Lee Pulliam has become a wanted man.
As one of the most dominating drivers ever at Motor Mile Speedway with 48 wins in 67 starts, Pulliam has grown accustomed to racing with a target on his back. July 24th, he’ll be racing with a bounty on his head.
The Kesler Contracting TWIN 75s presented by FOX 21/27 promises to be a historic event at Motor Mile Speedway. On the cusp of a record-setting seventh consecutive O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model victory, Pulliam could re-write the record books.
Adding to the significance of the occasion, Motor Mile Speedway officials have issued an edict to the Late Model contingent: bounty money in the sum of $1,000.00 to any Late Model competitor that can sever the streak.
Once commonplace, the proclamation marks the first time since Derrick Lancaster’s 2007 Limited Sportsman championship season that a driver’s dominance has warranted a bounty. For a competitor to claim the award in the Friday night twinbill, Pulliam must finish on the lead lap.
“As a racer, that’s a prestigious deal. Anytime a track has to put a bounty on you for winning, that’s special,” says Pulliam. “It will be neat. Hopefully it will bring out some extra cars to the racetrack— that’s what keeps short track racing healthy. We’re looking forward to racing with everybody.”
Seven-time Motor Mile Speedway Late Model track champion Philip Morris tallied six straight wins from May-June of 2008, establishing the MMS-era (2004-present) benchmark for consecutive victories in a single season. Pulliam nearly matched Morris’ all-time feat in 2011, winning five races in a row. He visited victory lane on five consecutive occasions again in 2012, underscoring the difficulty of the herculean achievement.
Pulliam’s winning streak is particularly noteworthy due to its chronology, having set a record as the only Late Model driver to open a season with six straight victories. Furthermore, Pulliam has amassed seven consecutive wins dating back to the 2014 season finale on September 20th.
Morris’ historic 2008 run climaxed on June 28th when –sans bounty- outsider Richard Boswell, driving for JR Motorsports, captured the checkers in his season debut. “I told myself before the race; it’s a lot harder for him to win seven in a row than it is for us to win one,” recounted Boswell from victory lane.
The formidable list of entries capable of unseating Pulliam could include the current flagship driver of JR Motorsports, Josh Berry, who enters the event boasting a streak of his own: in four starts this season, Berry has posted four podium finishes. Fresh off a victory in the CARS Late Model Tour race hosted by Motor Mile Speedway on July 11th, Berry would be riding a groundswell of momentum into the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series double feature.
“I feel like we would have as good a shot as anyone. The first time we ran up there this year, we were pretty close to beating him, I felt like,” says Berry, who has not yet committed to the July 24thdate. “The [bounty] is a good thing. It sparks interest in it. If I was Lee, I would think it was a good thing, because it means I’ve been winning a lot.”
Likewise, the added monetary motivation has Matt Bowling, the current runner-up in the Late Model standings, taking notice.
“It gives us a little added incentive,” notes Bowling, who currently shadows Pulliam by 32 markers in the points race. “We’ve been giving it all we’ve got to beat him— he’s just been perfect up [here]. But we’re gonna give it our best shot.”
In four full seasons of competition, Pulliam is eyeing his third consecutive Motor Mile Speedway track title and fourth overall -which would tie Jeff Agnew for second all-time in the NASCAR era. While a seventh victory would bolster a burgeoning points lead in the track standings, first-place trophies are even more critical to his national championship campaign. Currently trailing by 54 points in the national standings, full car count wins have become paramount to his bid at a third NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national title.
And although the successive single-season wins record may eclipse a racing resume brimming with record-breaking footnotes at MMS, Pulliam remains modest.
“Anytime you can win at Motor Mile Speedway, it’s special. To have won six straight this year, and I think we won the last race of last year… for us, the last seven races at Motor Mile, we’ve been to victory lane,” Pulliam explains. “It’s so tough to win up here, and to have that many in a row says a lot about our team. I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive it.”
Next Friday night, every Late Model wheelman will have something extra to shoot for. Pulliam will be gunning for greatness. His counterparts will be, too.