Former ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner Mike Looney will make his first career Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour start in Saturday night’s AutosByNelson.com 250 at Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, Virginia, and the veteran racer is hoping for a strong run.
Looney, 42, from Catawba, Virginia, scored his first ever win at Franklin County Speedway and won the championship in the track’s Pure Stock division in 1998. Since then, Looney has become one of the most prolific drivers in Late Model Stock Car racing after winning the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 in 2016 and contending for the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national championship in 2019 – the same year he won the track championship at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia.
He had hoped to race some in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour in 2019 but got wrapped up in the national points battle.
“We wanted to try to run it last year, but we got in that points deal with NASCAR and wasn’t able to run,” Looney said. “There are so many talented drivers and powerhouse race teams and it’s cool to go somewhere and see where you stack up with those guys. No points on the line and nothing to lose, so we’ll go over and just have a good time and feel them out a little bit, see how things roll, and be better prepared to turn around and race more with the CARS Tour.”
This season, Looney has not been racing for points as the coronavirus pandemic has shuffled schedules all around. When the latest schedule shuffle with the CARS Tour moved their August 22nd race from Orange County Speedway in North Carolina, a state that faces some of the tightest COVID-19 restrictions in the country, to Franklin County Speedway in Virginia, Looney jumped at the opportunity to make his series debut at his home track.
“It’s such a messed up year with everything going on that we’re not involved in any kind of points, so it’s a perfect year to skip around and go to different places and try different things,” Looney continued. “I don’t know how many tracks will get to run so, when a race this big comes to our backyard, we can’t miss out on racing somewhere where we don’t have to get motel rooms. That’s a big part of our budget for racing out of town. What a great track to race at anyway. Franklin County is where I started and won my first race. I have a lot of memories at Franklin. It should be a barnburner and, if I wasn’t racing, I’d be in the stands watching it.”
Despite all his wins at Franklin County Speedway over the years, Looney doesn’t see himself as a surefire favorite for the victory on Saturday. He knows experience will help him but respects the talent and equipment many of the CARS Tour competitors will show up with on Saturday and he expects many of them to adapt quickly to the tough and gritty track surface.
“I don’t think I’m a favorite to win,” Looney stated. “I’ve got more laps around that track than anybody in that series, but series regulars have such stellar equipment and great teams and are really fast. They’re going to adapt really quickly. The similarities with Hickory are so strong, I feel like the cars that run strong at Hickory are going to adapt right off the bat and be the favorites to win.”
Billy Martin Racing, the underdog team which Looney has raced for since 2014, is testing two different cars at Franklin County prior to Saturday’s race to decide which one to run. While Looney has raced and won at Franklin County recently, those races have been on Limited Late Model rules with smaller carburetors and less horsepower and Saturday will be the first time Looney’s raced on full Late Model Stock Car rules at Franklin County in years.
“We’re going to shake down and see what we need to do,” Looney remarked. “Hopefully there will be guys testing we can gauge ourselves against. We’ve been running on Limited Late Model rules at Franklin and it’s been a while since I’ve run a big carb. It’s a fast place and I’m anxious to see how these young kids do on the high banks at home.”
Franklin County Speedway is one of the most unique tracks on the CARS Tour circuit. The gritty old track is 3/8-mile in length and has a steep 22 degrees of banking in the corners, five degrees more than Southern National Motorsports Park and six degrees steeper than Orange County Speedway. The 22 degrees of banking makes Franklin County the highest banked, and possibly fastest, track on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour calendar.
Throughout the years, Looney has been known for having hard luck, but when luck is on his side, Looney is difficult to beat. In 2016, driving for the underfunded Billy Martin Racing team, Looney upset a star-studded field in Late Model Stock Car racing’s richest and most prestigious event, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, scoring the pole and holding off Lee Pulliam for the victory. A few years later, Looney was in contention for the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series championship, scoring 13 wins and 23 top-five finishes but ultimately coming up short to Jacob Goede.
Despite that success, Looney says there’s no pressure from Billy Martin, a former Franklin County Speedway competitor and champion himself. The all-volunteer race team goes to the track to have fun and race – but they do race to win.
“We’ve been really blessed and fortunate to get it right every once in a while,” Looney said. “It’s a lot harder than we make it look honestly. We work so hard and so everything we can do with what we’ve got. The cool thing is Billy Martin doesn’t put any pressure on me or the team. We go out and do the best we can. We want to win, but it’s not a job to anybody and we’re not making any money. That might be the difference that makes up for the deficit in budget and resources.”
Saturday’s race at Franklin County Speedway will be the first time the series has raced there and marks the first time a major short track touring series has visited the speedway since 2008. The AutosByNelson.com 250 will be broadcast live on the CARSTour.TV streaming service powered by Speed Sport TV for those who are unable to attend the event.