Middlebrooks Dominates VIPER Pro Late Model FInale at SAS  by Paul Boswell
Top-Five Gives Michael Pope PLM Championship
PLM winner Duwayne Middlebrooks in Victory Lane didn't have much competition at South Alabama Speedway.  (Mark Chisum photos)
Snakes… lot’s of them. Each race of the “Viper” Pro Late Model Series at South Alabama Speedway is named after a snake. They have run the Canebrake, the Diamondback and the Pygmy to name a few. The final Pro Late Model Viper race of the 2007 season, the Cottonmouth 100, saw 29 cars check in for a shot at the $3,000 first prize.
Coming into the evening’s event, Ronnie Sanders held a 30-point lead in the series’ standings over 17-year-old Michael Pope.  Sanders was confident he would be able to bring home his second straight Viper PLM championship.

“Michael [Pope] is running real good right now and he drew the pole,” said Sanders before the race.  “I gotta just stay out of trouble and get a good finish. I’m pretty confident we can get it done.”

South Alabama Speedway has a unique inversion rule, where the top seven qualifiers draw for their starting position. Fast qualifier Pope was lucky enough to draw the pole, while fourth fastest Duwayne Middlebrooks drew the outside pole. The big loser in the invert was second-quick qualifier David Hodges, who wound up starting seventh.

Middlebrooks was not very happy with his starting position, even though he moved up two spots with the invert to the outside pole.
“I would have rather drew a three instead of a two so we could be on the inside line,” said Middlebrooks.

His feelings about the invert quickly changed as he was able to get a great jump on the initial start and secure the lead and go on to dominate, leading all 100 laps.

“I had a good racecar. The second groove was good tonight. My old two-barrel car ran good tonight. I never really felt pressured.”

The real race was for second. Sanders, Pope, Andy Pugh and Donald Crocker all took their turns in the second position. Pugh held the second spot until turn three on the final lap when fifteen year old Crocker got Pugh out of shape and snaked by him for runner-up finish.
It was Crocker’s best-career finish.

“It feels good,” said Croker.  “This is the best we ever done. I tried to wait around a little bit, try to catch the leaders, ya know. When I had a chance I was gonna try to go ahead and go with them. I didn’t mean to do that old boy wrong ya know, he just was slow. I had to get up and do something to get second.”
Hodges took advantage of Crocker’s bump-and-run to get by Pugh by a nose to take third at the finish line.

“Oh man that was a heck of a race,” said Hodges. “We had a real fast racecar, not sure if  maybe we didn’t have the one to beat tonight. Me messed around and drew a seven and they inverted us back-to-the-back.  These cars are so equal, its just hard to come back from that far back. The last 15 laps or so we started coming on really strong.”

Donald Crocker (#6) makes his move on Andy Pugh late in the race.
Pugh was not happy about a fourth place finish under the circumstances.

“We had a pretty good car,” said Pugh.  “We didn’t have much for Middlebrooks. He was strong. We could work on him a few times there on the restarts, but when we got going, he just stretched it out on us. We were pretty tight all night and couldn’t ever get it freed up. On cold tires we weren’t much good.”

“I don’t know at the end.  I guess the guy figured when it comes down to the last lap he could just dump me.”

The point leader coming in to the evening’s race, Sanders, fell out on lap 26 from damages as a result of losing his left-rear wheel, finishing in the 23rd position.

Pope took home fifth spot, and earned the season points championship.