Mike Looney is a people’s champion.
The New Castle, Virginia native is a definition southern racer. He’s all class, at least, unless you cross him on the track. Driving for popular blue-collar Billy Martin Racing, the bearded Looney doesn’t have the polish of a NASCAR national touring star, but that’s kind of the point.
The 41-year-old instead views himself as something closer to a street stock driver that was just fortunate enough to get behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock most weekends.
Looney is most famous for his upset victory in the 2016 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville, fending off Lee Pulliam despite the four-time NASCAR champion climbing up his left rear in Turn 4 on the closing laps.
Looney made additional headlines this summer by contending for the NASCAR national championship, leading the standings throughout the final week, but ultimately came up just short in the final week to Minnesota’s Jacob Goede.
But the spotlight on Looney and Martin, and the revelation of their backwoods country charm, generated even more interest in their program. Even after coming up short in the national championship, Richmond Raceway invited Looney to drive the pace car before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race last month and his No. 87 team was spotlighted on NBC Sports.
“We’ve received so much support that I’m so grateful for,” Looney told Short Track Scene. “We’ve had companies buy me a new fire suit, send us sponsor money, bought us drinks.
“Just so many people to come out of the woodworks that I didn’t even know knew who we were. It honestly almost makes me and Billy want to cry when you think about it enough.”
Most overwhelming, emotionally, for Looney was the number of his rivals that had supported his championship bid this summer.
“It was just one guy after the other coming up and shaking my hand, telling me how much they were rooting for us and keeping the dream alive for the little guy. Big time stock car racing is hard, and folks have full-time jobs and we gave those guys something to believe in.”
And that’s what this comes down to for Looney. It’s not uncommon for drivers to say they’re nothing special in the grand scheme of things — sending praise to their team.
But Looney’s humbleness truly extends to the real weekly racers.
“Hopefully what we’re doing right now can put a little bit of hope back into your limited sportsman racers, street stock and UCAR guys,” Looney said. “Those are the real racers. They are my people. I want them to keep doing what they love and working as hard as they do. I hope we make them believe.
“I ain’t no better than they are. If they could get good equipment, those guys could race with anyone at this level. We just have to work hard and do your best.”
For Looney to earn his second grandfather clock, he’s going to have to back his words with actions. He qualified outside of the top-20, meaning he will have to race his way into the main event through a last chance race.
From there, he would have to race his way to the front from the back of the field.
But would anyone really bet against a bunch of hard-working little guys from the Commonwealth that nearly captured the NASCAR national championship?
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