Sunday afternoon, Lee Pulliam gave Matt McCall a $20,000 nudge.
That dollar figure was the difference between the $25,000 winner’s purse and the $5,000 total for finishing second in the most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race in the country, the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville Speedway.
A crash-filled race came down to McCall, who led much of the first half of the race and slowly picked his way back up to the top spot late after a top-five invert at the halfway break, and Lee Pulliam, the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship contender who rode in a top-three spot for much of the 200-lap feature. The race went into extra-distance with a final green-white checkered restart that saw the most profitable bump in short track racing so far this year.
Pulliam restarted on the outside of McCall on lap 206. He got a slightly better restart and edged out to a half-carlength advantage. Because of the jump at the start, he gave the lead back by about a half-carlength coming off turn four to the white flag to avoid a penalty from NASCAR officials. Off turn two on the final lap, McCall cleared Pulliam, but Pulliam tucked right on McCall’s back bumper into turn three.
Contact between the two was made between turns three and four as the checkered flag waved ahead. After driving into McCall, Pulliam drove underneath him and crossed the line first as McCall saved his car to finish fifth.
As thrilling as the finish was, the fireworks were just beginning. McCall waited a lap after the checkered flag to retaliate and spin Pulliam out into turn three on the cool-down circuit. Pulliam continued his celebration thereafter and pulled into victory lane where he was met to some cheers, some boos, some beverages and trash being thrown his way over the catchfence by unruly fans and a very heated McCall and crew.
“He got me going into (turn) one, so when we got to (turn) three, I repaid the favor,” said Pulliam after the race. “It got really intense. He was using me up pretty bad, washing me up the track, so I let off of it coming down the backstretch and just returned the favor.”
McCall had another view of the incident.
“He knows that was pretty chicken,” said McCall of Pulliam’s last-lap bump-and-run. “I mean, he’s trying to claim I hit him going into one, but when you get hit in the left rear what are you supposed to do, you know? I’m not going to pull over and give it to him. Then you pass him and then he drives straight down into the corner and hits you? That’s alright.”
When asked when the hard racing started between McCall and Pulliam, McCall had a rather pointed response.
“When he realized he couldn’t keep up.”
As Pulliam pulled into victory lane and started his way to the podium to receive his Martinsville Grandfather Clock and take the pictures that go along with the victory, McCall approached the mob of media, fans, crew members and Pulliam and extended a congratulatory handshake. While many were expecting perhaps more physicality than just a handshake, a verbal assault went on between the two instead of one that included fists.
“There weren’t many words, I just told him I’d see him again,” said McCall, who has taken up work at Richard Childress Racing as an engineer in their Camping World Truck Series shop this season. “One good thing about this is I’ve got a good career going in another side of this sport and I’m not going to jeopardize it right here, but I will see him out and he better just be prepared.”
“He just said he was going to come get me, but you know we’re ready,” said Pulliam. “He can come anywhere, anytime. We’ve got plenty of guys down here that can take care of him.”
McCall left the scene at the start-finish line and returned to the pits. Pulliam collected the trophy and the laurels that come with it. Brandon Butler narrowly escaped the fracas on the final lap to finish second, while Stacy Puryear and Dexter Canipe, Jr. finished third and fourth, respectively, ahead of McCall in fifth at the checkers.
- Forty-two cars started the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300. Fifteen finished.
- 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion Phiip Morris had an up-and-down weekend. Morris set fast time with a new track record in Saturday’s qualifying and led much of the early portion of the race Sunday, but fuel pickup issues slowed his #26 machine several times and forced him to pit road often. Morris eventually dropped out of the race and finished 22nd.
- The top-22 cars in Saturday’s qualifying were locked into the race. The rest of the field were put into four 25-lap heat races to set the remainder of the field.
- Perhaps the most comical moment of the race was when Jesse Little, son of former NASCAR racer and current NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series Director Chad Little, tangled with Tommy Lemons, Jr. in turn two late in the race. Little got out of his car so fast to show his displeasure with Lemons that he left the car out of gear and it started rolling down the track towards the inside wall. He ran to catch up to the car and just got it stopped before it hit.
- Little was added to the field when Travis Swaim, who had raced into the feature, withdrew with engine problems.
- The feature race was scheduled for a 200-lap distance. The other 100 to make it the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 was comprised of the four 25-lap heat races.
- Long Brothers Racing teammates Jamey Caudill and Jonathan Cash were racing for top-five spots when they were both collected into the last-lap fracas and crashed on the frontstretch.
- Coleman Pressley was awarded the Speed51.com/Speed Media Best Appearing Car Award as voted on by the staff and fans of 51. The race didn’t end with Pressley’s car being very pretty, as it was involved in some late-race incidents and was overheating with a big plume of steam on the final restart, but Pressley held on to finish ninth.
- It was a tough day for two former Martinsville winners Jake Crum and Alex Yontz. Crum was involved in a few incidents before eventually being taken out in a crash that also claimed Brennan Poole late in the race. Yontz suffered an engine failure just 19 laps into the race and was the first car out of the race.
- The 2012 Martinsville is for Racing Lovers 300 will be moved two weeks later than this year’s running to October 21st, 2012. The Late Model event will kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend next season at Martinsville.