Philip Morris nets historic eighth O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship – JW Martin
Eight years is a long time. But Philip Morris’ Motor Mile Speedway success is timeless.
The year was 2009. A six-win season at Motor Mile Speedway spawned Morris’ seventh O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship and his third NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national crown.
It was the exclamation point to a decade-long dynasty at the .416-mile oval. Morris raked in 77 wins and six track championships from 2000 to 2010; the dominance enjoyed at Motor Mile Speedway propelled Morris to three NASCAR national titles.
But the end of the decade ushered in a full-time hiatus. Morris receded from the spotlight, competing sporadically at Motor Mile Speedway while focusing on personal pursuits. The 2016 season marked his full-time return; Morris notched three wins and a second-place finish in the track standings.
“There were question marks last year about whether I should still be doing this,” acknowledged Morris Saturday night. “This [season] is confirmation that we made the right choice.”
Saturday night, the decorated 52-year-old Late Model driver from Ruckersville, Va., was back in Victory Lane celebrating his eighth coronation as the O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division track champion. The historic feat was punctuated by trademark dominance; Morris coasted to back-to-back wins in the A-1 Heating & Cooling TWIN 75s presented by Cintas and 94.9 Star Country.
“It’s an emotional time for me, because track championships don’t come easy,” said Morris. “This was a storybook year for me.”
Morris notched eight wins in 2017, including his 100th Motor Mile Speedway Late Model victory on June 17th. Two races later, Morris embarked on a winning streak that survived through the conclusion of the season finale. Morris’ six straight victories tied the record for consecutive wins in a single season--- a benchmark originally established by Morris in 2008.
Late Model counterparts Mike Looney, Matt Bowling, and C.E. Falk, respectively, trailed Morris at the finish of both 75-lap contests Saturday night. Dennis Holdren completed the top five in the opener. Bryan Reedy placed fifth in the nightcap.
It was a banner year at Motor Mile Speedway for Looney; the Catawba, Va., wheelman tallied two wins en route to a career-best runner-up result in the track standings.
“It’s been a great season; a real blessing,” said Looney. “Second place to Philip Morris this year--- man, we’ll take that. That dude is on fire. They’re the car to beat at any track. We’re honored to finish second.”
Eight years is a long time. Reflecting on his latest achievement, Morris noted the timespan as one of the most memorable takeaways from his 2017 championship campaign.
“This season is unique because of the gap from when I stopped until now. This makes you feel like a kid,” explained Morris. “It’s pumped me up; it’s made me feel younger. At 52 years old, this feels great. I don’t know when I was ever better.”
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Karl Budzevski captured his first-career Motor Mile Speedway track championship Saturday night, out-dueling Richard Caldwell for the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman crown in a title bout that remained contested until the checkers unfurled.
Budzevski snared his fifth victory of the season en route to a 14-point win in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division track standings. Caldwell capped a career-year with a second-place finish. Jessica Dana placed third in her Motor Mile Speedway debut.
Doug Williams became the first driver of the Motor Mile Speedway era (2004-present) to remain undefeated for an entire season following a championship-clinching victory in the Super Street season finale. Williams won all eight Super Street division races in 2017, establishing a remarkable record that spans all divisions at Motor Mile Speedway.
Scooter Hollandsworth placed second in the 30-lap feature. Dan Martin finished third.
Doodle Lang collected his third consecutive Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 division track title Saturday night, while championship counterpart Chucky Williams claimed the final checkered flag of the year. Drew Holdren placed second to Williams, with Haley Holdren tallying third.
The $500 bounty instituted at the outset of the season on the two MOD-4 standouts went unclaimed in 2017; Williams and Lang have combined to win every division contest dating back to the start of the 2015 season--- a span of 26 races.
Veteran UCAR competitor Joel McCoy was crowned the 2017 UCAR track champion Saturday night. Ricky Howell, Jr. scored his third straight victory, with McCoy and Rodney Howell completing the podium.
Photo Credit: Shane Green