Commentary by: Langley Austin ~ [email protected]

Copper Hill, VA(August 13, 2012) — If you think that Lee Pulliam was screwed at Caraway Speedway, please sit down your cup of kool-aid, tighten the muscles in your hand and smack yourself back to reality.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s tackle the hottest topic in Late Model Stock Car racing or for that matter, short track racing period. The whole debacle at Caraway Speedway that saw a 50-lap race turn into a 80 or 100 lap race, no one actually kept score of the real amount of laps, has everyone talking. Everyone including myself was quick to bash Caraway Speedway, but after a nearly three hour ride home, I realized that it wasn’t the track itself, but rather the ring master.

With Motor Mile and South Boston off this weekend, Caraway Speedway became the site of what will surely become a traveling circus over the next few weeks in search of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship points. It happens pretty much every year, the guy from the Late Model Stock Car ranks, whoever it may be, gets all his friends, some paid, some just doing it to help, to come to a race and “start” a car to help ensure a full field of 20 cars for maximum points.

We’ve all seen Philip Morris do it. He did it at Caraway, he did it at Ace Speedway, he even somehow got Motor Mile Speedway to add a race to their schedule one season. We’ve all seen how these things go down. The NWAAS National Title Contender, puts on a dog and pony show, then emerges from their car and smiles for the cameras. Everyone there talks about the big car count, everyone there discusses the “start and park” cars and everyone there goes away knowing they witnessed a part of a National Championship battle.

And, most everybody except for fans of the driver, who is running for the NWAAS National Championship talks about how sad it is that drivers do that. Right, wrong or indifferent … the points system makes this type of situation possible and if you’re the driver going for the title and have the money to make it happen and bring in cars, you do it. I would do it and you would too …. yeah, stop lying you would. A NWAAS National Championship is a big deal, it’s worth stooping to a level that none of us should, but all would.

Well, I guess for those of you who were living under a rock or simply didn’t know that there was a race at Caraway Speedway yesterday and didn’t know that even if you couldn’t make it that was there … let me set the scene.

Lee Pulliam is this years Philip Morris or at least he’s trying hard to be. Pulliam is currently the NWAAS National Points leader and he’s planning on staying there. He knows that in order to make sure that he can gain all the points that he needs to ensure the title, he’ll have to pull some strings. Again, we would all do it. His budget obviously allows for him to be able to travel as he’s traveled all season and it also allowed him to share a few dollars with his friends. Whether it was $5, $500 or $5,000, it’s none of our business nor should it be. He was only doing what he felt he needed to do and it’s fair game to do so the way the NWAAS rules work for the points.

Anyways … So despite having a sure 20-car field at Kingsport Speedway, Pulliam decides to stage his own race of sorts at Caraway Speedway. They already had twin 50-lap races on tap and traveling to Asheboro, NC from Semora, NC instead of Kingsport, TN was certainly a better choice. Only Caraway Speedway hasn’t been getting anywhere near the amount of cars necessary, so with a little work of the phones, Pulliam puts together a solid 20-car field. The fact that he’s been able to win at Caraway both of the last two seasons and the fact that he hasn’t been able to win at Kingsport certainly also played a role in the decision.

With his field set and cars ready to race back to pit road at the drop of the green flag, Pulliam ascended on Caraway Speedway. The weekend was all about him, it was all about making the NWAAS National Championship a reality and after coming off an early season suspension, Pulliam wasn’t about to let it slip from him. Despite several issues with the car and working hard to get his car ready for qualifying, Pulliam easily put his entry on the pole.

With the pole in the bag and with what was certainly an easier task than traveling to Tennessee, Pulliam was looking for twin wins and maximum points with 20+ cars set to take the green flag. Race one went off like it was scripted as Pulliam made his way from his handicapped sixth starting position to second and the caution flew for a car stopped on the track at the entrance to pit road. Many speculated that it was an intentional stop, but I have no idea and have too much respect for the driver who stopped to ask him if it was intentional. I don’t believe it was, but either way, it was perfect and soon enough Pulliam was in the lead.

Dan Moore, who he took the lead from didn’t back down from Pulliam though as they raced hard. Beating and banging, but nothing dirty and in the end Pulliam emerged the winner. Race two would prove to be a whole other story as Pulliam would again start sixth due to the previous race winner rule. However, this time he was much faster to move to the front and by lap 21 Pulliam was in second and looking for the lead. As if it was again scripted the caution waved at the perfect time and Pulliam was able to lineup side by side with Mack Little for the lead this time.

Pulliam wasn’t able to get by Little and after a couple of restarts, Pulliam makes a key mistake and beats Little to the line. The mistake was a costly one as the young driver would have to come down pit road for a drive thru penalty, which was more like a race through as he came down pit road and was so fast that he was able to blend into the back of the field. For some reason his drive-thru or “race-thru” resulted in no penalty, but at this point we’ve for sure got a race. Or as we found out we’ve for sure got a circus, clowns were popping out of everywhere, some were in the tower, some were in the pits, but most of them were on the track.

From this point on things got strange, really strange. Laps mysteriously weren’t being counted, positions weren’t being gained and cars were crashing everywhere. Mostly cars in the back, some cars toward the front, but at this point Pulliam was trying to charge from the rear and he was making up positions and getting them taken back. Sometimes all of his positions gained were taken, then sometimes he’d gain a position or two. In the midst of all of this, cars were getting tore up and fans were going crazy in anger of the way things went.’s twitter coverage was lit up with messages flying in from fans everywhere, some at the track and some many miles away.

On the next to last restart Pulliam looked to be in position to take the lead, but as he and Ryan Wilson raced for the position, Pulliam’s car darted into the inside wall and destroyed it. Many blamed Wilson for Pulliam’s crash and there was talk of him being black flagged for the contact, but at the end of conversation it was determined that Wilson was ahead of Pulliam and couldn’t have wrecked him. Heck … Dale Earnhardt, Sr. didn’t have the talent to wreck someone from in front of them.

So at the end of the night after all of Pulliam’s hard work to fill the field for twin races, he came away with only one victory and the need for a front clip. Some people say that he was screwed, mostly those who weren’t there and didn’t see it first hand or those who watched it with blue and silver colored glasses on. The bottom line is the ring master(Pulliam) started the day putting on the show and at the end of the night when things didn’t go as planned he was forced to play the role of the clown.

The race might should have ended 30 laps sooner, but it was a show and a very entertaining one. No one wanted to see Pulliam crash, but when he did, no one would have been surprised if 20 people had climbed out of his car like at the circus. On $20 Car load night, the loads of cars got their money’s worth … they got to see a race, they saw a circus, they saw clowns and at the end of the night the ring master bit the dust.

Had this been a circus, it would have been a great one. One kids and parents would have loved equally, one that they’d talk about for a long time and one that they would never forget. From a pure racing aspect the track’s management made horrible calls and while I was at the track, I just wanted them to go on and give Pulliam the checkered flag and let me leave. However, as I was leaving, I realized that I had witnessed something I may never get the chance to again.

At the end of the day, the lesson learned at Caraway on Sunday night was that even with the greatest planning and flawless execution if you stage a circus, there’s always the potential to become one of the clowns.