A stout group of full-time competitors seeking the 2021 Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour title will include 2016 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner Mike Looney, who is taking part in his first complete following his series debut in 2020.
The situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the short track industry played a role in Looney’s commitment to the CARS LMSC Tour for 2021, but he feels that he can run up at the front on a regular basis based off the speed his car showed in his first two starts.
“The CARS Tour provides the best competition in our region,” Looney said. “They are committed to race regardless of COVID-19. It was hard to make plans to run somewhere when you had no idea if races would even take place, but we got to run a couple of races last year and we were very competitive, but everything with the CARS Tour was so professional. It’s nice to be welcomed.”
Looney has plenty of experience competing against the best Late Model drivers on the East Coast during his career, as he has qualified for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway eight times in 12 appearances, and has not missed the prestigious event in eight consecutive attempts dating back to 2010.
The lone triumph for Looney in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 back in 2016 saw him engage in an intense duel with four-time NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion Lee Pulliam during the final laps. Despite having Pulliam climb over his left rear at one point, Looney withstood the assault and held on to take the checkered flag.
Since his victory, Looney has maintained an active presence within the Virginia short track community, but he decided to test his fortunes in the CARS LMSC Tour at his home track of Franklin County Speedway when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down several other facilities such as South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway.
Looney easily took the pole for the event and had the fastest car of the evening by leading 118 laps, but he would once again have to fight for the win with eventual series champion Jared Fryar making a charge towards the front. The two battled fiercely over the final seven laps, but Fryar would gain the upper hand on Looney to claim his only victory on the year.
Although Looney was disappointed that he could not win in his CARS LMSC Tour debut in front of his home crowd, he said that the battle between him and Fryar at Franklin County was a perfect encapsulation of what short track racing is supposed to be in his eyes, adding that the race was one of the most enjoyable of his career to date.
“It was awesome,” Looney said. “[Fryar] did a great job and I want to congratulate him on his championship. He comes from a long line of racers and he really stepped up to the plate that night. I’ve won a lot at [Franklin County] and for him to just plain outdrive me was a lot of fun to experience. We got beat, but that’s what racing is about.”
Fryar will become a familiar face for Looney in 2021 alongside other series champions like Bobby McCarty and Deac McCaskill as he tries to hold his own across a diverse 14-race schedule that includes the quarter-mile bullring of Wake County Speedway and the historic Rockingham Speedway to close out the season on Oct. 30.
Looney said he feels comfortable about the possibility of winning at nearly all of the Virginia tracks on the schedule except for Langley Speedway, in which he has limited experience, but he admitted that plenty of work lies in front of him and his team as they take notes on tracks that Looney has never visited.
“We’re trying to do our homework and everyone is working very hard,” Looney said. “We need to make our cars as fast as we possibly can, but the tracks in the south have far more tire falloff than the ones in Virginia do, and we’ve struggled with saving tires there a little bit. I feel like I can save tires pretty good in Virginia, but down South is a whole different ballgame.”
Looney added that competing for a CARS LMSC Tour championship will be far different than pursuing a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series title, as he believes those who are consistent in the CARS LMSC Tour are rewarded for their efforts while bad races in the Weekly Series can frequently be tossed aside and have little to no effect on the overall points chase.
Looney intends to avoid unnecessary risks and finish inside the Top 5 or Top 10 in every single race to have a shot at the title, but he understands that such an accomplishment will be difficult to obtain with names like Fryar, McCarty and others in the field every single week.
“Honestly, I think we’re going to be a longshot for the championship,” Looney said. “This is my first year and I haven’t raced at at 80 percent of the tracks on the schedule. It would be very unlikely for us to win the title against teams like Riggs, Nelson and JR Motorsports, but we don’t have to win the championship to be successful. We race to win, but we’re also there to have a good time.”
Looney will try to improve upon his second place showing at Franklin County on March 6 when the CARS LMSC Tour heads to Dillon Motor Speedway for the Black’s Tire & Auto Service 125.