Pulliam’s Drive Produces Yet Another Historic Season
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With the championship on the line, Lee Pulliam kicked it into overdrive.
The Semora, North Carolina, closed the 2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points season with 16 wins and 23 top fives in his final 23 races. His historic second-half run earned the 27-year-old his third national championship and further cemented his place in history as one of NASCAR’s best short track races.
“We ran everywhere we could possibly run,” said Pulliam. “We ran at places we’d never been, and won at places I had never won. It’s really neat to see all the hard work pay off. It was definitely the hardest one we’ve ever won.”
Pulliam ran 51 races at seven different tracks – winning at six of them – in four different states over a nine-month period. Now a resident of Alton, Virginia, he finished with 29 wins, 46 top fives and 48 top 10s. His single-season win total is ninth all-time and marked the fourth year he’s won more than 20 races in a season.
While Pulliam was a familiar face atop the podium, he had a whole new set of challengers for his title.
Thomas Tillison Jr. took advantage of Flint Creek Speedway in Oklahoma joining the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, and ran there and his home track of Salinas Highbanks Speedway to lead the national standings during the summer before settling for second. Ontario’s Taylor Holdaway and New York’s Jimmy Zacharias also put together their first top-five seasons and chased Pulliam into the final months.
Lee Pulliam: While Pulliam’s excellence grabbed all the headlines, it’s nothing new. Over the last five seasons, he has won 120 races in 210 starts. He finished second (2014) and third (2011) in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship points in the years he didn’t take home the ultimate prize. On a track level, Pulliam kicked off the season by having a section of the grandstand at Virgina’s South Boston Speedway named after him and then went on to claim his fourth Late Model Stock Car championship in the last five years at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia. He also won the prestigious Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, for the first time. It all added up to his fourth consecutive Old Dominion State championship.
Thomas Tillison Jr. (Honorable Mention): The 41-year-old dirt driver from Wellston, Oklahoma, piled up the honors. In addition to winning the track title at Salinas Highbanks, he compiled 15 wins, 25 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 29 starts en route to the Oklahoma championship. As a first-year NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I license holder, Tillison also earned the national Rookie of the Year presented by Jostens. He briefly led the national championship points and wound up as the highest finishing dirt racer since Brian Harris finished second in 2008.
Top Breakthrough Performances
Taylor Holdaway: Holdaway’s season was marked by bad breaks, followed by good fortune. First, Barrie Speedway in Ontario closed, opening the door for nearby Sunset Speedway to become a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track. Then the 24 year-old Orillia, Ontario, native opened the season with a fuel issue in his asphalt Late Model that caused him to drop out of the track’s first feature and miss starting the second. He rebounded to roll off 21 straight top five finishes – including 12 wins – to win his first track title at Sunset and captured the Ontario championship. He become the top finishing Canadian driver in the history of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Cayden Lapcevich (Honorable Mention): The son of veteran Canadian driver Jeff Lapcevich, the 15-year-old Cayden made his mark in 2015. In addition to making his debut in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1, Lapcevich won four times in the Super Stock Division at Sunset and finished 12th in the Division II national standings. The 15-year-old won the second annual UNOH Youth Achievement Award, given to the top driver in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series between the ages of 14-17.
Cayden Lapcevich (right) talks with his father Jeff at Sunset Speedway in Ontario. Courtesy Sunset Speedway
Other Notable Achievements
• Jimmy Zacharias of Candor, New York, rolled his asphalt Modified to 15 wins, 27 top fives and 28 top 10s in 30 races running primarily at New York’s Chemung Speedrome and Holland Motorsports Complex. He won the Modified title at Chemung for the fifth time in the last year years, and was also the New York champion. Zacharias also made a handful of late season starts at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl in an attempt to make up the final few points on Holdaway, but fell just six points shy of the final podium spot.
• Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Conn., the 2010 national champion, missed out on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national podium this year, but continued to add to his resume. Rocco won his fifth SK Modified championship at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl for his 11th NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track title between Waterford, Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park since 2007. Rocco finished in the top five in the national standings for the ninth straight year. He also won a record eighth state title.
• Jacob Goede, of Carver, Minnesota, was also a new face in the national championship race. Goede successfully defended his state championship as he drove to 10 wins and 22 top 10s in 23 starts at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway. He also won his second straight track championship and finished sixth in the final national standings.
• Kres Van Dyke of Pounding Mill, Virginia, raced nearly as many tracks as Pulliam and won nearly as many times. Van Dyke collected 19 victories – second most in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series behind Pulliam – in 47 races at Kingsport Speedway in Tennessee, Lonesome Pine and Motor Mile in Virginia, Anderson Speedway and Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, and Caraway in Sophia, North Carolina.
Four More National Champions
• NASCAR recognized champions from each of its divisions of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. In addition to Pulliam, Kyle Purvis (Div. II), Patrick Thomas (Div. III), Grant Brown (Div. IV) and Jack Kirby (Div. V) were honored as NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions.
Purvis won the Division II title by just two points – one position on the track. Racing in the Modified division at Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway, Thomas won five times in 19 starts to edge Rocky Warner of Utica-Rome Speedway in New York.
