Short Track Scene

Philip Morris (probably) paced the M’ville 300 open test

The only mystery solved on Thursday night during the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 open test was what Late Model Stock Cars would look like under the lights at Martinsville Speedway.

The answer was stunning and breathtaking.

Everything else will be determined next weekend when nearly 100 cars are expected to battle for the richest prize in the discipline under the track’s newly installed LED lighting system.

A total of 88 cars took time on Thursday in a session that began under natural light but quickly transitioned to a preview of what the annual summer event will look like now that it’s scheduled for prime time conditions.

It’s difficult to draw any conclusions from the open test because teams were no required to use transponders. Thus, no official times were recorded through the seven-hour practice session.

With that said, the rumored fastest times were set by three-time Martinsville winner Philip Morris (20.25) and Ryan Repko (20.26.) Morris actually brought two cars to the track — one equipped with a Chevrolet built motor and another with a Ford crate.

“We wanted to see how close NASCAR would get between the built and a crate and it seems like they did a really good job,” Morris said. “They were really close on time. We were just a tick quicker with the Chevrolet built but only on short runs.

“On the longer runs, it seems like the Ford would take over with this big windmill here. It takes over and you find speed. I think it’s going to be an interesting race and NASCAR did a good job. That’s why we came here to see if any motor had the edge. So we are looking at the Chevy built for next weekend.”

But truthfully, Thursday night wasn’t about finding speed. Most drivers just wanted an opportunity to test the track under the dark and cool conditions. Instead of racing under the autumn sun, they’ll be racing under a chilly moon next weekend.

For Late Model Stocks, that means additional grip and side-by-side racing at the Virginia paperclip.

“There is more grip,” Morris said. “I saw glimpses of (a second groove). I don’t know if it’s enough of an advantage. It’s out there, you just have to decide if you want to go get it.”

There were oohs and ahhs from the handful of fans that attended the event and most of the crews let one out too.

Drivers were also affected by the optics of Late Models turning laps under the lights at Martinsville.

Lee Pulliam is on the verge of capturing his fourth NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship this week and already has two Martinsville grandfather clocks in his resume. With that said, winning the first Late Model night race at Martinsville would amount to the biggest win of his career.

READ MORE: Lee Pulliam on verge of fourth NASCAR championship, Hall of Fame credentials

“Seeing the first cars go out there was pretty special to watch,” Pulliam said. “You know, this is always the most prestigious late model race in the country and this just took it to the next level. I’m really hoping we can win us another clock.”

Tommy Lemons Jr. also has two Ridgeway grandfather clocks but the one on the line next weekend would stand above the rest.

“The drivers are crazy. Lights, no lights, I think the race will be a wild one no matter what,” Lemons said. “Running under the lights is definitely going to add a new element to this place. The first race under the lights adds a little bit more prestige to it.”

Back to Morris.

Another Martinsville triumph would give him four and a tie with Curtis Markham for the most wins at Martinsville in a Late Model Stock. Combine that with the moment and circumstances, and it makes this race potentially the biggest win for his storied career too.

“This would be number one,” Morris said. “After the great year we’ve had, this would be a confirmation. It would also be a big ‘thank you’ from me to them. But you guys all know that everyone has the same shot at this race so it’s got to be one of those God things where He makes the choice and we have to be ready to accept it.”

The only notable incident to report was Mike Darne’s No. 21 catching fire on the backstretch during the first hour of the session.

The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race. Race day is September 23 and starts with three 25-lap qualifying races to set the field, followed by a 25-lap “last chance” qualifying race. The 200-lap main event will now take place under the lights.

The complete list of drivers whom attended the open test was published on and can be viewed below.

