- Last Updated on 12:22 PM 04/23/12
- BY Doug Ford
Lee Pulliam has claimed 10 wins this season at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, but the Semora, N.C. driver had yet to win at South Boston Speedway in 2011.
That changed Friday night, when Pulliam admittedly claimed one of his biggest wins ever with a victory in the NASCAR Whelen Late Model 200, holding off Eddie Johnson in a green-white-checkers finish.
Johnson, of Midlothian, Va., finished 0.265 seconds behind Pulliam, with Dustin Storm of Huntington, Md., finishing third ahead of Wirtz, Va., driver Kelly Kingery.
Kenny Forbes of Bullock, N.C., who led the race for a total of 15 laps, finished in fifth-place.
Pulliam won over a stellar field of drivers including current South Boston Speedway points leader and three-time Whelen All-American Series National Champion Philip Morris, and former South Boston Late Model champion Brandon Butler, with pole-sitter Morris leading the race until a blown engine ended his night on lap 126.
Morris, an 11-time winner at South Boston thus far, had led for 124 of the race’s first 125 laps before retiring to the pits, but the Ruckersville, Va., native still leads the points race by a healthy margin.
Butler qualified sixth and was running second to Pulliam when he left the race with a fuel pickup issue during the race’s final caution period, extending the race to 202 laps.
Morris won the pole with a time of 15.649 seconds and led the race’s first 100 laps before briefly losing the lead to Pulliam (lap 101) on the restart following the third of the race’s five caution periods.
After Morris retired to the pits on lap 126, Forbes took a shot at the lead, with Pulliam holding the inside groove and Forbes the outside groove for a number of laps.
Pulliam and Forbes exchanged the lead five times between laps 142 and 159, before Pulliam took the lead for good, only to face a challenge from Johnson, who qualified 11th but had moved to fifth-place by lap 161 and third-place on lap 177.
Johnson moved to second-place following Butler’s misfortune, and he started on the outside of Pulliam for the final two laps of the race, but a good restart by Pulliam allowed him to finish first and collect the $5,000 prize for the win.
“I had a good restart and was able to clear him,” said Pulliam, who admitted his car wasn’t handling well the last portion of the race.
“I drove sideways the rest of the laps, but I got a little speed out of it to make it go.
“After 200 laps nobody had a great car at the end, and I don’t know if I would have beaten Philip or not, but I was trying to save something.”
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a win at a track where he learned to race, Pulliam explained.
“I’ve wanted to win here at South Boston this year so bad, the track is where I cut my teeth at and learned how to race and become a driver,” Pulliam pointed out.
“It feels great to get a win here anytime, and tonight was a really great night, racing up there with the best of the best.
“It was a great night for us, I’m really proud of everybody on the car, working to keep everybody safe.”
Pulliam added he didn’t know exactly what happened to Morris when he began to slow in front of him, but he knew that presented a prime opportunity.
“I didn’t know if he had battery issues, and I guess it turned out to be a motor…when that happened I knew it opened the door for me, and knew I had to save some tires for the end and be decent,” Pulliam noted.
Johnson, a former SoBo 300 winner, is known for running well in the longer races, and Friday night was no exception.
“Everything worked out real good,” said Johnson, who said he might have had something for Pulliam if he had more laps to work with.
“I told them on the radio we want to get to a point where I could just ride, and we fell back to a good place with good cars in front of us and good cars in back of us,” he said.
“I just tried to take it easy for the first 100 laps. When it got down to about 60 to go, it was time to get on the outside and start digging, and we had a good racecar.”
Like Pulliam, Johnson is working with limited funds this season, Johnson admitting after the race he had to borrow a truck and a trailer to bring his racecar to South Boston Friday.
“I want to thank Richard Storm for that, we’re a small team and work hard on the cars, so I can’t say enough about the guys on the crew,” said Johnson.
“We’re all volunteers, and a lot of people here in South Boston have helped us out, and I want to thank them too.
“This is an awesome run for us…to tell you the truth, second is almost like a win to us.”
About his side-by-side run with Pulliam, Forbes said he had a run on Pulliam several times but couldn’t quite clear him.
“My car was really good on the top, I had a run on him four or five times and thought I had him cleared, but I couldn’t quite get him down the straightaway,” said Forbes.
“If it would have been a regular race, I think I would have had him, but I wore my tires out a little too early, but we had a great night.
“This is the best of the best right here.”
The race winner averaged 58.659 MPH in a race delayed five times for cautions for a total of 41 laps, and which took one hour, 25 minutes to complete.