Craig Murto: Timothy Peters wins at Martinsville

The 2017 season has been one filled with the lowest of lows and highest of highs for Timothy Peters.

The racer from Danville was a star in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series until May, when Red Horse Racing, the team for which Peters drove, shut its doors. It doesn’t get much lower for a professional racer than losing one’s ride.

But Saturday night he experienced one of the highest of highs when he drove to victory in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, the largest NASCAR Late Model Stock Car race of the season. The win earned Peters a cool $25,000 and the traditional Martinsville trophy, a grandfather clock.

Peters, driving for Martinsville-based Nelson Motorsports, also won the Virginia Triple Crown, awarding him an extra $10,000. The Triple Crown rewards the driver with the best average finish in the three biggest Late Model events in the commonwealth. Those races are the big race at South Boston and the Hampton Heat 200 at Langley Speedway, both in July, and the Martinsville race. This is the third time Peters has won the Triple Crown.

This year he scored an average finish of 6.33 to barely beat Lee Pulliam by 0.33. Pulliam, who finished second to Peters on Saturday night, recently was awarded his fourth NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.

The evening of racing began shortly after 4 p.m., with three 25-lap qualifying races and a 25-lap last-chance race. As is often the case, the qualifying races destroyed a lot of good cars. And there were so many wrecks in the last-chance race that it was cut short.

The format for the feature was 100 laps, then an intermission to allow competitors to work on their cars and fill up with fuel. They inverted the top six, then ran 75 laps before another caution during which teams were allowed to change all four tires.

Pole sitter Jake Crum led much of the early going, which was surprisingly clean and green for the first 80 laps. In the second half of the race Peters battled Trevor Noles, often side by side, and Lee Pulliam, who grabbed the lead about lap 170. But with a lap before the break at 175, Peters nudged Pulliam aside for the top spot.

On fresh tires it again was Peters and Noles, but with 14 to go Peters jumped ahead for the last time as Peyton Sellers charged toward the front. On the final lap Pulliam grabbed the second position from Sellers, who hung on for third. Crum finished fourth, and Noles dropped back to fifth.

“You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring,” Peters is quoted on NASCAR.com. “I’ve learned this year, with all the adversity that has come about, that you never give up and lose your faith. It’s really special. (Car owner) Barry Nelson is a go-getter. He gives us the resources and shame on us if we don’t use them. We’ve tried for so long and finally now get it a second time, it only took 12 years.”

This is the second time Peters won Martinsville’s big Late Model race, doing it the first time in 2005. It’s his third grandfather clock, as he won a NASCAR Truck race at Martinsville in 2009.

The race made history as the first race at Martinsville under the new, permanent LED lighting system, which will be used again in October when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races into darkness. Based on advanced ticket sales, the sell out of all reserved camping, and race-day ticket sales, the crowd on Saturday was reported to be record size for the annual Late Model race, though no official figures were released.

Overall it was a wonderful day of racing. The weather was perfect, and the concession stand had the famous Martinsville hot dogs available for $2 each. The feature finished just before midnight, and if the track were open to suggestions I’d request they start heat races at 2 p.m. rather than 4. That way the event can be friendlier to small children, who are, after all, the fans of the future.

The Late Model fans of today saw an exciting race Saturday night at Martinsville, and watched Timothy Peters enjoy the high point of his 2017 racing season.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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