Philip Morris’ post-race victory celebration commenced in the customary fashion: A pause at the flagstand to collect the checkered flag. A ceremonial clockwise lap around the .416-mile oval. A raucous reception from the team.
Expertly orchestrated… as if he had done it a hundred times.
Saturday night’s opening 75-lap O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model race proved historic, as Morris became the first Late Model driver in Motor Mile Speedway’s NASCAR-sanctioned era to reach 100 wins.
And when the no. 01 Trailer Town Chevrolet stopped in Victory Lane, the trip down memory lane started. The milestone left the 52-year-old Ruckersville, Virginia, racer recollecting the origins of a peerless career.
“If you would’ve asked me back in 1994 how I would win 100 races, I would’ve said it wasn’t possible. How am I going to beat Johnny Rumley? How am I going to beat Jeff Agnew,” Morris asked. “You do it with guys like this.”
Amidst a sea of red no. 01 shirts flowed a bevy of palpable emotions the venerable New River Valley short track hadn’t produced since becoming NASCAR-sanctioned in 1988.
Morris’ achievement was a feat decades in the making. Morris notched his first Motor Mile Speedway Late Model win on July 22nd, 1995. In the years that followed, Morris eventually left even the legendary Late Model forerunners, icons such as Johnny Rumley, four-time Late Model track champion Jeff Agnew, and Ronnie Thomas, winner of 60 Motor Mile Speedway Late Model races, in the rearview mirror.
Another Motor Mile Speedway heavyweight was in the 20-car field for the history-making affair. Lee Pulliam’s presence underscored the magnitude of the moment. The Semora, North Carolina, hot shoe is second on Motor Mile Speedway’s NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model win list with 63 career victories.
Pulliam’s third-place finish in the ETHOS Technologies TWIN 75s opener resulted in the track’s two winningest Late Model drivers sharing the podium in a storybook, once-in-a-lifetime union.
“It’s pretty remarkable. He’s a heckuva wheelman, and always has been,” Pulliam said. “And he just flat spanked us tonight.”
Catawba, Virginia, racer Mike Looney thwarted Morris’ bid at win no. 100 in the division’s most recent race on June 3rd. Looney finished second to Morris.
“I’ve watched him win a bunch of those. It’s pretty special,” stated Looney. “He’s the King here.”
Morris posted a searing 15.737 hot lap to top Price’s Body Shop qualifying, and proceeded to dominate the first 75-lap contest. He led all but one lap—Pulliam nipped Morris on the restart following the only caution period of the race on lap 5. After a fleeting tussle for first, Morris reclaimed the lead on lap 7.
“The caution sealed the deal. I had a national champion on the outside. He was trying to take it, and he just couldn’t do it. This car is too strong. Motor is too strong. And the driver wanted it too much,” remarked Morris.
Morris outdistanced Looney at the finish by 3.139 seconds. Pulliam rounded out the podium, with Ryan Repko and Kyle Grissom completing the top five.
Morris authored a fitting encore in the nightcap, rocketing from eighth to first in the first 13 circuits to overtake R.D. Smith for the top spot. Ryan Repko was the only challenger to maintain Morris’ torrid pace as the race unfolded, finishing 1.118 seconds behind Morris at the checkers. Looney claimed third.
Pulliam and Derrick Lancaster placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Just before midnight, as post-race technical inspection concluded, Morris was approached for comment. With a broad smile, Morris’ greeting was a question: “Well, what’s next?”
The twinbill sweep has entrenched Morris atop the Late Model standings by 28 markers over Looney. Morris is eyeing an unprecedented eighth Motor Mile Speedway Late Model track championship.
As of June 11th, Morris is ranked thirtieth in the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national standings. Each victory awarded Morris maximum points; the pair of triumphs have the potential to vault Morris into national championship contention. Another national crown would be Morris’ fifth, tying Larry Phillips for the most NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national championships.
More records are within reach. But Saturday night, Morris reflected.
According to Morris, the lasting memory will be the victory lane ceremonies—the celebration that was anything but conventional. As for the first thing he thought of upon crossing the finish line? Eternally humble, the answer exemplifies Morris’ modesty:
“I started thinking about the guys that do nothing but work their butts off; the guys that come with me and sweat on Friday. I was thinking about those guys— they’re the reason. It’s emotional,” said Morris. “This was about everybody who pushed me, encouraged me, and supported me. It’s about everybody who’s helped me, because without them, I’m just watching.
“I want to thank my fans for coming out. I see a lot of red shirts… I want to thank you for wearing them. Thanks for supporting me all these years,” Morris said. “I’ll keep driving as long as this no. 01 is close to the front.”