It’s one of, if not the most prestigious Late Model race this region has to offer when it comes to asphalt short track racing. The Mid-West as the Winchester 400, the North East has the Oxford 250, the South East has the Snowball Derby, granted those are all Super Late Models, we are blessed with the Fall Classic that is Martinsville. Every year drivers from all over flock to the .526-mile paper clip at a shot at one of the biggest pay days of their career.
Over 70 drivers will attempt to make the field of 43 racing 200-laps for the shot of $25,000 and more! For the last couple of years, as The Weekly Racer has been able to attend, we have given our picks on who you should watch for from our experience over the previous season of racing. But while we make our cases for the Lee Pulliam’s, Matt Bowling’s, Peyton Seller’s and Tommy Lemon Jr’s to win. Lets not over look the race teams who have every bit of good equipment and just might be a surprise race winner of the 2016 Valley Star 300.
With 2016 being our third year covering the track we thought we would spice things up a little bit and bring in a guest who is respected among many within the Late Model community. Someone to shine a little different lite on the race, to offer up a different look on things. This year’s special guest is none other than Mr. Mark Rogers Jr. of Race22. Whom has teamed up yet again to work on bringing you the fans some of the best coverage of the race to date! Be sure to be on the look out for our combined LIVE coverage on both Twitter feeds as well as a dedicated chat style broadcast.
Mark Rogers Jr – Who to Watch
Though she came up short of making the field for last years race, you might want to consider giving Macy Causey a second glance. Vegas odds would likely be against her but things are very different this year for her as she continues to mature and impress in the Late Model racing. Though its been a short race season for Macy, she gained popular attention leading several laps out at Dominion Raceway racing against Nick Smith who was the track champion this year. Macy was also showing speed in the Martinsville test session last week as she had Late Model stand out and current Xfinity series part time driver Matt Waltz turning the wrenches. Needless to say, those clicking stopwatches will likely all agree, might want to keep an eye on Macy Causey.
Next one I believe you should consider is Ryan Repko who has been racing out at Motor Mile Speedway and ventured out to make a trip to Dominion Raceway as well. Though some will critique car counts at Motor Mile, what impresses me the most is that Repko has raced and followed in the lines of two National Champions in Lee Pulliam and Phillip Morris this year. Not bad company to be around right? Repko finished third in the series points at Motor Mile behind Morris and track champion Pulliam showing that he can compete. I think will get nothing less from Repko at Martinsville, his test day went very well for a kid to have never turned laps at the half mile paperclip track. Repko clicked off some 20.40’s putting him well within the best during testing. Just one more to consider based on performance.
Justin T. CarrollLets do another, testing well at Martinsville and clicking laps in the 20.40’s was CARS Late Model Tour Series driver Justin Carroll. Back in September, Carroll dominated an evening at Hickory Motor Speedway taking the race pole and the twin race events. The success and momentum is still riding high especially learning that he practiced well up top on the leader board at Martinsville last week. Justin is one of those racers that tends to sneak up there and gets involved in late race battles. Though Justin would likely agree that many things will have to go right for him to…get involved. This again, is one of those race talents who has the goods and could very well be in those ones to watch category.
Next up is another one of the 2016 Motor Mile Alumi and Martinsville test session standouts in Mike Looney. I know, pick the guy who clocked the fastest lap clicked on the stopwatch and tell me to watch out for him right? Perhaps, but Looney was the only one who was consistently fast all day when followed upon. So should we just go ahead and award him the prestigious Martinsville Speedway Grandfather Clock? Of course not, two hundred laps and the checker flag is what will determine that. But what it does mean is that Mike Looney is no joke and must be given his earned due as one to watch in this years Valley Star 300.
Phillip MorrisAll right, last one to make it a five count, not just any name to the list either but certainly one to watch, the “King” himself…Phillip Morris. Though stark in contrast to the others here on the list, I’m putting Morris as one to watch because this will be his year to get after it. All the bad luck of recent years is behind him for this race, its about time now where experience matters and a great hot rod is a big deal. Morris finished second in series points at Motor Mile this year and pocketed some race wins as well. Many thought when Morris backed down on racing the past few years that it was going to be the last of the “King”. Like all kings, whether you love him or you don’t. Phillip Morris is here at Martinsville Speedway and showing speed in preparation for the 2016 Valley Star 300. Morris is certainly one to watch as the weekend approaches.
