Story by: Corey Latham ~ [email protected]
As we get ready to embark on the 2013 season of racing, we are putting 2012 behind us. You have been seeing all our season wrap-ups for various series and tracks throughout the past few weeks and we look forward to talking about the current racing very soon. There is still one more champion to talk about though, the guy at the top of the heap throughout the entire country, Lee Pulliam.
We all know the story of Lee, from his dominance to his suspension to his dominance once more. But let’s take it into perspective what he has done over the past season; it’s nothing short of amazing. From the top to the dumps and to the top again in less than a five month span, the kid has had a roller coaster of emotions and a roller coaster season.
Lee starter the season off getting over the famous suspension that will not soon be forgotten about. Phillip Morris, to some the “Man in Black” so to say, was his arch rival and had been roughing him up quite a bit throughout the 2011 season. It came to a head at the last race at South Boston where Lee was spun from the lead by Morris with a handful of laps to go, then making a furious charge back through the pack and when it was over “it” happened. Pulliam would spin his car around and hit Morris head-on while Morris took his victory lap on the backstretch. A near riot ensued, and when the dust settled, Pulliam was faced with a suspension making his 2012 season not start till May 1st while everyone else had at least two or more races under their belt. With the suspension, Pulliam had changed the landscape of the Late Model racing world. Just like Darrell Waltrip in the 80’s when he won nearly every other week, people disliked Morris because it was a given he was going to win. Pulliam actually turned the tides and had people pulling for the man they had booed for so many years. Things were about to change as quickly as they started though.
Pulliam would start the season off at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, VA… or maybe not. While he had already missed the first three races at Motor Mile and two months of racing in general, he was poised to come to the former track known as New River Valley Speedway and get his first win of the season. Seems that Mother Nature had another idea as the race was a wash, so what does he do? He loads up and heads east to South Boston Speedway where he grabs the pole and leads all 150 laps for his first win of the season over another National Champion, Peyton Sellers. From then on he was on a mission.
Week after week it was the same thing; Lee was going anywhere to race and getting victories. While he had nine wins at South Boston and ten at Motor Mile for 2012, he did pick up wins at various other tracks. Caraway was one of those where he was surrounded by controversy in a race that seemed like the track was helping him… then hurting him… then… well, we still haven’t figured out what was going on with that one. After the two wins at Caraway, he was able to score another win at Southern National in Kenly, NC. He tried to win at the tricky bullring in Kingsport, TN with no such luck. In all, he took home 22 wins in 36 starts with himself and title contender CE Falk taking pages out of the old days and racing wherever they could, whenever they could. It was a refreshing scene this year in a world of testing and just being set up for one track like 75% of the drivers today are.
After all he had been through, from being the kid everyone cheered for, to the guy people booed, to the one they cheered for once again, he had earned what he had fought so hard for. Pulliam himself is thankful that he even got this point.
“You know, after looking back at this season now that It’s all said and done, I feel pretty blessed,” Pulliam expressed. “To sit back and see what we have accomplished and to know my name is in the history books with all the greats is pretty special.”
When asked what his biggest thing to overcome this year, Pulliam was straight to the point.
“Probably just attitude,” he said. “Just become a better person inside the car and out. We worked extremely hard to get to where we are and it’s easy to let the passion overcome you. Sometimes, in the car, you let that passion overcome you and I’ve learned that when it gets to a certain point to turn it off at the right time and not let it take advantage. I think it has paid off great on and off the track.
“It looks like we will take it one race at a time for 2013” he said about the upcoming season. “All these other guys work hard too. We might unload and be a third or fourth place car, everyone makes gains at different times. We just have to see where we stack up, work hard and try to get better each week because everyone else will come back better than the last time we raced them, that’s how it works in all racing every year.”
And if you thought he might be following the footsteps of other drivers who reach the pinnacle, well, it’s the world we live in today. No longer does talent get you very far.
“I’ve had a lot of calls from people and some great discussions, but at the end of the day it comes down to money,” Pulliam expressed. “We just don’t have it to get that one Truck or Nationwide ride. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and hope things fall my way, that’s really all you can do, just try to be the best at the level your in.”
Everyone will have their opinion on Lee for the 2012 season. Those that pull for him love it, those that dislike him will say different. But there is one thing that anyone that has any knowledge of racing can say honestly, and that is he is a winner. And he is the National Champion in only his fourth year in the Late Model Stock division, something that some veteran drivers of 30 years can never accomplish. Say what you will, there is no way around it, Pulliam is the best there is right now.