Every year in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, an even mixture of seasoned Late Model veterans and newcomers battle it out for the win in the closing stages. Former Martinsville winners Timothy Peters, Jake Crum and Lee Pulliam were among the veterans that exchanged the lead several times throughout the race. However, Trevor Noles surprised many in the garage area by running a distinct line on the high side of the track that enabled him to lead laps and challenge race winner Peters for the victory in the final 10 laps of the race.
In the middle of all the stiff competition for the lead, there were drivers who put together a solid night without attracting much attention to themselves. One of them was Late Model veteran Derrick Lancaster, who brought the #25 Total Car Care & Towing Late Model home with an 11th place finish after posting consistent lap times in the Martinsville test, and in practice for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
“My team’s been up and down a whole lot, mainly because I’m too busy with all of my business stuff to work on my cars like I did ten years ago,” Lancaster said. “When we heard that Martinsville was going to be run under the lights, we were very excited, and there were a lot of people that helped me get things going for the race, and we think we’ll be even better next year.”
A native of Christiansburg, Virginia, Lancaster can be found racing Late Models on several short tracks along the east coast whenever he is not busy running Total Car & Truck Service. Lancaster has made over 100 starts between Motor Mile Speedway and Kingsport Speedway since 2008, and was a frequent competitor in the Dirty Dozen Late Model series, where all five of his Top 10 finishes came at Motor Mile. Lancaster has also run four ARCA races in the past four years, scoring a career-best finish of 6th at Talladega Superspeedway in 2014.
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway is a race that is circled on Lancaster’s calendar every season, but had failed to qualify for the prestigious Late Model event in all of his first eight attempts. In 2015, Lancaster finally broke his long dry spell at Martinsville when he made the event for the first time in his career, earning a starting spot of 40th after transferring in through the Last Chance Qualifier. However, Lancaster did not end his first ValleyStar Credit Union 300 with a strong run, as he finished 31st after being involved in an accident near the end of the race.
After missing the race again in 2016, Lancaster returned to Martinsville Speedway on September 22nd with the hope of having a strong run in the first ever night race at the historic race track. Lancaster started 13th in Heat Race #2, but was able to move his way up through the field and dodge all of the carnage that took out many strong cars, including 2016 Whelen All-American Series champion Matt Bowling, which secured him a Top 10 finish and a transfer spot for the main event. Lancaster was pleased with how his car performed early on, but was a little frustrated with how his heat race ultimately played out.
“What a lot of these drivers don’t understand is that you have to drive six or eight car lengths in front of you,” Lancaster said. “You can’t drive to the hood pins. You have to watch what’s ahead of you, and you have to drive a smart race and not be stupid. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I’ve gotten old and that I’ve lost it, yet a lot of young drivers tore up their equipment. I guess you can say I’m like George Jones. I’m not ready for the junkyard yet.”
Lancaster’s performance in the second heat race earned him a starting spot of 25th for the 2017 ValleyStar Credit Union 300. Despite struggling to find speed early in the race, Lancaster quietly began to work his way up through the field, avoiding two major accidents that took several contenders out of the race, including Josh Berry, three-time Martinsville winner Philip Morris, and 2016 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner Mike Looney. By the end of the second break, Lancaster found himself in the Top 10 for the final 25 laps, but the intense racing on the final restart of the night cost him a chance at a Top 5.
“We were running 7th or 8th with 25 to go, and my spotter told me to watch out for Jake Crum,” Lancaster said. “I was trying to be careful, and Jake drove it down in there and turned Tommy Lemons Jr. sideways, and I checked up because I thought there was going to be a big wreck. Everyone got it together and went on and I lost about six spots, and I had to drive it back up to 11th, but I knew we had a good shot at the top five this year. Our agenda was to stay out of trouble, not get tore up, and be at the front during the last 50 laps, which we accomplished, but we just made a mistake with 25 to go.”
Despite dropping out of the Top 10 near the end of the race, Lancaster was proud of the hard work that his team put into his Late Model, and is confident that he will be even faster for the 2018 ValleyStar Credit Union 300. Lancaster plans to run several more Late Model events before the season concludes, including the Fall Brawl at Hickory and the Myrtle Beach 400, and plans to run a full Late Model season at Motor Mile in 2018. Although Lancaster recently shut down his ARCA team, he has received phone calls from a couple of ARCA teams to run select races in the series in 2018, beginning with the season-opening race at Daytona.