Saturday at South Boston was the $10,000 to win Whelen Late Model 300 presented by Danville Toyota. It was a showdown of some of the best Late Model drivers in the Southeast with three of the top four national points finishers in the event. The race featured 16 lead changes among seven drivers and ultimately ended with Philip Morris, the 2011 National Champion, taking home the trophy. While that is normally the end of the excitement of a big race, it was just the beginning at SoBo.
En route to his win Morris pulled a cross-over move on Lee Pulliam on lap 227 heading down the back straight and got under him going into turn three. Pulliam came down and contact ensued which resulted in Pulliam being spun and moved to the back of the pack. Morris was not penalized for his involvement in the altercation and kept his spot at the head of the field. Pulliam battled from the back of the pack to attempt to regain the top spot from Morris but ended up third as the cars crossed under the checkered flag. As the cars were cooling down on the back straight Pulliam rear ended Morris and spun him, putting the two in a head-on standoff. Pulliam grabbed a gear and floored it, plowing into the front of Morris’s car, resulting in extensive damage to both cars.
“We were on the cool down lap and he comes flying around the track and crashes my car,” Morris told Speed51.com. (http://www.speed51.com/2011_Stories/LMSC/SoBo_Recap_Morris_vs_Pulliam.html) “If that wasn’t enough, I backed away to go to victory lane and he takes off like the start line at the Summer Nationals (an NHRA Drag Racing event) and rams into me head on. It was pretty dangerous and pretty reckless. In my opinion, he just way overreacted. It was very unfortunate for everybody involved.”
Had that been the end of things there might not have been too much trouble for the involved parties, but that was still only the beginning. As the cars returned to pit lane, Peyton Sellers–who is a part of Morris’s race team and was at the track as a crew chief for another competitor–charged Pulliam’s car and supposedly threw some punches. As Sellers was having the altercation with Pulliam an official attempted to pull the former National Champion away from the car and was supposedly pushed or contacted by Sellers. The official, Warren Saunders, filed suit for assault and battery which led to Sellers being taken into custody in handcuffs. As of Tuesday, after a meeting between Saunders and Sellers the paperwork was written up by Saunders to have the charges dropped.
The excitement did not end with Sellers and Pulliam, as members of the opposing race teams exchanged words and at least one member of the Morris crew was thrown to the ground by Terry Powell, a member of Pulliam’s race team. Not only was there chaos in the pits but there were reportedly several altercations that took place in the stands as well.
“I reacted and I really shouldn’t have. When I spun him out, he hit me in the left rear and we ended up facing each other,” Pulliam told Speed51.com in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I ended up putting the car in gear and running into the front end of his car. It’s something that shouldn’t have happened, but everybody was just fed up with it.”
The post race pit access that was scheduled for the fans was canceled by the track due to the volatile nature of the situation. At the end of the night, Sellers was hauled off to jail, Pulliam was embarrassed over his actions, and two race cars were substantially damaged.
This dustup had been in the making all season long and actually started at this race last season. While Morris and Pulliam ran at separate tracks this season, each winning the track championship at South Boston and Motor Mile, respectively, they only raced together on a handful of nights when both tracks were not running at the same time. Pulliam did score one win at South Boston this year with Morris in the field, but it was after Morris had a mechanical failure. At Motor Mile the same results held true. While Morris visited a handful of times he was only able to beat Pulliam once and it was on a night when Pulliam had transmission troubles.
When the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 took place a couple of weeks ago at Martinsville, Morris was by far the best car at the race but a fuel pickup problem derailed his efforts and ended up parking him before the end of the race. While Pulliam was probably the second best car on the track he executed a bump and run on Matt McCall on the last lap of the race to take the win in the biggest Late Model race of the year. That race was one of the first times that Pulliam actually moved a car out of the way in a race to take a win.
During the SoBo race last year Morris moved Pulliam to take over the lead on the last lap to take the win after a late race restart allowed Pulliam to get back up to Morris and take the lead after Morris had dominated most of the event. The bad blood between the two has obviously been simmering for a while and, after Pulliam thought he had been wronged Saturday it spilled over into something that is going to damage the careers of two talented champion drivers.
“On occasion, when SoBo and Motor Mile are not running together, Pulliam and I end up racing each other. It’s always very competitive,” explained Morris. “With about 80 laps to go (at South Boston), I did a cross-over on him on the backstretch to get the lead back. He didn’t expect me to be there and there was contact and he spun out and had to go to the rear. I was underneath him and they didn’t put me to the rear.”
In the aftermath of the events, all three drivers were suspended indefinitely from NASCAR and Pulliam, Sellers and Powell were fined $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively. It’s a particularly damaging penalty for Sellers since he makes his living building race cars and needs to be involved in NASCAR to make his living.
“My heart sank because I knew that everything I worked 28 years for was eliminated. This all got blown out of proportion Saturday night. … I feel like [NASCAR] hooked me,” Sellers told GoDanRiver.com. (http://www2.godanriver.com/sports/2011/oct/25/nascar-hands-down-fines-suspensions-sobo-post-race-ar-1410222/) “The part about the official I completely deny. I had no problem with him whatsoever. This is just unfortunate for what H.C. and I have worked our entire lives for. I will appeal it. I have a business to run and I have to be a part of NASCAR.”
“It’s very disheartening because it was a verbal altercation and not a physical altercation.”
As can be expected, Morris was very apologetic after having some time to cool off.
