Cory Dunn was in Victory Lane before he was even born.
Dunn’s dad was celebrating at Motor Mile Speedway with his former team, which he managed in the ’90s and 2000s. Alongside was Dunn’s mom, who went into labor and had Dunn later that night.
In 2019, more than 20 years later, Dunn was back in Victory Lane at Motor Mile, a 0.416-mile paved oval track in Radford, Virginia. This time, he was celebrating his own win.
Dunn moved up to Motor Mile’s NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Division II, limited sportsman division, in 2019 after spending three years in the track’s Mod-4 division. It didn’t take long for the new driver to find success in his new car. He won three races in 2019, was runner-up six other times, in 10 starts on the way to a track championship and a rookie of the year title.
Dunn’s dad managed a team that won a track championship at Motor Mile in 1999, when Dunn was 5 years old. The Virginia speedway is more than just a hometown track to Dunn, and winning a title there was extra special. He even runs the same number his dad’s team ran all those years ago.
“For me, it’s pretty cool to be able to see everything come full circle,” Dunn said. “I saw it when I was a little kid being in Victory Lane, winning races and championships. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to do the same thing at the same track too.”
Dunn didn’t get the chance to drive on his own until four years ago when he was 21. He won co-rookie of the year in the Mod-4 division his first season driving after taking three different cars to third-place finishes.
Dunn’s expectations for 2019 were to go for the rookie of the year award in the limited, and said running for a championship wasn’t part of the team’s mindset at all, especially while moving up a division.
“We figured it would probably take us a little while to get adjusted to moving up to the limited,” Dunn said. “And it progressed a lot quicker than we thought it was going to.”
The adjustment to a new car was most difficult for Dunn. His team, consisting of his dad, friends Colby Bryant and Alisha Bryant, who serves as his videographer, mechanics Jason and Nicole Green, and crew chief and spotter Daniel Williamson, all had experience with working on limited sportsman cars. They reached out and offered to help when they heard Dunn was moving up a division.
For Dunn, knowing that he had a good crew behind him helped make the transition easy.
“I had a really great group of guys and girls actually step up and want to help me out when I moved up,” Dunn said. “And I knew that the talent surrounding me pushed me to levels I hadn’t been before as far as racing goes. I knew that I had a really great group of people that knew what they were doing and how to set up the cars and they coached me along. I had all the faith in the world in them, it was just getting me there catching up to everything else.”
Dunn made sure to make use of having a videographer filming every race and practice. Having the video allowed him to be able to go back and see what he was doing right and wrong, and also things he can try the next time on the track.
The car was never a concern. Even on the final night, Dunn didn’t have the championship sewed up yet. He needed to finish within four spots of the driver in second place, who won the pole for the final race.
But, given the fact he had yet to finish outside of the top 3 all season, the car his team gave Dunn was enough to feel confident on championship night.
“All year long we had a really, really good race car. It was consistent every week,” he said. “As far as where the set up was and the consistency of the car, I had a pretty good feeling that as long as I stayed out of trouble that I would be able to continue finishing up near the front.
“That’s a testament to my crew putting in a lot of hard work, a lot of hours to get the car to be that way every single week.”
Dunn will be back in the limited at Motor Mile when the track opens the season on April 25. The difference for 2020 will be the fact he’s no longer the new guy. He’s the defending champ.
“I’m sure it’s going to be tough because after coming in and doing that and having the success that we did, it’s hard to back that up two years in a row,” he said.
But nothing could ever top the feeling of winning his first championship.
“I still don’t really know how to put this kind of season into words,” he said. “It was unexpected for us to have as much success as we did. And right off the bat too. We banded together and we had speed from the beginning and we kept it all year long.
“I think if it could sum it up it would be unexpected success, honestly.”