Thomas won twice on the final night of racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway to jump seven positions. He wound up with 11 wins and 14 top fives in 15 races to give the track its first NASCAR national champion.
Brown, a third-generation driver from Prior Lake, Minnesota, became the youngest national champion in the history of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. The 15-year-old won the Pepsi Powerstock division with six wins and 15 top fives in 18 races.
In his first full season of racing, Kirby won the national title for Division V with seven wins and 17 top fives in 19 starts racing in the pure stock division at Salinas High Banks and Flint Creek. The 44 year-old driver finished fourth at Salina and 13th at Flint Creek, but his combined success was enough to easily outdistance the field.
Notable Among State And Province Champions
While 17 drivers were first-time champs, nine drivers were repeat titlists, including six drivers who have won three or more titles.
Erica Thiering won five times in 12 events at Edmonton International Raceway for the seventh track title and seventh Alberta crown, including five in a row; Paul Banghart won his first state championship racing at Arizona’s Tucson Speedway; Bruce Yackey won four races between Colorado National Raceway and I-22 Speedway for his sixth state title and ninth Colorado National crown since 1996; Scott Gafforini had five wins to capture a record sixth title at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his fourth Nevada championship; Jason Myers won seven times to edge Bowman Gray Stadium champion Tim Brown by one point for the North Carolina title; Craig von Dohren rolled to five wins and 20 top 10s in 23 races for his fifth Grandview Speedway championship and second Pennsylvania crown.
Notable Among Track Champions
Of the 57 NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in 2015, there were 14 repeat champions from 2014, 30 first-time NASCAR champions and 16 drivers have now won three or more titles at their home track.
Paul Glendenning won second NASCAR championship at Adams County Speedway in Iowa. The first came in 2011; Nick Heywood, last year’s Josten’s national rookie of the year, won his second straight title at Airborne Park Speedway in Vermont; Trey Gibson, an alum of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative, won his first track championship at Anderson; Reid Lanpher won four times at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine to win his first championship; Kyle Jones rolled to eight wins in nine features to take the Columbus crown; Vince Quinville won his first NASCAR track title thanks to five wins at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Vermont.
Jeff Shifflett has won back-to-back track titles at North Carolina’s East Carolina Motor Speedway; Mike Holden claimed his second straight track title at Evergreen Speedway and second Washington title; Steve Holzkamper won his first NASCAR title at Flint Creek Speedway in the track’s first year sanctioned by NASCAR; David Roberts collected four wins to take his second Greenville Pickens title (his first was in 2007); A mechanical engineer at UNC Charlotte, Matt Piercy took home his first crown at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina; Tommy Catalano became the fourth different member of his family to earn a NASCAR championship with his title at New York’s Holland Motorsports Complex; Dan Alamaa won five times and became the first NASCAR titlists at I-25 as the speedway joined the Whelen All-American Series this year ; Matt Buller took home the championship hardware at I-80 Speedway in Nebraska for the first time; Trevor Huddleston recorded five wins and top-five finishes in 16 of 19 starts to take home the title at California’s Irwindale Speedway.
Andrew Kosiski, a third-generation racer who is the son of 1986 NASCAR national champion Joe Kosiski, won the track title at Junction Motor Speedway in Nebraska; Mike “Bubba” Brooks won his second Kalamazoo Speedway championship in the final race of the season; Ronnie McCarty tamed the “Concrete Jungle” with five wins to secure his first NASCAR title at Kingsport; Scott Skufca became the first driver to win back-to-back NASCAR championships at Lake County Speedway in Ohio; Greg Edwards won seven times to secure his fifth title at Langley and second in a row; JC Newell became the third different champion at Missouri’s Lebanon I-44 Speedway in its three years with NASCAR; Thomas Tomberello Jr. took home top honors for the third time in the last four years at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway; Jeff Koslakiewicz won his first track championship at Limaland Speedway in Ohio; Wayne Hale captured his first NASCAR track championship with a strong season at Lonesome Pine.
In its first year as a NASCAR-sanctioned track, Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway crowned Zach Riddle as its champion; Jerry McKean drove to his first championship at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho; Bill Kimball Jr. had five wins to claim the title at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, New Hampshire, for the second time in three years; Gary Wiltrout piled up 10 wins at Motordrome Speedway outside of Pittsburgh for his third NASCAR title; Sam Yarbrough racked up 13 checkered flags to roll to his fourth championship – and third in a row – at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina; A year after winning Florida’s Jostens Rookie of the Year, Anthony Sergi earned his first track championship at New Smyrna;
Jacob Gille became the sixth different champion in the last six years at Rockford Speedway in Illinois; Matt Bowling captured his second championship at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway on the strength of five wins; Jon Findley took home his first NASCAR championship at Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina; Mike Leaty earned back-to-back titles at Spencer Speedway in 2006 and 2007, and returned to championship form this year at the New York track; Rowan Pennink won six time en route to his first NASCAR championship at Stafford; And Woody Pitkat added the track title at Thompson to his 2006 crown.
The 2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions were among those honored at the annual year-end awards in Charlotte, North Carolina, in December. NASCAR via Getty Images