Enterprise Staff Report
(MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – When he won the 2016 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway driving for Stuart-based Billy Martin Racing (BMR), 20-year Late Model Stock Car veteran Mike Looney said the race was a dream come true.
For Looney and BMR, 2019 has been a dream come true across an entire season.
The 87Va won 12 times at Motor Mile Speedway in Pulaski County this season, claiming the track championship for their efforts. Looney and his team also travelled enough across Virginia and North Carolina, with enough success, to finish runner-up in the 2019 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national points.
Now, the team has their eyes set firmly on a second grandfather clock trophy from Martinsville Speedway. Looney stood tall after a six-hour test session at Martinsville Speedway on Thursday evening, setting up a run at the race win on October 5.
Looney toured the half-mile track in 20.088 seconds during the night portion of the test session under the lights and his time would be fast enough to break the track record set last year in qualifying by Stacy Puryear at a 20.100.
Looney spent most of the day in the top five on the speed charts and ended the night in the number one position but he and his team had to work hard to find the speed he was looking for.
“We played it too conservative the last couple of years,” Looney said after testing. “We were really trying to stick to our old setup that we won with and we thought maybe it was a fluke that the following year we weren’t that good at night. We come back last year and struggled again after the sun went down and we made our mind up last year when we left that we got to get our work gloves on and get busy.”
Looney said he knew he was good during the day but knew he didn’t have the right feel in the car to give his team the confidence they needed.
“We thrashed on that car today and we were good but we knew it just didn’t have that feel I was looking for, that feel that I remember when we won,” Looney said. “I think we changed every spring but the right rear, sway bar, track bar, bump stops, shocks, we threw everything in the trailer at it. My buddy Forrest Reynolds was floating me some tips from down at Concord. He was home building chassis today and this is a new car he built us and we’ve got 11 wins on it.”
Craig Moore, a regular on the CARS Tour, found himself sitting second on the speed charts.
Behind Looney and Moore were a host of formidable challengers including defending Virginia Triple Crown championship winner and current Virginia Triple Crown points leader Peyton Sellers.
Despite Sellers speed, he has an eye on weather changes for next weekend that could change the handling of the cars.
“I didn’t know what to think earlier today,” Sellers said. “The track was really green the first hour or two hours. It had decent grip but it was like it was real hazy. This temperature right here is going to be more comparable to what we’re going to see next week. To go from 90 to 70 is a big transition. I think we learned more the last two hours than we’re going to learn the whole night.”
Two-time race winner and current runner-up in the Virginia Triple Crown points standings, Lee Pulliam was fourth fastest among the 80-cars that took to the track.
The most dominant driver in last year’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300, Jr. Motorsports ace Josh Berry, was fifth fastest on the day.
Other notables included last year’s winner CE Falk who was eighth fastest, former winner Jason York, who was ninth, and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series regular Brennan Poole, who was 11th.
Around 80 cars are expected to return next weekend for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and with just the top 20 being locked in by qualifying on Friday, October 4th, many teams will be searching for a spot in the race in the two heat races on Saturday evening to finish setting the field for the 200-lap main event on Saturday night.
Mike Looney speaks to the media during Thursday night’s test session at Martinsville Speedway. (Martinsville Speedway photo by Ken Childs)
Mike Looney drives his Billy Martin Racing 87Va during Thursday night’s test session at Martinsville Speedway. (Martinsville Speedway photo by Ken Childs)