Commentary by: Langley Austin ~ [email protected]

Copper Hill, VA(October 27, 2011) — Saturday evening; Philip Morris and Lee Pulliam tangle with many laps still left in the Danville Toyota 300 at South Boston Speedway.

A little while later; Morris begins the cool down lap after his second consecutive victory in the annual race, while Pulliam, who had rallied to third for a late challenge for the win was catching up to his favorite rival. As Pulliam’s car gets to Morris … Pulliam’s life as he knows it as a Late Model Stock Car racer and one of the best in the country at this level, gets a little blurry.

Pulliam has found himself caught up in a myriad of rivalries this season, most of which involved Morris’ white and orange #26, Clarence’s Steakhouse car. This time, Pulliam, who felt as if he had taken a lot more than he had dished out, decided it was time to start dishing out some revenge on Morris, who had moved him a year ago in this same race. That move, coupled with Morris taking over Pulliam’s spot within the Sellers Racing camp as the top driver and a move that eventually moved Pulliam away from the Sellers team and on his own, just down the road.

Pulliam, this season became the new fan favorite, pretty much everywhere he traveled. He, unlike anyone else it seemed could beat Morris. Something that fans over the last few seasons had only seen a few drivers do, thus Pulliam was winning over all of the Morris haters and becoming one of the most popular drivers in Late Model Stock Car racing. At a young age of 23-years old, Pulliam was becoming the number two Late Model Stock Car racer in the Southeast and with that came challenges, because no racer wants to be number two.

Pulliam, just a couple of weeks ago used the chrome horn to take the lead from Matt McCall on the final lap of the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville Speedway. He won the biggest annual Late Model Stock Car race in highly dramatic fashion as he slammed McCall from behind and moved him up the track. Many say that he used the “old bump and run”, some say he’s a dirty driver, but for me, I say it was just racing. It’s what you do for $25,000 and to win the biggest Late Model Stock Car race of them all on LMSC racing’s grandest stage before more fans than some tracks have in attendance in an entire season.

However, I’m not going to discount the fact that if you watch the Racing Videos video from the event, Pulliam hit McCall hard. McCall proved he was a wheelman saving his car from wrecking before being tagged from behind by other cars hungry for the win. It wasn’t the “bump and run”, it was a young driver doing everything he could do to win the seasons biggest race. It wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t neccesarily right, but it was what he had to do to win the race. McCall will disagree, his fans will too, but they all know what the last lap in a money race is all about. You do things you might not ordinarily do.

With that said, that brings me back to Pulliam and Morris in the Danville Toyota 300 at South Boston Speedway. Morris essesntially did the same thing to Pulliam for the lead, albeit some fifty laps sooner than Pulliam did it to McCall. I’ve heard and seen on facebook where Pulliam’s fans have defended him saying that he didn’t wreck McCall and Morris wrecked him and I’m calling BS. Pulliam had all intentions of McCall wrecking, he hit him too hard not to. Other Pulliam fans have stated that Martinsville was the final lap and what Morris did was wrong becuase it was so far from the finish.

I’m calling BS on this one too. If Morris had done it on the final lap, it would have been wrong in some eyes, but I ask you, what is more fair …. to wreck a guy(or try to) on the final lap, where he has no chance to regain any spots or to wreck a guy with 50 or more laps left and the driver is able to restart at the rear of the field and have a chance to get back to the front. What Morris did from many accounts that I’ve been told from unbiased observers wasn’t intentional and if it was he’s not a very smart racer. He left the door open for Pulliam to come back and get his revenge before Morris could win the race or collect the $10,000 check.

Instead of coming back to win the race, which Pulliam tried to do under the green flag and made it back to finish third, he decided to take revenge into his own hands. Pulliam made some bad decisions following the checkered flag, he decided to use a 3,000 pound plus race car as a weapon and while it was entertaining for the fans it was a stupid move. After spinning Morris, which I believe was acceptable by the way Lynn Carroll allows driver to show their emotions and respond in a non threatening way, but then the young man drove his car straight into Morris’ head on.

