LUKE FLEMING GETS BIGGEST WIN OF HIS CAREER
One week prior to the big NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race at Bowman Gray Stadium (NC), Luke Fleming was looking at the possibility of being done racing at the track for the rest of the year. After a Sportsman race where he was tossed for the year for a tech violation, Fleming didn’t just go quietly into the night. Instead, he jumped into his father’s Modified to race his first event on the Tour, and it paid off with a huge victory.
Some drivers and fans might think Fleming was handed the victory. After all, due to the carnage, only seven cars finished the race of the 20 that started with just three cars on the lead lap, but avoiding getting terminally damaged in the two big pile-ups paid off for Fleming.
“That was unbelievable,” said Fleming of one of the big wrecks. “Man, I saw cars sitting on top of each other. There were cars everywhere. As I came on around, I asked them on the radio to make sure Frank (his uncle Frank Fleming) was alright and they said he was. I saw myself in the lead and I just tried to keep my composure.”
Late in the race, Fleming saw pressure from George Brunnhoelzl III, but the Fleming family has been around the racing world for years, and the family knowledge passed down to Luke kept him in the lead.
“My daddy has always told me when I get any pressure to just slow down and run my line,” explained Fleming. “A lot of people start pushing their car and getting out of shape. He (Brunnhoelzl) bumped me a couple of times - it wasn’t real hard. That’s the way racers do. They race you clean like that and he definitely did tonight and he showed what kind of driver he was. I kept my composure, tried to hit my marks. Like you said, at the end, I kind of lost a little bit of the pressure.”
The win not only was probably the biggest victory of young Luke Fleming’s career, but possibly the biggest for the Fleming family. Still, well after the race had concluded, the younger Fleming was still beside himself after winning his first Tour race in his first start.
“It definitely hasn’t sunk in. I can’t even believe I’m standing here right now. I can’t even think of what to say. It’s just so amazing. Maybe it will sink in by tomorrow and I’ll have more to say, but I’m totally in shock right now.”
BRUNNHOELZL NOT BENT ABOUT SECOND-PLACE RUN, BUT RIM WAS
George Brunnhoelzl III is known for being a clean driver. At a racetrack where the bump-and-run is part of the culture, everyone expected GBIII to use his bumper to get the win in the closing laps. Instead, he gave the leader a few taps but didn't turn him. Instead he settled for a solid second-place result.
"I was going to bump him and run into him a little," said Brunnhoelzl. "I just wasn’t going to get into him hard enough to turn him around. I just don’t race that way. If I can’t win a race without turning somebody, I won’t. There are other people that would have, but I’m not like that. I like to earn my wins. We weren’t going to push it. It was the #13’s first race on the Tour so congratulations to those guys. I could get to him but I am not going to win a race by turning somebody."
While Brunnhoelzl's bumper wasn't too twisted at the end of the race, his rim certainly was. The left-front rim was bent from some early race contact. After the race, onlookers in the pits shook their heads in disbelief when looking at the wheel that Brunnhoelzl finished the race on.
"We really knocked the left front," laughed Brunnhoelzl. "The rim was destroyed. I don’t know how it even held air."
PACK CREDITS PATIENCE, NOT LUCK, FOR HIS PODIUM FINISH
Seeing Gene Pack finish third in a Tour event might be a shock to some, but not to the driver from behind the wheel. With a massive amount of experience running laps around Bowman Gray Stadium, Pack knew the night was going to be crazy and that the patient drivers would prevail. True, even though luck plays a part in just about every race, Pack credits patience for his third-place finish.
“We knew at the beginning of the race that you’ve got to be patient out there,” said Pack. “Everybody preaches it, but nobody really practices it. We ran the first part of the race half throttle. We were very, very careful on restarts. We wound up on the outside on ever restart it seemed like and that’s nowhere to be here. You just have to be conservative and hope your around for the last 20/25 laps which we were.
“We ran hard and we’d like to win the thing, but Luke (Fleming) had a little bit too much on us and we got stuck on the outside on that final restart. It spun the tires a little bit and that was about it, so we’re taking third place and being really happy with it.”
CAUTION CRASH MIXES UP FIELD EARLY
One of the most bizarre moments of the Advance Auto Parts 199 came 27 laps in and during a yellow flag. George Brunnhoelzl III and Brian Loftin were battling side by side for the lead when the caution came out. Just moments after the flag was flown, their two cars tangled. Since the cars stopped on the track and did not continue a reasonable pace around the track, they lost the on-track spots they held. Brunnhoelzl, Loftin, Burt Myers and a few others lost their spots at the front. After the night was over, both Brunnhoelzl and Loftin were still scratching their heads.