#01 Philip Morris Chevy Built
#01 Philip Morris Ford Crate
#02 CE Falk Ford Crate
#03 Brenden Queen Ford Crate
#05 Mason Bailey Chevy Built
#06 Davin Scites Chevy Built
#07 Dean Ward Chevy Built
#07 Kevin Neal Ford Crate
#08 Deac McCaskill Ford Crate
#1 Jake Crum Ford Crate
#1 Jamie Sweeny Chevy Built
#1 Jason York Chevy Crate
#7 Louis White Ford Crate
#11 Jeff Oakley Ford Crate
#12 Austin Thaxton Ford Crate
#12 Nick Smith Chevy Built
#12 Ryan Gray Chevy Built
#12 Ryan Wilson Ford Crate
#12 Timothy Peters Chevy Built
#14 Ryan Repko Ford Crate
#15 Kres VanDyke Ford Crate
#15 Kyle Barnes Chevy Built
#16 RD Smith Ford Crate
#17 Bryan Reedy Chevy Built
#17 Stacy Puryear Ford Crate
#18 Bobby Gillespie Chevy Built
#18 Jason York Ford Crate
#18 Ty Gibbs Ford Crate
#19 Cameron Bowen Ford Crate
#2 Brandon Pierce Ford Crate
#2 Brandon Setzer Chevy Built
#2 Dennis Holdren Ford Crate
#2 Trevor Noles Chevy Built
#21 Mike Darne Ford Built
#21 Travis Swaim Ford Crate
#22 Bobby McCarty Chevy Built
#22 Greyson Cullather Chevy Crate
#22 Scott Lancaster Chevy Built
#23 Dexter Canipe Jr. Chevy Built
#24 Collin Garrett Chevy Built
#24 Mason Diaz Ford Built
#25 Derrick Lancaster Chevy Built
#25 Derrick Lancaster Ford Crate
#25 Jonathan Hall Chevy Built
#26 Danny Edwards Chevy Built
#26 Peyton Sellers Chevy Built
#27 Coy Beard Ford Crate
#27 Tommy Lemons Ford Crate
#28 Jason Barnes Ford Built
#31 Thomas Beane Ford Crate
#32 Brandon Grosso Ford Crate
#33 Jimmy Wallace Chevy Built
#33 Macy Causey Chevy Built
#34 Justin Snow Chevy Built
#34 Robert Powell Chevy Built
#36 Owen Smith Chevy Built
#37 Adam Gray Chevy Built
#4 Annabeth Crum Ford Crate
#4 John Moore Chevy Crate
#4 Jonathan Findley Ford Built
#4 Kyle Dudley Chevy Built
#4 Timmy Phipps Chevy Built
#44 Justin Johnson Ford Crate
#5 Ronnie McCarty Chevy Built
#5 Lee Pulliam Ford Crate
#50 Haley Moody Chevy Built
#50 Jamey Caudill Chevy Built
#51 Chris Chapman Ford Crate
#55 Mark Wertz Chevy Built
#57 Eddie Johnson Ford Crate
#57 Justin Carroll Chevy Built
#61 Justin Hicks Chevy Built
#63 Tyler Matthews Chevy Built
#7 Jamie Byrd Chevy Built
#7 Justin Crider Ford Crate
#76 Ryan Millington Chevy Crate
#77 Blake Stallings Chevy Built
#77 Trevor Ward Chevy Crate
#78 Ricky Gillespie Ford Crate
#8 ANthony Alfredo Chevy Built
#8 Thomas Scott Chevy Built
#8 Thomas Scott Chevy Built
#81 Jared Fryar Ford Crate
#82 Barry Beggarly Chevy Built
#83 Matt Bowling Chevy Built
#87 Mike Looney Ford Crate
#88 Josh Berry Chevy Built
#9 Alex Brock Chevy Built
#9 Brad Kurth Chevy Built
#90 Terry Carroll Ford Crate
#91 Justin Carroll Chevy Built
#92 Casey Wyatt Chevy Built
#95 Jacob Heafner Ford Crate
#99 Bruce Anderson Chevy Built

Trevor Townsend contributed to this report.