That’s when life got a little blurry for the young driver, that’s when he made a move that he’ll regret for the rest of his life. At that point it wasn’t racing, it was personal and this isn’t Bowman Gray or Franklin County Speedway, his actions aren’t acceptable. He’s now the bad guy, a driver who let his own hype go to his head, a driver who let one other racer consume his mind for a year before he retaliated. An otherwise polite, well behaved, well raised young man, lost his mind in a moment that cost him everything he’s been working for in his racing career.

There isn’t just one thing that led to this happening. It was a handful of things that led Pulliam to this point in his life, to make a bad decision from Morris’ stealing his spot with Sellers, in his eyes to Morris’ beating him week in and week out at South Boston using ‘his setup’ to Morris using the chrome horn to move him on many occasions as he does to any driver he feels the need to do that with. Morris, for all the people who hate him, is probably going down as the number one or number two all-time Late Model Stock Car racer when his career is over. Fans HATE winners and no one over the last decade has won more Late Model Stock Car racers than Philip Morris. He’s the man to beat no matter where he races and no matter who shows up to race against him.

And, before you ask, NO this isn’t a Morris lovefest. These are facts, backed up by the truth and history. Morris has been the man to beat for a while and while there has been drivers that could contend with him, Morris in his own sly way is so much better at the head games than people give him credit for. Now, no one is better than Frank Deiny, Jr. at head games, but even he can’t get in Morris’ head, while Morris has been able to get into every racers head that he’s ever needed to.

Ask Jason Lawrence.

Lawrence is the last driver that was up and coming in the Late Model Stock Car ranks and got involved in a push and shove match on the track with Morris. He was eventually stripped of his NASCAR license indefinitely and while he now can get it back, he can’t find a ride and can’t get people to look past his bad decisions a few seasons ago. Lawrence, though he has tested a car for Derrick Lancaster Racing, hasn’t made a start at Motor Mile Speedway since the fateful night of September 23, 2006.

On that night he decided to get revenge on Morris for some on track contact over the course of the season and on lap 22, he put Morris in the turn one wall, hoping to end Morris’ chances of winning the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship. Unfortunately for Lawrence, he had too been caught up in his own hype, caught up by fans and crew members on pit road encouraging him to respond to Morris and ensure he didn’t win the title. It cost him his NASCAR license, he was suspended on Tuesday, September 26th and he wouldn’t be reinstated until January 2010. Morris still won the title and his racing career gone in the blink of an eye.

Unfortuately, Pulliam is on that same road.

Actions made in the blink of an eye following the checkered flag at South Boston Speedway also cost him his NASCAR license, in a similar indefinite suspension. Pulliam, like Lawrence did is appealing the suspension, but he’s got a tall hill to climb to come back to race any NASCAR sanctioned races ever again. What he did, went beyond intentionally wrecking someone to keep them from winning the National Title like Lawrence did, he took Morris’ life into his hands, hitting him head on while he was at a dead stop.

Though, I hated to see Lawrence suspended and equally hate to see a great kid and such a talented racer as Pulliam go through this kind of suspension, I can’t see NASCAR reversing their decision. How can five years ago an intentional crash with only championship implications cost one driver his NASCAR license for four years and Pulliam be able to do what he did and get reinstated? I just don’t think Lynn Carroll and the other decision makers in NASCAR can afford to make a reversal through this appeal.

Lee Pulliam, his dad, Stuart, his mom Debra and his whole crew are great people. I think it’s unfortunate that it came to this, but it happened. Pulliam’s time at the top of Late Model Stock Car racing is over without a pardon from NASCAR. I don’t see how they can pardon him, they need to set an example, we don’t need people doing things like that at these races as much as fans enjoy it.

And, Pulliam can’t let his fan base encourage him into being “that guy”. He got caught up in the hype, caught up in being the man and forgot to be the man. Lee is a great guy and I wish him the best in the future, whether he quits racing or moves to the UARA-STARS Series, but he has to be the man he preaches to be and not be the man he was last Saturday evening.

I want to see Pulliam race again next March in the new 2012 date for the Danville Toyota 300 at South Boston Speedway, but I just don’t see how NASCAR or the track could allow that to happen.  Especially given the penalty Lawrence served for a simple spin back in 2006 and didn’t get his NASCAR license back until January 2010.