"To be honest with you I’m not 100-percent sure what happened," said Brunnhoelzl. "We got into the corner when the yellow flag came out. Loftin and I got together and it bunched everybody up. To finish where we finished (2nd) after the malay is great."
"I don’t know what happened there." said Loftin. "They said the caution was out when we were on the backstretch. They blinked the lights then they pulled it back. We kept going and Georgie spun the tires. We got underneath him and we raced down the frontstretch. They told me the last second that the caution came out. I don’t know if he came down or I slid up. We just got together. From there it seemed like we were always in the wrong line. Someone would spin the tires or something crazy would happen wherever we were."
HEARTBREAK FOR JOHN SMITH
John Smith inherited the lead when George Brunnhoelzl III and Brian Loftin tangled as the caution flag flew. From that point on, Smith looked as if he would the man on the top of the mountain at races end. He and Brunnhoelzl thrilled fans with a multi-lap side-by-side battle for the lead. Smith ended up on top and stretched his lead. Suddenly, on lap 146, Smith’s #25 slowed and his race was over.
“It was something in the fuel that starved it for fuel,” explained a dejected Smith in the press box shortly after pulling the car in for the night. “It started skipping. That’s the way my luck is. I’ve almost won this race before. I think tonight was the best car I’ve ever had here. We were down on motor, but the thing was going in the turns. It’s just disheartening. I believe that hurt worse than when I lost it on the last lap to Burt Myers. I had the car to beat tonight. When you lose them like that it hurts, but you’ve gotta keep digging.”
Speed51.com later learned that Smith’s team made a mistake and did not have enough fuel in the racecar and simply ran out of gas.
RESTART "BIG ONE" BECOMES TURNING POINT OF THE RACE
When George Brunnhoelzl and LW Miller came off the turn to take the green for the lap 167 restart, little did the estimated crowd of 15-thousand know that it would be the turning point of the race. Miller and Brunnhoelzl made contact when firing off of turn four. Then they tangled coming out of turn two, causing a chain reaction crash that took out several contenders. LW Miller, Bobby Hutchens, Burt Myers, Frank Fleming, Rich Kuiken and Randy Butner were all involved.
So why was it the turning point? Only seven cars restarted the race when the green flag flew again, and the incident gave Luke Fleming the lead.
What caused the big pileup was a point of contention between several drivers, including the front row from that restart.
"On the restart there was a lot of speedy dry down on the high-side coming out of four under that caution so I knew it was going to be tight," said LW Miller. "When we came to the green I tried to hold the car down and keep from letting Georgie push me up the track. I tried to hold my line and he tried to bump me. When he did he must have bounced off and caught the curb because it got him squirrely. He still went even though his car was sideways. He was pointing the wrong way when he jumped on the gas. I waited on him to go because I knew I would get it for jumping the start. NASCAR threw the green because he jumped on it. If he was a smart racer, he would have waited until the car was straight and gone and we both would have had the same start. Because of the way he did it he just messed up."
Brunnhoelzl, who ended up finishing second, said the blame was on LW for the controversial restart.
"The leader starts it and no matter what you don’t go until that pole (specific restart point designated by Tour officials)," said Brunnhoelzl. "So, you wait to the point. I am the race leader so I give the go ahead when we get to that point. Then the guy (Miller) on the outside tries to run into me and then go early. You do stuff like that and it costs people racecars, spots and a lot of money. If you go by the rules everything goes a lot smoother. When you try and stray away from it, it turns into a bad night."
"I got in front of him (Brunnhoelzl), " added LW, "and washed up a little in turn one, just enough for him to stick his nose under there. He and I have been racing each other real hard the last few races. He knows I am going to race him hard every chance I get. I know he’s gonna race me hard. One of these days it’s gonna bite him harder than it has so far though."
Miller finished the race three laps down in fourth place.
TO DOUBLE UP OR NOT? RESTARTS HELP SOME AND HURT OTHERS
NASCAR has seen success with double-file restarts in the Sprint Cup Series. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has used the restart procedure as well. The weekly Mod wars at Bowman Gray Stadium use a version of the double-file restart rule and it's become a fan favorite. So what happened on Saturday night at the Advance Auto Parts 199? Only eight cars were running at the end of the race and there was a lot of carnage. Opinions varied on whether the double-file restart was the cause and if it should stay or go.
"I told you before the race that they were going to be scary," said Burt Myers. "You’ve got a lot of guys that are not familiar with running over here weekly. There’s not much room. You’ve got to be able to give and take a little bit. A lot of these guys don’t give very much and they take a lot.
"Double-file restarts are askin’ for drama," added Myers. "These cars don’t need drama built in, there’s enough drama. It doesn’t really matter what Burt Myers says, but it would be nice to go back to single-file."
