’s most formidable adversary arrived with the advent of the 2016 season. Morris had returned to the .416-mile oval for his first full-time stint since 2009; despite a collective total of 11 track championships, it was to be the first time the Late Model mainstays faced off for the division crown.
Pulliam reeled off six consecutive top-two finishes to open the 2016 season, amassing a comfortable 49-point advantage in the standings while Morris acclimated to the nuances of his new no. 01 Chevrolet.
Although brimming with promise, early-season setup struggles ultimately plagued Morris’ championship chances. Three top fives were accompanied by three finishes of seventh or worse, but the tumultuous start was severed by a convincing return to victory lane on June 25th. Coupled with Pulliam’s worst outing of the season, Morris surged to within 32 points of the top spot in the standings.
The win precipitated a stellar string of races for Morris. Throughout the remainder of the season, Morris never finished worse than second— a span of 11 races.
Yet, Pulliam’s consistency proved superior. Pulliam’s 16 podium finishes over the 17-race season were accentuated by ten victories. Morris’ respectable three-win season paled in comparison. The disparity equated to a 36-point victory for Pulliam in the track standings at season’s end.
“To go head-to-head with one of the best guys in the nation, that’s pretty cool,” remarked Pulliam on September 10th. “Every [championship] is special, but any time you can beat the King it’s a good night.”
In the aftermath of the season finale, Morris conceded shortcomings while acknowledging Pulliam’s most recent accomplishment.
“This was a set-up year for , and we’re ahead of schedule,” Morris noted. “Lee has really done his homework, and he’s paid his dues. I’m proud of him. He and I have had our troubles, but he’s come a long way. He’s a great representative as a track champion of Motor Mile Speedway.”
It’s been said that it’s better to burn out than fade away.
On September 10th, that’s just what Scott Lancaster did.
In the moments after the checkered flag unfurled over the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman season finale, Lancaster’s no. 22 launched into doughnuts along the front straightaway. The billowing smoke signaled the start of Lancaster’s 2016 championship celebration… and the end of his Limited Sportsman career.
From the outset, the 41-year-old Christiansburg, Va., veteran was adamant that the 2016 season would be his last. And going out on top was the goal.
A second division crown would be the capstone of Lancaster’s career. It would also cement a family dynasty. Lancaster’s stint in Motor Mile Speedway’s Limited Sportsman division began in the shadow of Derrick Lancaster’s dominating 2007 championship campaign—the elder Lancaster’s second track title.
Following a trio of unheralded outings that season, Lancaster returned to author a breakout year in 2008 with three wins in 10 starts. Since 2008, Lancaster has notched at least one victory in each season of competition.
A pair of runner-up finishes in the track standings preceded Lancaster’s first track championship in 2014. Lancaster amassed three victories in six races to outdistance division rival Karl Budzevski by 16 points for the title.
Fittingly, Budzevski emerged as Lancaster’s primary championship challenger as his swansong season unfolded.
After surpassing Dylan Saul for the points lead following the second race of the season, Lancaster entered the fifth race of the year deadlocked atop the division standings with Budzevski despite a record of four top-two finishes. While consistency was quickly becoming the hallmark of the no.22 team, Budzevski’s victory lane appearances were proving superior in the title race. Bolstered by his third win of the season on June 25th, Budzevski was at the forefront of the division standings entering the month of July.
But Budzevski’s tenure atop the standings was fleeting. Lancaster regained command of the points lead on July 9th by virtue of his second victory of the season. Three subsequent, consecutive wins followed. In total, Lancaster compiled 11 straight top-two finishes.
Lancaster sewed up the 2016 season with a pair of third-place finishes— his worst outings of the year. Although Budzevski boasted a division-high six wins, Lancaster had placed on the podium in all 13 races. The result: A slim 12-point interval in the standings favoring Lancaster.
Statistically, Lancaster’s 2016 championship campaign was an immaculate encore, categorically eclipsing his 2014 track championship. Lancaster notched nine of 12 poles, led 376 of the 650 laps completed – over half – and visited victory lane on five occasions.
Moreover, Lancaster had equaled his brother’s benchmark of two Limited Sportsman track championships.
