- Last Updated on 03:16 PM 01/23/14
- BY Joe Chandler
Every true athlete, every competitive racer, has a desire to climb the ladder and reach the top level of his or her sport.
Lee Pulliam has that desire, and he has made it known at every opportunity. He now has that opportunity.
The 24-year-old Semora, N.C. resident, the winner of back-to-back NASCAR Whelen All American Series national championships in 2012 and 2013 and the winner of the 2013 South Boston Speedway NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division title, has signed with Mooresville, N.C.-based Hattori Racing Enterprises to run the full 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule.
“Words can’t describe it,” Pulliam said of his opportunity to compete at the next level and drive the heavier, more powerful NASCAR K&N Pro Series East cars.
“I’ve worked really hard to get an opportunity to do something bigger on a more national level. I couldn’t be more thankful for everybody that put in a good word for me. I’m really looking forward to our effort this year with Hattori Racing Enterprises to compete for the series championship.”
Competing on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East circuit will give Pulliam an opportunity to compete in cars that are more like NASCAR Nationwide Series cars and gain exposure.
“They (the teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) go to a lot of new racetracks over the course of a season,” Pulliam pointed out.
“You get a lot of TV time, and a lot of recognition from the guys that compete in the top three NASCAR series every week. It should be a lot of fun. I’m extremely stoked about it. I can’t wait to get things going.”
Pulliam is excited about the Hattori Racing Enterprises team he will be competing with this season. Team Manager Bruce Cook has worked with Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt and, last year, worked with Ron Hornaday. He has won races in all three of NASCAR’s top series as a crew chief.
Randy Goss, who led Greg Biffle to both a NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Truck Series title and who led Kyle Larson to a NASCAR K&N Pro Series title two years ago, is Pulliam’s crew chief.
“I’ve bonded really well with the guys at the shop,” Pulliam said.
“They’re my type of people. They work hard and they want to win races. They’re very down-to-earth guys with all they’ve accomplished. I’m excited about working with the guys there at Hattori Racing Enterprises. They have a really nice organization. There are a lot of good people there.”
Pulliam will get an early opportunity to test with his new team. He and his team will test at Gresham Motorsports Park on Tuesday to prepare for the season-opening NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race, a 150-lap event at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway on Feb. 16.
Pulliam’s team will test along with the other Hattori Racing Enterprises team that will compete on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East circuit, a team that will have 16-year-old David Garbo, Jr., a talented young driver from Stonington, Conn. that will be paired with crew chief Nick Hutchins, who came to Hattori Racing Enterprises from REV Racing.
“It (the upcoming test session) will allow us as drivers a chance to get acclimated to each other and get acclimated with the crew chiefs,” Pulliam explained.
“It should be an interesting test. I’m really excited about it.”
Pulliam enters the season with a smattering of experience with the heavier, more powerful cars. He competed in three Pro Cup races at the end of last season driving a car fielded by Rusty Skewes. He won two outside poles, won one pole, won the season’s final race at Southern National Speedway in Kenly, N.C. and finished fourth at Hickory, N.C.
That opportunity led to an opportunity for Pulliam to drive a car fielded by Skewes in a limited number of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races this season. However, Pulliam took the full-schedule ride with Hattori racing Enterprises when that opportunity emerged.
“I thank Rusty for stepping out on a limb and giving me an opportunity that I’ll never forget,” Pulliam said.
“He is building a (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) car for me to run. It was really cool of him to offer to do that for me when nobody else would help at the time. I’m very thankful for Rusty and for what he has helped me with. I enjoyed working with him and his team greatly. They’re top-notch guys. I wish them success and anything I can do to help them, I will. I’m not sure if he is going to sell the stuff he built for me or if he will race it himself or what. They gave me my first break and I’m very appreciative.”
Road courses will be hurdles
While competing on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East circuit, Pulliam will have the opportunity to race at a track that is almost at his back door – Alton’s famed VIRginia International Raceway.
The Aug. 16 race at VIR will be a homecoming of sorts, but it will also be a hurdle.
“I’m really excited about that,” Pulliam said of the opportunity to race at the track that is closest to his home.
“It’s only five minutes from the house. It’s going to be one of the biggest hurdles of the year for us, that and Watkins Glen (on Aug. 8), being that I have no road course experience. I’m going to try to go test with a road-race Late Model car over there (at VIR) and try to get some seat time and pick up some pointers before I go over there with the K&N car.”
A limited Late Model Stock Car schedule
Due to the fact that he will be racing the full NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule, Pulliam will probably get to run less than 20 NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division races this season.
“There are 16 K&N Pro Series East races this season, and they (Hattori Racing Enterprises) want me to go with them to some of the NASCAR Nationwide races as well,” explained Pulliam.
“Johnny Sauter is going to start off driving the (NASCAR Nationwide) car at Daytona. I’m not sure how many NASCAR Nationwide Series races they’re going to run, but I will be part of the team at all of those races.
“I think we could possibly run 16 or 17 nights in Late Model,” he added.
“I should still be able to get plenty of seat time, and that will hopefully keep me sharp behind the wheel.”
Pulliam said he will not be able to compete in South Boston Speedway’s season-opening Late Model race on March 15 due to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway that day.
“I know I won’t be able to be at the March 15 race because we race at Bristol that day,” noted Pulliam.
“It’s a good possibility I could be there (at South Boston Speedway) for the March 22 race.”