"It’s just Bowman Gray," said George Brunnhoelzl. "Double-file restarts are tough, but it was a good crowd-pleaser I guess. It’s hard to race at a place like this double-file and unfortunately all it did was tear up racecars."
"If you look at how many cars were running at the end of the race,” said last year's 199-winner Brian Loftin, "I don’t see how we can come back here next year and do the same restart deal. There is just not enough grip with these wide tires to where you can run two-wide around this little bullring. I think it’s crazy to even try it again."
Other's think the double-file restart is a necessary evil and something that is essential to put on a show for the fans. Some, like Frank Fleming, used the double-up to gain several spots throughout the race.
"You’re at Bowman Gray Stadium and you’re gonna have that," said Frank Fleming while looking at his wrecked racecar after the Advance Auto Parts 199. "The double-file restart is the way to do it. Like it or not. If you don’t like it, stay at the house. My car is tore up. I knew coming here there would be a chance it would get tore up. It’s just part of it. It makes it exciting for the grandstands. We got caught up in a mess early and I used the double-file restarts to get back up front.”
"I love them," said LW Miller. "If it wasn’t for double-file restarts I wouldn’t have went from 14th to the lead. If it wasn’t for double-file restarts I wouldn’t have been battling for the lead at lap 150. I’m all for it."
"There is not a lot of room for it," admitted Zach Brewer, who said he is a fan of the procedure. "I don’t know what you do to fix it because you’ve got to put on a show for the fans. It’s just like the first time they tried it over here (in weekly Mod competition at Bowman Gray)… you’ve got to work the bugs out. Maybe next year when we come here it won’t be so bad. You’ve got to do it. You have to put on a show for the fans."
"Love them," said Andy Seuss without hesitation. "I didn’t think I was going to. I don’t know if it was the wider tires or just how our car was, but we actually passed a few cars on the outside tonight. We got stuck out there. Everybody said you couldn’t pass on the outside. I love the outside. I don’t know if you could have done it later in the race but with the fresh tires I was having a ball doing it early in the race."
So the verdict is still out on whether it was a good idea to run the double-file restart at Bowman Gray or if it should continue next year. In defense of the procedure, George Brunnhoelzl and John Smith did what a lot of people said wasn't possible in a Modified at the Stadium. On a restart they battled side-by-side for about five laps without incident.
UNCLE FRANK PROUD OF HIS NEPHEW
Uncle Frank, Frank Fleming, may have had a crashed racecar in his pit after the 199, but he had a huge grin on his face after celebrating his nephew Luke's big win.
"I’m as proud as I can be," said Uncle Frank. "Chris (brother Chris Fleming) had destroyed that car last Saturday night He was done for the week. Luke got protested, threw out and they (Bowman Gray) barred him from driving for the rest of the year. I'm just not a quitter. When things get bad for me, it’s when I get down and dig. I looked at that (Chris’) car last Sunday and I said ‘I can fix that.’ We took it up to my shop and I started working on it during the day. I had to run my business and worked on it overnight. We got the car fixed back and tried all week to get Luke to drive (the Sportsman car) but they wouldn’t let him. So we said dang-nabit we’ll let him run the Whelen Tour race.
"If I couldn’t win it, I couldn’t have made a prettier picture."
TANGLE TAKES OUT SEUSS AND BREWER
Andy Seuss had high hopes to score a big win in the race with his sponsor's name, but the Advance Auto Parts driver's plan was put on hold early in the race.
"It just felt like there was a freight-train pushing me into turn one," explained Seuss. "I had em’ locked up, but once you get in the marbles, you are pretty much done. I guess the gentleman behind me had some help as well and he got caught up in it. Zack Brewer apologized and told me he had help from LW (Miller). That’s racin’ at the Stadium. It’s kind of crazy to be racing that hard that early on. Some people just don’t get it. It’s too small to be doing that stuff early on and with double-file restarts I don’t know where they thought they were going. It’s unfortunate because all of us got junk racecars because of it."
Brewer was animate in saying that a "bulldozer" caused the incident.
"They all just stopped going into the corner," said Zach Brewer of the incident that took him out of the 199, "and we got tattooed by LW. I believe everybody over here got a little tattoo from LW here tonight."
LW SHRUGS OFF CRITISISM
It was almost a replay of last year's post-race pit-talk. For the second year in a row at the 199, much of the scuttlebutt surrounded LW Miller. The Pennsylvania native shrugged off his competitor's comments and explained that even NASCAR thought he ran a clean race.
"I was told after the race, by the Tour and the Tour officials, that I drove a great race, smart race, and a clean race. I drove a clean race all night long. People are going to cry about LW Miller if I’m involved in anything. If they see my car they say “oh, LW caused it.” That’s why I’m here because I like that people talk."