“The concern I have is that there are so many young guys moving up from the lower divisions that are just watching what’s going on,” Morris said. “I hate it because that’s the thing we need to guard ourselves on. We can’t do these things that are detrimental to the sport. It will just take away from all we have worked on.”
Just like Morris, once Pulliam had a chance to think about his actions, his attitude changed.
“Hindsight [is] 20-20; you wish didn’t do what did once you’ve done it. It’s just been a long season of battling and getting the wrong end of the deal with him (Morris) on every occasion,” Pulliam said. “It’s definitely not a one-time deal. We were ganged up on several times by his teammates at South Boston, several times while going for the national deal. We have been fighting it all year and I have been holding my temper, but it finally got the best of me.”
“I would like to apologize to all that are involved. It was a heck of a rivalry,” he continued. “Without him there it would be boring and without me there it would be boring. It’s made the fans come back out to the race track. Now I am sitting here worried about what NASCAR is going to do to me. ”
There is no question that ramming into a competitor’s car head-on is not an acceptable form of behavior on the race track, but there does come a time when being pushed around can cause a driver to lose his cool and cross the line. Pulliam felt like he’d taken his share of bumps to have wins taken away in the past and decided to take matters into his own hands. Those actions may make his future in NASCAR a little more difficult, but in the end you sometimes have to say, enough is enough.
This Weekend’s Racing Schedule
Sat : Oct. 29th – I-30 Speedway ; Benton : AR – Lucas Oil ASCS Sprint Car Series
Sat : Oct. 29th – Chowchilla Speedway ; Chowchilla : CA – BCRA Midget Lites
Sat : Oct. 29th – Chowchilla Speedway ; Chowchilla : CA – BCRA Midgets
Sat : Oct. 29th – Giant Chevrolet Speedway ; Hanford : CA – USAC National Sprint Cars
Sat : Oct. 29th – Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway ; Blythe : CA – ASA / Truck Series
Sat : Oct. 29th – So Cal Speedway ; Victorville : CA – USAC/CRA 410
Sat : Oct. 29th – Cross Roads Motorplex ; Jasper : FL – MMRA / Mini-Cups
Sat : Oct. 29th – Volusia Speedway Park ; Barberville : FL – Florida Mini-Sprint Association
Sat : Oct. 29th – Volusia Speedway Park ; Barberville : FL – Top Gun Sprint Car Series
Sat : Oct. 29th – Jones Motor Speedway ; Chatham : LA – Spooky 50 Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Jones Motor Speedway ; Chatham : LA – Spooky 50 Modifieds
Sat : Oct. 29th – Magnolia Motor Speedway ; Columbus : MS – Cotton Pickin’ 100 Super Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Springfield Raceway ; Springfield : MO – Show-Me Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – 311 Speedway ; Madison : NC – Super Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Ace Speedway ; Altamahaw : NC – Harvest Havoc
Sat : Oct. 29th – Concord Motorsports Park ; Concord : NC – UARA Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Hickory Motor Speedway ; Hickory : NC – Allison Legacy Race Series
Sat : Oct. 29th – Hickory Motor Speedway ; Hickory : NC – CCS Late Model Sportsman
Sat : Oct. 29th – Hickory Motor Speedway ; Hickory : NC – PASS South Series
Sat : Oct. 29th – Las Vegas Motor Speedway – The Bullring ; Las Vegas : NV – SRL Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Five Mile Point Speedway ; Kirkwood : NY – Race of Champion Dirt Modifieds
Sat : Oct. 29th – Atomic Speedway ; Alma : OH – AMRA Topless Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Portland International Raceway ; Portland : OR – ChumpCar World Series
Sat : Oct. 29th – Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex ; Markleysburg : PA – Steel Stock Bandits
Sat : Oct. 29th – Susquehanna Speedway ; Newberrytown : PA – ARDC Midgets
Sat : Oct. 29th – Susquehanna Speedway ; Newberrytown : PA – Central Pennsylvania LegendCars
Sat : Oct. 29th – Florence Motor Speedway ; Timmonsville : SC – Limited Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Tennessee National Raceway ; Hohenwald : TN – Shannon Hickerson Memorial Super Late Models
Sat : Oct. 29th – Tennessee National Raceway ; Hohenwald : TN – Shannon Hickerson Memorial Modifieds
Sun : Oct. 30th – Hagerstown Speedway ; Hagerstown : MD – Oktoberfest Late Models
Sun : Oct. 30th – Hagerstown Speedway ; Hagerstown : MD – Oktoberfest Modifieds
Sun : Oct. 30th – Portland International Raceway ; Portland : OR – ChumpCar World Series
Sun : Oct. 30th – Dillon Motor Speedway ; Dillon : SC – Fall Spectacular 400
Wed : Nov. 2nd – Screven Motor Speedway ; Sylvania : GA – All Star Sprint Cars
Thu : Nov. 3rd – Perris Auto Speedway ; Perris : CA – USAC/CRA 410
Thu : Nov. 3rd – Perris Auto Speedway ; Perris : CA – USAC National Sprint Cars
Thu : Nov. 3rd -Dirt Track @ Charlotte ; Concord : NC – Super DIRTcar Big Block Series
Thu : Nov. 3rd -Dirt Track @ Charlotte ; Concord : NC – WoO Late Model Series
Thu : Nov. 3rd – Dirt Track @ Charlotte ; Concord : NC – WoO Sprint Cars
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