Adding to his legendary status once again, Lee Pulliam penned another chapter in the history books on Sunday afternoon after winning the $30,000 CARS Tour Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway, the richest race in the history of late model stock racing.
Pulliam’s journey to greatness was no easy feat as dozens of challengers lined up for their chance at glory, beginning during Saturday’s qualification process at the .375-mile high-banked oval. Five drivers locked themselves into the field through time trials including polesitter Taylor Gray, Brandon Pierce, Josh Berry, Pulliam and Corey Heim.
The remaining competitors were forced to run a heat race to determine their starting positions, and each heat, while entertaining, was relatively clean with no major incidents. Layne Riggs ran away with heat one to claim the sixth starting position while Jacob Heafner surprised many by laying claim to heat two. OCS veteran Timothy Peters dominated his heat, winning the third qualifying race of the evening. Nine additional drivers transferred through the last chance race, also an event with minimal incidents which was won by Myatt Snider.
After claiming the Hedgecock Racing Pole Position, Taylor Gray led the 29-car field to green on Sunday afternoon in front of a packed house. The DGR-Crosley racer, and most recent winner on the tour, led the opening half of the race until Josh Berry rocketed around the outside of Gray 94 laps into the event and took the lead for the first time in the race.
A caution flag on lap 151 slowed the field with Berry ahead and almost all teams chose to take their two change tires during the stoppage. Utilizing a controlled caution format, teams re-entered the race in the same order they came down pit road behind those who elected not to stop for service.
Trevor Ward led the field to the green flag with Adam Lemke alongside. Lemke failed to fire when everyone else mashed the throttle, creating a bottleneck and damaging the cars of Bobby McCarty and Corey Heim badly enough where Heim soon retired. Soon after the next restart, however, Timothy Peters found his way around Ward for the race lead on lap 153 and galloped away from the pack.
A caution for Jacob Heafner and Carson Kvapil’s accident on lap 119 set the stage for a legendary race to the finish. Josh Berry, Timothy Peters and Lee Pulliam diced it up for several laps before contact by Pulliam and Peters opened the door for the No. 5 Chevrolet to take the lead for the first time on lap 122. Josh Berry quickly disposed of Peters and began to chase down Pulliam for the lead.
Peters’ race ended on lap 137 when a cut right front tire sent his car careening straight into the turn one wall. With 13 laps remaining, Berry and Pulliam restarted side by side on the front row and nearly everyone was on their feet for the final 13 lap shootout to the finish.
Pulliam chose the outside lane on the restart and quickly felt Josh Berry underneath of him and leaning on his car in an attempt to take the lead. The two swapped the lead back and forth multiple times in a five lap span before Pulliam ultimately moved Berry up the hill in turn four and ran away from the pack. Behind him, Berry, Taylor Gray, Brandon Pierce and Adam Lemke fought for second, allowing Pulliam to extend his lead and ultimately claim the checkered flag by 1.418 seconds. Gray won the battle for second with Lemke, Berry and Pierce rounding out the top five.
“His messed up when he pissed me off and nearly ran me in the wall two or three times,” Pulliam said in Victory Lane as he began to fight back tears. “It was a hell of a show, hard racing right there. I figured once he cleared me, I was going to give it right back to him. You know, you ain’t going to push this 5 car around or it’s going to push back. It was an awesome effort by all the guys, really a home track for me. I went to school 15 miles down the road, so a lot of family and friends and this is big for me. To put it in victory lane here at Orange County, words just can’t describe it.
“Man, we’re getting close to 200 wins in this stuff, and it’s pretty special. The Lord’s blessed me with a great business and I’ve got great drivers. Me, Corey and Brandon all ran in the top five the whole race. We’ve got a good thing going with LPP, and I’m proud of everyone’s effort at the shop. This is a big statement we’ve made here today.”
The CARS Late Model Stock Tour is in action again May 3 at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, NC, for the Race At Ace 125 featuring the same drivers who packed the facility’s grandstands at Orange County in addition to other local divisions.
1. 5 Lee Pulliam 200
2. 17 Taylor Gray 200
3. 98 Adam Lemke 200
4. 88 Josh Berry 200
5. 2 Brandon Pierce 200
6. 25 Zack St. Onge 200
7. 77 Trevor Ward 200
8. 81 Mini Tyrrell 200
9. 07 Bradley McCaskill 200
10. 63 Tyler Matthews 200
11. 17P Stacy Puryear 200
12. 01 Camden Gullie 200
13. 22 Bobby McCarty 200
14. 1D Terry Dease 200
15. 2S Myatt Snider 195
16. 12 Timothy Peters 187 Accident
17. 78 Corey Heim 155 Accident
18. 57 Justin Carroll 149 Mechanical
19. 27 Tommy Lemons, Jr. 111 Mechanical
20. 95 Jacob Heafner 101 Accident
21. 1M Craig Moore 101 Accident
22. 35 Carson Kvapil 101 Accident
23. 08 Deac McCaskill 87 Engine
24. 2Y Joshua Yeoman 84 Mechanical
25. 99 Layne Riggs 77 Accident
26. 18 Ty Gibbs 77 Accident
27. 4C Mike Chambers 60 Mechanical
28. 23 Terry Brooks, Jr. 26 Accident
29. 74 Ronald Hill 7 Oil Leak
Failed to qualify: Jessica Cann, Jonathan Findley, Cameron Bowen, R.D. Smith, Josh Oakley, Leland Honeyman, Ryan Gray, Jason York, Jeremy Burns, Tracey Chambers