SOUTHERN MOD KING BACK ON HIS THRONE AT CARAWAY by Matthew Dillner
Miller Beats Rival Myers for Elusive Mod Tour Win, Falls in Victory Lane
Junior Miller may have 39 SMART Tour wins to his credit, more than any other driver, but he hadn't experienced the sweet taste of victory in a Modified Tour race for quite some time.
Now, the man they call the “King of the Southern Modifieds” has won a bunch at Bowman Gray Stadium over the past few seasons, but as far as the SMART Tour and the newly formed NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Junior has had a blank space in the win column for a while.
That last win came on October 27, 2002 at Caraway Speedway (NC).
Miller's return to Victory Lane came 902 days later at the very same track.
“We went about a year and a half without a win,” said the humble legend. “Tonight we had a real good racecar and that is what won it. We started about 12th and the car went all the way to the front.”
Miller methodically made his way through the field over the course of the 150-lap event. But when he got to second, he knew he then had to face his biggest rival. Burt Myers, a driver with whom he has clashed with so many times, stood between he and his long-awaited win.
Miller knew he had to either go around Myers or through him to reach that elusive win.
“I wanted to get him without knocking him out,” explained Miller. “I knew I could beat him I just had to wait for the right minute and jump by him at the right time. I tried not to move him.”
And with an anxious crowd watching, Miller cleanly passed his nemesis to take the win.
“I had a better racecar and that is why I won the race. If I didn't have as good of a car, I would have had to rough him up a little bit. I knew I had a good enough car to get by him without moving him. If we were even I would have had to lean on him a little bit to shake him up.”
Miller and the Riggs Racing Team celebrate their big Mod Tour win. (51 Photos)
Many of the fans at Caraway were probably surprised with the respect these two heavy-weights showed each other while battling for the win during the closing laps. The Myers-Miller rivalry is one of the greatest racing rivalries in the southeast, and maybe in all of Short Track racing, and usually provides the fans with some sort of juicy late-race drama to talk about on the ride home.
But not on this night.
Myers knew he was beat and admitted he actually didn't mind seeing Miller win.
Miller by his famous #69 Mod. (51 Photos)
“Junior drove me the way I would have drove him and that is all I can ask for,” said Myers after his second-place run. “My hats off to Junior and Riggs Racing. They've been struggling like we have been, especially down here and I don't mind it. I know people will find this hard to believe, but I don't mind seeing Junior win.
“Riggs let us borrow two front shocks before qualifying last week and it really helped us with the car and the win last week. Me and Jeff Riggs and his guys get along real great. Now, me and Junior have had our run-ins in the past and will probably have some more.
“We can get along a whole lot better here together than one of my fans and one of his fans in the stands. They would kill each other.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We will have more on the race in our "leftovers" section later this week on Speed51.com)
WHELEN SMT 150
1. (12) Junior Miller, Pine Hall, N.C., 150
2. (4) Burt Myers, Walnut Cove, N.C.,, 150
3. (5) Brian Loftin, Lexington, N.C., , 150
4. (1) Jay Hedgecock, High Point, N.C., 150
5. (6) Tim Brown, Cana, Va., 150
6. (3) Alex Hoag, Bath, N.Y., 150
7. (7) Jay Foley, Stuart, Va., 150
8. (10) Bobby Hutchens, Lexington, N.C., 150
9. (13) Michael Clifton, Walkertown, N.C., 150
10. (2) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., 150
11. (8) Frank Fleming, Mt. Airy, N.C., 150
12. (11) Jason Myers, Walnut Cove, N.C., 150
13. (16) Gene Pack, Walkertown, N.C., 150
14. (20) Danny Wyatt, Emporia, Va., 149
15. (14) Daren Scherer, Binghamton, N.Y., 145
16. (18) Kevin Eckerich, Clayton, N.C., 145
17. (17) Brian Pack, Walkertown, N.C., 136
18. (9) Brian Crammer, Howell, N.J., 119, accident
Burt Myers has had a history of run-ins with Junior Miller. But this time Miller saw the kinder, friendlier version of Myers. (51 Photos)
“We race each other hard and we know what we can do with the other without going too far. He got by me clean and he won the race. To come down here and lead 140 laps and finish second; there is no way we can have our head down.”
And Myers knew that with only a handful of laps to go and a loose racecar that he was merely a sitting duck.
“I was pretty much just that at that point,” said Myers. “I was hoping for a green-white-checker there. On the restarts, I was better than Junior was. It took his car a while to come in because he was tight and mine was loose, so it would go ahead and go. We were the exact opposite but after a few laps he would come right to me.”
You may think that starting 12th, as Miller did, would have meant using up a racecar up to get to the front. But the veteran saved his right rear tire and had more rubber than Myers in the closing laps.
“I had to save tires all night,” said Miller. “When I caught somebody I would just wait for them to make a mistake and jump by them. I wouldn't pressure them much. I might touch them a little bit and get them excited going into the corner a little too hard. I would run by them there. So doing that, I was able to save the right rear all night and it paid off.
“(Burt) was up front and that is a good place to start. But those guys behind you are going to make you run. Starting 12th can be bad but can be good in ways too. You are not sitting up there leading the race and getting pressured. You can also play the caution game and take it one car at a time and take it easy. When you are up front you have to have the hammer down all the time to stay there. You don't want to go backwards. Sometimes when you are up front here you become a sitting duck. I've done both.”
It is a long time to wait; 902 days and 30 Tour races. And the wait may have been the reason this win was so great for Miller. Plus it was Miller's first win in the record books of the new NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The veteran Mod driver showed that emotion to the fans at Caraway when he climbed from his #69 Mod in victory lane. Miller hopped up on the left-front tire, a celebration tradition for him at Bowman Gray Stadium, and saluted the fans. But in doing so, Miller stumbled on the Hoosier rubber and fell hard onto the ground. But Miller got up and dusted himself off and did his post-race interviews.
“I wasn't used to getting up on the tire like that on a banked track,” laughed Miller. “Bowman Gray is the only place I do that and it is flat. I do that over there all the time but never here.”
Myers had a great view of Miller's victory lane celebration.
“I looked over and I was waiting for everything to calm down and I was going to go congratulate him on the win,” said Burt “The next thing I know I look and he is doing an ‘endo’ off the tire there. Apparently when you win it doesn't hurt when you fall down.”
Although Miller may have some bruises from his fall in victory lane, I bet he wouldn't trade those victory bruises for anything. After 902 days nothing can spoil the feeling of winning.
Caraway Speedway is a place that eats up tires and Junior had to save the right rear on his #69 all night long. (51 Photos)
Junior begins his fall from his on-tire celebration after winning his first NASCAR Southern Mod Tour race.