NO LOVE LOST BETWEEN FLEMING AND JASON MYERS
Two names known in the short track world around the Carolinas, and especially at Bowman Gray Stadium, are Fleming and Myers. Both families have multiple generations of drivers that seem to have green and checkered flags imprinted on their red blood cells. With family racing, it can generate family rivalries, as well as hard racing on the track and harsh comments off.
During the 199-lap event on the tight quarter-mile track, Jason Myers and Luke Fleming made contact, causing an issue on the track and tension off.
“I got up to third or fourth there at one time and Jason took me out,” said Fleming. “That’s par for course for the Myers boys. You just have to take it however it is. I just tried to keep my composure and that’s what I did.
“Jason and Burt (Jason’s brother) are just unpredictable. You never know when they are going to take you out and a lot of times they do. You just have to expect it from those boys and take it however you can and try to keep your composure and go on to keep racing.”
“Luke who? I don’t know,” commented Jason Myers of Fleming, “the black and red car with the yellow stripe on his bumper slams on his brakes going down the straightaway to let the #40 (Frank Fleming, Luke’s uncle) go by both of us. So when we got to the corner I let him know I wasn’t happy about it and he can’t control his racecar enough to keep it in a straight line and drove right back into the side of mine when I was going by him. If this wasn’t Bowman Gray, if it were anywhere else, he wouldn’t even be on the same lap as the rest of us. You see, when there is only three cars on the lead lap at the end and he’s one of them, that’s probably the only time he is going to win himself a race.”
LW THROWS UP RED-FLAG AT RED-FLAG RULING
LW Miller came into the pits after the big tangle on lap 167 of the 199. Briefly after entering the pit area, located behind the field house outside of turns three and four, the red flag was displayed. NASCAR said that Miller changed that tire during the red-flag period and penalized the #36 team, making them do a pit road pass through which put Miller out of contention for the win. Miller disagreed with the call and was at the NASCAR hauler right away when the race was over to discuss it with Tour officials.
He didn't hold back with his thoughts on the penalty and the Tour as a whole.
"I came into the pits under yellow to change a tire," said Miller. 'As I was rolling back out to the gate they threw the red. Apparently because of the way the pits are located here nobody could see what was happening. It’s pitch black back here and there was mass confusion. They held me for two laps because they said that I changed my tire under the red-flag which was 100-percent false. Which they later said, ‘yes, we really don’t know what happened, this place is too confusing.’ NASCAR said it was too dark and we didn’t really have officials in the pits like we need them and we had someone different call the race just about every race. Apparently this tour isn’t meaningful enough on NASCAR’s ladder to employ a full-time (race) director. So whoever is free for the weekend they put with us to call the race. The sad thing about this whole situation is that we’ve come to NASCAR’s bread and butter, backbone racetrack of the NASCAR Modified Tour, and we can’t race against this track heaven forbid and have to race around their weekly schedule, this place does great with or without the NASCAR Tour… but long story short, we can’t even pull a full-field at their bread and butter, backbone racetrack. So maybe they better think about the decisions they make on this tour because it’s definitely running people away.”
ADVANCE AUTO PARTS 200?
The race was called the Advance Auto Parts 199 and was scheduled for 199 laps, but the entire field raced to the checkered flag at lap 200. What happened to 199 laps?
Drivers did take the white flag on the correct lap to complete 199 laps following, but instead of the checkered flag, the white flag was thrown for the second time. It appears that either the flagman or NASCAR officials were confused over the number of laps the event should have completed. Thankfully, nothing happened on the track over that final second white-flag lap and all was well at the end of the night, despite the gaff.
BURT PLAYS THROUGH THE PAIN
When a driver isn’t feeling 100-percent, they often play through the pain. Burt Myers used guts and some Advil to get through the Advance Auto Parts 199.
"It hit me last night after I got out of the car after qualifying for the Stadium (Mod) race," said Myers of his back pain. "It eased off a little. After the race I was going into the trailer. As I took a step up into the trailer I about hit my knees. I don’t think I got but about two hours sleep last night. I fell asleep on the heat pad and woke up on the heat pad. I was at the chiropractor at eight this morning. He popped me and cracked me around and said I have a ruptured disc. I took my Advil and got my ice on and have to be at the chiropractor at eight in the morning again. He’s gonna see if he can get me straightened out, but a ruptured disc don’t sound that good to me."
A good finish would have probably made Myers' back feel better. Unfortunately, Myers was in the wrong place at the wrong time all night, leading to a 12th-place finish.
"It’s definitely not one of them nights that you want to be 50-laps down. If I was 20-laps down I still would have finished fifth or sixth. A guy told me last night that Richard Petty told him one time that you can’t put the spilled milk back in the glass. You just gotta wipe it up and move on."