“It’s special, and I hope it’s special for Dad. His sons have four track championships,” said Lancaster from victory lane. “That’s pretty big at Motor Mile Speedway—this is the premier track.”
Since 2015, Doodle Lang’s statistics are second to none.
Second or first, to be specific.
The Roanoke, Va., wheelman has compiled a remarkable resume in Motor Mile Speedway’s MOD-4 division over the past two seasons. In nineteen consecutive starts, Lang hasn’t finished worse than second.
The peerless consistency has resulted in back-to-back track championships for the 43-year-old MOD-4 veteran.
“From 2011 to 2013, we just had a lot of misfortune,” Lang explained on the night of his second championship coronation. “I knew that if we could ever get the monkey off our back, they’d have their hands full.”
After forgoing the entire 2014 season, Lang returned in 2015 to author the best performance of his five-year career in the MOD-4 division. He dominated the eight-race schedule, amassing six victories -a single-season career-high- supplemented by a pair of runner-up showings. The 26-point rout in the standings signified the most convincing MOD-4 championship campaign in five years…until this season.
At the outset, it seemed inevitable that Lang’s unsustainable streak would eventually end. The schedule had expanded to a total of 11 races. An influx of new talent presented its own unique challenge, and Lang’s championship counterpart, 2013 track titlist Chucky Williams, also was a favorite for the 2016 crown.
It was anybody’s race—on the track and in the standings. In the aftermath of the sixth race of the season on July 9th, Lang and Williams were deadlocked atop the division for the third time with three wins apiece.
For Williams, inconsistency was the death knell. Due to back-to-back finishes outside the
Lang emerges triumphant in victory lane. (Green)
top five over the summer stretch, Lang managed to construct an insurmountable points lead entering the season finale. Despite two wins in the final three races, Williams was relegated to a runner-up finish in the standings for the second straight year by a deficit of 34 markers.
Although the points gap was greater in 2016, Williams’ five-win season was an improvement over his 2015 campaign. In fact, the frontrunners were more competitive overall. Among the top five points finishers, only Drew Holdren failed to start every race. In 2015, three of the top four drivers in the standings missed at least one event.
The data underscores the magnitude of Lang’s consistency in 2016. With the unprecedented streak of top-two finishes active entering the 2017 season, it appears Lang has replaced the monkey with a cape.
For Doug Williams, the season finale was a race of redemption.
One year removed from a disheartening defeat in the division standings, the challenge confronting the 2015 Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division runner-up on September 10th remained unchanged.
In 2015, Williams entered the final race of the year with a four-point advantage in the standings over division counterpart Scooter Hollandsworth. The ensuing winner-take-all title match devolved into a frenzied fight against adversity for the two contenders, with Williams surrendering the championship to Hollandsworth by a minuscule four points at race’s end.
As the 2016 championship battle climaxed, the scenario was the same. Hollandsworth was vying for his fourth consecutive Street Stock track championship, and entered the 30-lap dash as the underdog in defense of his title. Once again, Williams was the favorite. But this time, the points margin was just two markers— one position on the track.
Another winner-take-all title tilt loomed. Would the second chance produce another second place finish?
In the closest points battle spanning all divisions in 2016, Williams secured his first-career Motor Mile Speedway Street Stock track championship by virtue of a win in the season finale. Hollandsworth proved formidable, placing second after shadowing Williams throughout the feature.
The final standings symbolized the significance of Williams’ accomplishment. For the second straight year, the winning margin in the standings was four points.
The New Castle, Va., leadfoot has flashed speed since his rookie season in the Street Stock division in 2014. Williams has logged at least two wins per season, including a career-high five victory lane appearances in 2016. With his newly minted title, Williams ranks at the forefront of a division teeming with talent.
Since the restructuring of the schedule format in 2012, the Street Stock division has consistently produced the most competitive racing at the .416-mile oval. During this span, Barry Gregory’s 14-point margin of victory in the 2012 track standings was the largest winning margin for a Street Stock track champion. Among Motor Mile Speedway’s four active points-paying classes, the Street Stock division has played host to the closest championship battle for five consecutive seasons.
The magnitude of the accomplishment wasn’t lost on Williams.
“This is really special to us. It’s hard to beat a driver as good as Scooter [Hollandsworth],” acknowledged Williams on championship night. “It’s really special.”