Gutsy Call Nets Win For LW Miller In Southern Mod Opener by Jason Buckley and Matthew Dillner
A Flat Tire ‘Stay Out’ Wins Thriller for Miller
Going into the season-opening NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified tour race at Caraway Speedway, the buzz surrounded Junior Miller on his quest for a third-straight series championship. While Junior wasn’t a factor all weekend, it was the other Miller, LW, stealing the headlines by crossing the finish line first in unique fashion – with a left-front tire that has been going flat for nearly 30 laps.
LW Miller in victory lane - flat tire, trophy and all. (51 Photo)
“I was a little leery of his left-front tire going flat,” said Myers, who crossed the line second behind Miller. “I tried to lay back and didn’t know if he was going to go up or down. I probably could have boogered him and gotten by him, but it was just one of those deals where we were just going to take second and see if we can go to Nashville and win one next week.”
“I would lose my side-bite as the race went on, so on restarts it was perfect. “I don’t know why, maybe it was because my car got in so good. It kind of felt like everyone else was tip-toeing into the corner. Man, I’d just let it fly out there. If you were really paying attention, LW picked up two-tenths when he moved up and started running my line. He ran a good race.”
For Myers, his race was filled with more drama than a Saturday afternoon Matinee. Starting from the pole position, he led the field around the track for nearly half the race. When LW Miller drove by for the lead, Myers struggled with the competition behind. Multiple close calls and an eventual wreck between he and Christopher cost him a few positions on the track, forcing him to fight hard to get back towards the front.
“I think if we hadn’t had so much adversity and would fall back and then pass cars, fall back and pass more cars, we would have been good to go from the beginning,” said Myers. “When LW got past me, I still wasn’t trying to press the car. I knew I had something left and it showed at the end. I just ran out of time.
“When I had to come back up and pass those cars, I had to use up too much tire. I would pass a car and let the tires cool down and then pass another car. When I looked up at the board, it said ‘ten-to-go,’ and I knew I had to go. I probably could have been a little bit more aggressive and won the race, but I didn’t want to take out the whole field since his left-front was going down. He got lucky that his left-front held up. Anyone else and that left front would have come off the rim, and he would have wrecked the whole field.”
“Fortunately it was the left-front and not a right-front or right-rear that was going flat,” said Miller. “That is the least important wheel on the car. That probably helped us a little bit being the left-front tire, because I could get off the corner real hard because it wedged the car up pretty good without
Miller's #36 Modified. (Rich Ibsen Photo)
With 20 laps to go, LW separated his car from the rest of the field by a small margin, hoping he would last to the checkered flag. Meanwhile, Burt Myers, who had lost spots after the tangle with TC, motored his way back up to second place in dramatic fashion using the outside-groove. Then Myers set his sites on Miller’s #36 for the win. A late caution flag tightened up the field, giving Myers a shot at the win and LW some late-race butterflies.
“When the caution came out with 10 laps to go, I was really worried,” said Miller. “When we stopped down there between turns three and four on the race track, the tire was all the way flat at that point. It was on the rim. I knew we had 10 laps left to race, so I thought we were done. At that point we couldn’t pit. So I figured worst-case scenario we would work around the track with a flat tire and try to stay on the lead lap. When we went back racing, I think it was five to go. I just drove it as hard as I could and blocked Burt as much as I could, and I ended up winning.”
having any air holding it up there. I just had to be real careful getting into the corner. I was pretty lucky I guess.”
With the tire going down, Miller put on a blocking clinic to keep Myers behind him. This style of racing can get a driver in trouble and into the wall, but Miller wasn’t giving up the lead for anyone, even if he had to suffer the consequences.
“I don’t usually get concerned with anybody behind me, whether it is Teddy Christopher or Burt Myers or Junior Miller,” said LW. “They are all good, hard racers, and we all try to do what we can to beat each other. But we also don’t want to be dirty about it. We want to beat each other fair and square. Usually when it comes down to a deal like that, if you get beat, you get beat because you deserved to get beat. I was up there crippled up with a left-front tire flat. If Burt would have drove up to me and turned me around, I would have felt that was probably my fault for blocking and doing what I had to do. Luckily it all worked out for us and we ended up winning, so I cannot complain.”
A win is always a good feeling, especially at the start of the racing season, as it puts a driver into the points lead early, providing them with great momentum early on. For LW, the solid points day means something, but it is still too early to think about taking the championship ring away from Junior Miller, who finished sixth.
“I am not really looking at points just yet,” explained Miller. “Since NASCAR has taken over, I have not run for points yet. I finished third last year in points, but I didn’t go to all the races. If I had gone to all the races, I do not think we would have been talking about Junior being the champion last year; we would have been talking about me being the champion. The two years of Modified racing that I did run for points and run all the races, I won the championships. In both of those years I didn’t finish better than ninth in the first race of the season, so I told Jimmy Baker going into this race, ‘if we could get out of here with a top five, we would be in good shape.’
Starting third in the field, LW Miller drove an uncharacteristic race. Usually he fades back at the start to save his equipment and then charges late in the going. But with 31 cars showing up to race (with five cars cut from the field after qualifying), Miller knew he needed to alter his race plan.
“My typical routine at Caraway is to drop back to about 9th or 10th place,” said LW Miller. “I usually just ride for 75 or 100 laps and race the last 50. But with the competition the way it was, I knew that wasn’t going to work. When I redrew the third starting spot, I decided to stay up near the front.
On a warm North Carolina evening in front of a packed house, Burt Myers led the field to the green flag. Starting behind Myers, Miller followed him around the track while gauging when to make his move.
“I rode behind Burt (Myers) at the start. I felt that I could have gotten around him for the lead but Jimmy Baker, my crew chief, got on the radio and told me to just ride for a while. I ended up letting the 23 car go by me and got back to third. At that point Teddy Christopher was behind me, and I knew if I let him get by me, he would be hard to pass back later, so I decided to just stay where I was at. We rode for a bit more until Burt and (Brian) Loftin started falling off a little bit. We decided to go ahead and go, and once I passed Lofton, he and Burt got together and I drove by Burt. I pretty much checked out at that point.”
LW cruised out to a 10-car-length lead for a comfort buffer and decided to ride around the track not pushing his #36 machine too hard. On lap 119, his confidence changed to concern when a multiple-car wreck, triggered by contact between Ted Christopher and Burt Myers, scattered debris across the track. Before the track officials red-flagged the field to clean up the mess, LW Miller drove through the debris field, cutting his left-front tire.
“When Burt and Teddy got together, I went through the crash on the front stretch,” said LW Miller. “I must have run something over with the left-front because sitting there under the red flag I could see the tire going down. I got on the radio and said we are getting a flat on the left-front and they said just run it and see what we’ve got. If we pitted that late in the race, we would have been doomed. I was a little leery of that, but Jimmy Baker made the call to keep going, so I did.
“When we went back to racing, the car wasn’t that bad. I actually drove back away from Burt after a couple laps once the tires got heated up.”
Burt Myers chose not to use the front bumper of his #1 to get the lead. (51)
“Is it going to make it easier (after the win)? Sure, at least I am off to the right start. But there is some wicked competition from what I saw. Junior is always going to be tough, even if he did have an off night. Tim Brown is going to be tough all year long. It looks like Burt has got his stuff together. Usually Caraway isn’t one of his better race tracks. It is early but it is better to finish first than 10th, so we will take it, race each race and see what we’ve got.”
Ted Christopher was among those involved in this mid-race logjam. (Rich Ibsen Photo)