In Craig County, when the name Looney is mentioned, many know that “racing” is probably attached as well as the term “winners.”
Since 1965, the Looney family has delved into the racing sport with their feet, hands and heart.
Recently, Mike Looney won the titles of The Motor Mile Speedway Nascar Whelen All-American Series 2019 Late Model Champion, Track Champion and State Champion in Virginia and also took second place in the Nascar Whelen All-American Series in North America. Yes, second in the nation.
His dad, Ronnie, started drove in 1965 when there was a dirt track at the Pulaski County Speedway.
“I guess I liked drag racing before circle track racing in ’65,” Ronnie shared as he owned a huge station wagon that he decided he wanted to drag race with. “The first time we took it to the racetrack, the inspectors asked me, ‘What are you going to do with that thing?’ Ronnie responded, “I’m going to race it.” Their response was, “Man, that ain’t a race car, that’s a camper.”
So, Ronnie named it “The Camper” and needless to say, his own words became reality as he won many trophies with it.
Later, Ronnie started driving in the Pure Stock Division on the circle track.
His good friend, James Dudding, shared, “He took that motor out of ‘The Camper’ drag car and dropped it into a ’55 Chevy and we all built his first track car.”
“It was the original red and white 02 car. Your dad and his brothers helped me build it,” Ronnie said to Pam Dudding, who remembered the races as a small child. “Those were the days.”
Ronnie went on to have three sons – Jim, David and Mike.
Looney shared that he believed he was born with the fever of racing and it was easy to see how. “All my generation grew up with the Dukes of Hazard. I don’t’ know a boy my age that didn’t run Tub Run or Johns Creek with Waylon Jennings on the radio,” he said.
Jim and David are Mike’s two older brothers. “I always tell everybody, them two were mistakes,” David said with raised eyebrows. Ronnie laughed and shook his head.
“Mike was more like an only child,” Jim shared. “David and I are 12 and 13 years older than he, so he didn’t have any competition, more like he had three dads. Being teenagers and in our early 20s, let’s just say we knew what was out there for people to get into and we (David especially) made sure he had things to occupy his time and keep him out of trouble.”
Ronnie bought Mike a go-cart. “Mike got mad in the middle of the hayfield and the rest as they say, is history,” Jim explained.
Mike grinned as he started talking about his go-cart racing as a youngster. “I’d ride it in the hayfield,” he said.
David said he drove it in a circle so much that Mike actually made a track. “It didn’t take long until we all were building go-carts and racing in the field,” David said before adding, “It didn’t matter which one Mike got on, he would always win, fair and square. He just has a gift when it comes to driving.”
As a teenager, Mike said that his brother’s friends, Scott Zysk and Lee Sarver, used to race some back then. “I would watch his car go by on Saturday evening and beg them to go to the race,” Mike said.
Sarver remembers when they would go cart racing. “That’s when I knew he was a good racer. I had been racing for several years at that time. That little feller would burn our tails up and he was only about 12-years-old. He would roast me. In fact, he would burn us all up,” said Sarver while reminiscing. “As the years went on, I saw he had a big desire to race and came up to the garage and ask questions.” When Sarver got out of racing, Mike bought his car and old motor.
“Even from the very beginning, Mike was fast. Me and Scott built the car in the early 90s, put it together and it ran pretty good. I had so many obligations going on at the time and with all that sickness, I decided to get out of it, and that’s how we ended up selling the car to Mikey,” Sarver said. “It’s amazing to see from where he came from to where he went. Mikey’s really down to earth. Me and David were pretty inseparable when we were younger; he helped me on my race cars all those years. Who knew? I did get to a couple of races; I couldn’t stand it, I had to go.”
That relationship began his first race car. “And that was the beginning of the addition,” Mike said. It was a 1974 Ford Torino. He headed to the Franklin County Speedway where “he won the Pure Stock Championship.”
Jim expressed that he always tried to get to as many races as he could, and help to take their dad to the races or his house to watch them on the internet when they were shown.
“I used to help him a little but life always got in the way. Very few people realize the time and effort that goes into preparing a race car,” Jim said. “I was super excited for Mike. The crew, Billy Martin and dad Mike I was very excited and happy for him winning. The level of competition he had to outrace to get the championship was incredible. Phillip Morris, Kyle Dudley and Kres Vandyke all had a shot at the championship if Mike hadn’t been so dominant.”
Jim added, “The way Mike and his crew conducted themselves in and out of the car showed them to be a class act.
He continued, “I think everyone thought that at least a second-place finish in the track standings was possible, but I don’t think anyone had any dreams of competing for the national championship. Neither dreams nor the money. But, after finding himself leading in the nation early in the season, he had to give it a try.”
Jim went on to share that Mike’s success kept coming; people started noticing and near the end of the season when the money had run out, businesses, fans and even competitors started helping out. “They were providing things as simple as a case of water and food for the crew to giving cash donations,” Jim explained. “Other drivers even came from other tracks and competitors who had not planned to race came to compete to get the car count up so Mike could get the maximum points (16 or more cars on the track give you maximum points). Car count figures heavily into the points calculations for the national championship. The ‘grassroots’ support was overwhelming.”
David shared that he had helped every day up until just a few years ago.
“I’m very proud of Mike’s talent, dedication and never quit spirit. He was never spoiled. He has put his heart and soul into everything he has achieved. He was probably seven or eight and a neighbor would take him to Motor Mile every Saturday. I think he was 15 when he bought his first race car that Lee Sarver and Scott Zysk built.”
David continued, “We took it to Franklin County Speedway, and he took to the track like a duck to water. After just a few races, he was running up front and won some his first season.”
The ironic part was that Mike wasn’t old enough to drive on the road yet, but David said, “He sure could drive on the track.”
“It’s been a year that you could only dream about and to finish number two in the United States in Late Model,” Ronnie said with a smile as big as Texas. “He was number one for a long time and had a bad race and got knocked out of it; he only missed it by only a very few points.”
“I’ve always been impressed by his driving and mechanical ability,” David continued. “He understands the geometry and the forces going on with the car, but what impresses me the most he has always been humble about it. He has never boasted or bragged about his accomplishments. He gives credit to the Lord and his team. He is a true champion on and off the track.”
Mike shared that his family is very important to him, and the pictures of him hugging his dad need no explanation.
Ronnie proudly explained every trophy of Mike’s, as he gently touched each. “I think I’m going to have to get a bigger table.” Ronnie said later, as Mike tried to place another trophy on it, “I’m really proud of him.”