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Consistency pays off for Willis in Limited

A lot of factors came into play for Danny Willis Jr. the past race season to allow the Cluster Springs resident to win his first-ever Limited Sportsman Division championship.

The biggest factor, however, was consistency with Willis taking home four wins but no lower than a fifth-place finish in 17 races.

Defending division champion Justin Snow of Danville had five wins, but a mid-season slump allowed Willis to take over the points lead, a lead he would never relinquish.

Willis, who started competing in the Late Model Division in 1999, began running Limited full-time in 2005 and had finished second in points on several occasions.

“We finished second two or three times in Limited, and it looked like we could get close but always had a couple of races that took us out of contention,” recalled Willis.

“This year, we stayed more consistent.  Our worst finish was fifth and that paid off for the championship.

“We had a few races where we had some bad luck but were able to rally back for a top-five finish, and that was a key to our winning the championship.”

Willis also got five bonus points for each win, and they were crucial in his championship run.

“Wins at South Boston mean a lot, because you get the five bonus points if you win,” explained Willis.

“If you can still stay consistent each week and the person you’re competing with has some bad luck, you can gain on him.

“It paid off for us.”

Willis and his team escaped some of the equipment failures that normally interfere in a driver’s run for a title.

“We keep a tight grip on maintenance, and we make sure we get a good bolt check on the car and have nothing falling off,” Willis said.

“That helps out a lot, because you don’t want to go to the race track and have something break on you and have it cost you a race.

“Fortunately, the best I can remember, we didn’t have anything go wrong this year except for a few incidents on the track.”

A lot of credit for his solid season goes to veteran racer Stacy Puryear, according to Willis.

“My hat’s off to Stacy Puryear.  He helped me pretty much all year, and he’s behind the setup on the car,” Willis pointed out.

“He’s been helping me through the years, but this year I was able to get him to come to the track most every week.

“He kind of played the role of being my crew chief, and that helped me a lot, taking my mind off what to do to the car to make it better.

“I would just tell him what the car was doing and what adjustments to make, and that made it a lot easier on me so I could concentrate on driving.”

Willis said he couldn’t have won the championship without his crew.

Ronnie Chaffin, J.D. Jones, Jeff Bomar, Chris Clark, Gary Leksell, Bruce Elliott, Clint Hazelwood, Kim Willis, Tom Worley, Randy Howard, Josh Buckman and Puryear spent hours at the racetrack and back at the shop to help Willis.

Willis can’t point to one particular race where he proved to be a turning point to his season, but he took advantage of Snow’s midseason misfortune to catch and pass him for a points lead he never gave up.

“I think we got 15-20 points back and thought it would be tough to get those points back, and I fell back to third,” recalled Willis.

“Justin was in the lead, and then he started having mid-pack finishes, and that boosted me in front of him.

“Then it was me and Brian Pembelton, tit-for-tat on finishes, and we closed the gap and got a win over Brian.”

“I think we were tied for a race or two.  It came down to the second to last race, and I think I had a one-point lead going in,” Willis continued.

“It was a nail-biter, and I didn’t know what would happen going in, but we were lucky enough to come out with a 15-point lead.

“We had a little cushion for the last race and had to make sure we stayed out of trouble and get the best finish we could.

“We finished second, and it paid off for us.”

The Limited Sportsman Division has been competitive the past several years, and this year was no exception, with he, Pembelton and Snow the veterans, according to Willis.

“We had Bobby McCarty, Austin Thaxton and Blake Stallings, still kind of still green but having their stuff hooked up this year,” he said.

“I think McCarty had four or five wins, and Austin got him a win this year, and everybody raced good.”

Willis thought the rules changes involving a move to double file restarts was good for the fans and ultimately good for him.

“The first race of season it actually hurt me, but a few races later it helped me gain a couple of positions through the race, so I think it’s a good thing,” he noted.

“Maybe they can work on a few things next year to make it better for the fans.”

Unless additional sponsorship comes aboard, Willis expects to return to the Limited ranks next season.

This year Willis had the help of Gardner-Marsh, Meeler Insurance Agency, Southern Land and Properties, Heritage House, Riverviewsign.com, Stacy Puryear Race Car Parts and A&E Race Cars.

“The only way to move up is if we get someone to help us, and Late Model racing is just so much more expensive,” said Willis.

“The Limited Division is pretty tough most anywhere you go, and I feel like it’s just as competitive as Late Model.

“I think Limited has a good, competitive field.  As long as I’m in a racecar having fun that’s all that matters.”

Willis admitted winning his first championship really “hasn’t sunk in yet.”

“If feels really good.   We don’t have a lot of money some of the guys we race against have,” he pointed out.

“The car I drive is 10 years old, compared to some of the guys out there with brand new chasses.  I feel like for us to be competitive and win the championship like we did means a lot to me and my team.

“We just worked hard and put in a lot of hours, and it paid off,” added Willis.

“We’re working on some sponsors for next year, and hopefully all our sponsors can come back.

“We hope to run for the title, and we’ll see just how things work out.  The division is so tough, it’s hard to get even one, much less two.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and make it two.

“That’s a pretty good accomplishment with the division we’ve got.  We have a lot of competitive drivers, and the top five or six could have won at any given moment.

“I suspect it will be just as tough next year.  A lot of those guys will probably come back, and we’ll probably pick up a couple of new ones.

“If we could rally back and have a season like we had this year and get some more wins, it’ll work out for us again.”

THE WILLIS RECORD

Starts: 17

Wins: 4

Top-Five Finishes: 17

Top-10 Finishes: 17

Poles: 2

Laps Led: 191 out of a possible 904 (ranked third in division)

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