The Weekly Racer’s Top 5 To Watch
Tommy Lemons Jr.
It hasn’t been done in my life time and it’s almost to easy of a pick but something in my gut just tells me Tommy Lemons, Jr. is look to fill one more room in his house with a grandfather clock. A repeat winner hasn’t been crowned at Martinsville since the mid 80’s when the track hosted both a spring and fall race. With Lemons posting unofficial times during the annual test session down in the 40’s and 50’s and the car showing good stability all day long, Lemons has to be one of the cars on your radar coming into this weekend.
Much like Mark Rogers mentioned above, you see the name Macy Causey and may think to yourself… who? Well I can tell you what, it’s certainly a name you are going to want to start remembering as she has been invited to showcase her talents once again this year in Rev Racings, Drive for Diversity program. Returning to the paperclip after not even making the show last year, Causey has proven herself late in 2016 by being able to hang with some of the bigger names in Late Model racing. Couple that with a brand new attitude on racing and Xfinity set-up man/part time driver, Matt Waltz, Causey is going to be a car to watch this year.
R.D SmithAfter starting in the rear of the 43-car field just a year ago and being able to survive and finish third, R.D. Smith is another driver that comes to mind. After showing impressive times in Thursday’s test session and sharing with us he felt the car was almost there, he too will be a car to look out for. Smith spent most of the morning, by our watches, as one of the fastest cars to take a lap. After speaking with Smith at the conclusion of Thursday’s test he let us know with just a few more tweaks he feels the car should be just right.
Josh BerryThis young man has been on a tear in the CARS Late Model Tour this season. Had it not been for missing one race Berry would more than likely be your points leader in that touring division has he has two poles and four wins in just seven starts. Berry proved to the world that he knows how to wheel a race car after putting up a solid finish in the #88 Jr. Motorsports Xfinity car at Richmond. In addition, Berry is one of the few drivers that have been able to win at Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA in just his first time. Given the times clocked all day last week – Berry will need to be at the top of everyone’s cars to watch.
You may think I am crazy right? Picking the most recent NWAAS National Champ is probably a crazy move. Especially seeing’s how the last few years has proven the national champ doesn’t win the race and would be lucky to even finish the race. Well I believe in superstition to a degree and I believe every “curse” has to come to an end. I also think 2016 will be the year that the NWAAS Champ will be able to have his cake and eat it to. After clocking times that were consistently fast all day, Matt Bowling has been on such a roll this year it is hard to count this young man out. Remember, its not always the fastest car that wins the race, and in the case of Martinsville, its more so the car that can avoid the most trouble.
Honorable Mentions: Mason Diaz, who can be a bit aggressive on the racing surface and has proven he is not scared to mix it up with the big boys. After one of the worst injuries we have seen in Late Model racing ourselves, Bradley McCaskill remains on the list of those to be careful with. Coming off an injury it sure would be a story book ending to one interesting story. Coming off not only his first career win but first career track championship, Brenden Queen has one of the best in the business as a crew chief. Showing steady speeds in the mid 20’s this past Thursday, as long as Queen can keep his nose clean, could be a factor in Sundays feature. Finally making our honorable mentions are the Edwards Brothers. Even though both Danny and Greg have been all but dormant in 2016 both have been in the business far to long to forget how to get up on the wheel. Both drivers showed impressive speeds all day last Thursday and looked about as good as any of them when they went out for their sticker run.
Well there you have it, a five racer list, between two gentleman from two separate organizations, of those whom to watch. We could have played safe and gone high on the speed charts or stuck with all the “big names” to make our picks from. But on this list were the intentions of race teams should opportunity meet preparation, an awesome win for these ones to watch is very much possible. Don’t cheat yourself fans, don’t miss this great NWAAS Late Model event at Martinsville Speedway. Local short track racing in the Mid-Atlantic is as good as its ever been. This weekend, we celebrate the best teams in Late Model racing, nearly eighty will participate, but only one will win. Who are your top five picks? Leave a comment bellow or on our Facebook wall. We love to hear your thoughts.