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First Time In Prime Time

Martinsville Contenders Look Ahead to Late Model Showdown Under Lights
Andy Marquis, NASCARHomeTracks.com
September 22, 2017 - 8:49am

Late Model Stock Car racing’s best racers are preparing to head to Martinsville Speedway for their biggest race of the season, the 33rd annual, $25,000-to-win Valley Star Credit Union 300 which will commence on Saturday night. This year, however, things are bigger and brighter than ever before.

Saturday night’s race will be the first race ever run under Martinsville Speedway’s new permanent LED lighting system, and the first night race has generated plenty of buzz. For the racers, a night race at Martinsville also presents new challenges.

“I don’t know how it will affect the race for me,” Tommy Lemons, Jr., a two-time winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 said. “I wish we did know because we’d be better off knowing how to set the car up. I think the big thing is, the speeds are going to be faster so taking care of your brakes will come into effect pretty good. The track lap last week didn’t seem to have the grip that it normally has, guess without the heat. All in all, we’re close to what we had but we have to go off a different setup because it’s at night.”

MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY VALLEYSTAR CREDIT UNION 300 SCHEDULE & TICKETS

For veterans like Lemons, racing under the lights in Late Model Stock Car racing’s premiere event will be a change. However, younger drivers see it as a potential equalizer.

“Running under the lights, I think, will make the race a lot better,” Mason Diaz, winner of the track championship at Southern National Motorsports Park, said. “On practice day, I thought the track became completely different. It’s a game changer for everyone, not just me as a rookie.”

For other racers, the allure of the lights and the mainstream attention the race has garnered has increased their excitement level.

“The lights were awesome,” said Haley Moody, who made the field for the race in her first attempt last year. “I think it’s going to be a big event for everyone. Us drivers, fans, NASCAR. Everyone. I think it’s going to be different racing at night, but I think it’ll be pretty cool, especially to have MRN broadcasting it.” 

Lemons echoed Moody’s sentiments.

“It’s really cool to be under the lights and the late model guys be the first race under the lights. There’s definitely been a lot of hype for this race for that reason. People I know that don’t even follow racing have heard about it being under the lights and are excited about it. People who aren’t normally going to these races are going so that’s pretty neat.”

Lemons won the ValleyStar Credit Union in 2013 and backed that victory up two years later with his second triumph in the marquee event for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Cars. With his two victories, he joins an illustrious group of Late Model Stock Car elites, including recently crowned 2017 national champion Lee Pulliam and Philip Morris. Now, he’s hoping to score a third win.

“If you haven’t won it, you can never truly understand what it means to win it until you have,” Lemons said. “It’s hard to put into words what it means. To win it once is one thing but to win it twice is elite company, I think there are only four or five guys that have won it twice and Philip’s won it three times. It’s pretty remarkable and it’s hard to put into words what it actually means.

Being a multi-time winner of the race shines the spotlight on Lemons. He will inevitably be one of the pre-race favorites to win on Saturday and, if history is any indication, he will likely be in contention all race long. Lemons has been hard at work to bring home a third grandfather clock.

“I feel like we had a good car in the test,” Lemons said. “Would have liked to have better balance. I think we’ll be good to go come Saturday. We’ve been working on the cars all week to make them better.”

While Lemons has won the crowned jewel event twice, most drivers have only been able to dream. One of those drivers is Moody, a former NWAAS Division II champion in the Limited Late Model division at Southern National Motorsports Park. Her father, the late Jerry Moody, fielded cars in the race for many years. 

Last year, Moody was one of three women to make the field for the race – the first to do so on her first try in the race’s modern history. This year, Moody, who is teamed up with two-time Martinsville winner Pulliam, is hoping to make more history by becoming the first female racer to win at the half-mile of mayhem.

“I learned a ton last year,” Moody commented. “I learned you cannot make mistakes. You have to be on you’re a-game all the time. You have to be smart and cautious, but also race hard. We had a pretty decent car in the test. I think we can get some more out of it and more from me as a driver just figuring things out. I think we have a good shot.

“Lee Pulliam has been a big help to me in my racing career over the past couple of years,” Moody continued. “I can go to him with any racing question and he will help me the best he can. He’s a good driving coach, he knows how to get around almost everywhere and I think it’s an awesome opportunity to be in one of his cars in the biggest Late Model Stock Car race of the year.” 

There are many others hoping to shine on Saturday. Philip Morris, a three-time winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, has had something of a banner year with 20 wins on the season at multiple tracks in Virginia. Morris will be driving a car prepared by Adam Murray on Sunday as he chases his fourth grandfather clock and he expects the night time to be the right time for intense racing.

“I think you’ll see two-groove racing and it will be even more exciting,” Morris commented. “I can’t wait to get down there and be able to run the outside. I think it’s going to be a two-groove track (under the lights) with cool concrete.”

Other former winners racing on Saturday night include Mike Looney, the star of the show in last year’s underdog story, 2005 winner Timothy Peters, 2009 spoiler Jake Crum and 2003 victor Jamey Caudill.

However, there are plenty of other drivers who could steal the spotlight on Saturday. Bobby McCarty is one of those drivers after scoring the victory in the Hampton Heat 200, Late Model Stock Car racing’s summer highlight, back in July. Josh Berry, Anthony Alfredo and Justin T. Carroll all had success throughout the year at Hickory Motor Speedway while Kres VanDyke, who has made a splash at Martinsville before, picked up 25 wins during the regular season – more than any other driver in Late Model Stock Car racing.

Saturday night’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is destined to be memorable for many reasons. Always one of the greatest spectacles in short track racing, the first primetime running of the race will amplify the experience.

Qualifying for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 will take place on Friday night with the fastest two qualifiers being locked in on the front row for Saturday’s 200-lap main event. Positions 3-32 will be determined in the three 25-lap heat races which will be held on Saturday afternoon, beginning at 4pm. Following the heats, a last chance qualifier will determine the rest of the 42 car starting lineup.

The 200 lap feature event in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 will commence at 8pm EST. The race is broken up into three segments, the first being 100 laps followed by a halfway break and a random invert. Then, on lap 175, another competition caution will come out setting the stage for a 25-lap dash to the finish.

Tickets are still available for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and can be purchased by calling 1-877-RACE-TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.