Speed, experience, lots of adrenaline and a true love for the sport of racing is required if one wishes to be a winner on a racetrack. Mike Looney, 41, seems to have been “born with it” in his veins, say his family and friends.
Mike Looney was recently named the 2019 Late Model Track Champion at the Motor Mile Speedway. His older brother Jim posted the pictures on Facebook because Looney “doesn’t do the Facebook thing.” Within a few hours, the post had over 300 likes and almost 100 comments.
Some of the comments read, “Well deserved gentlemen,” “Heck yea brother,” “Me and your mom are so proud of you,” “Most deserving team and family,” “Best man for the job! Well done team – you are the best,” “Whelenman Mike Looney is a true racer,” “So very proud of you and the whole team! WAY TO GO,” “Congratulations! It couldn’t have happened to a better man and group of hard-working guys,” and “Congratulations Mike. That smile on Ronnie’s face is priceless.”
Jim added, “In the end if there had been only one or two more cars in a couple of the races, Mike would have won the national championship. After the last race, it was briefly disappointing to not win, but it was short-lived by focusing on the fact that second in the nation was a near-impossible feat. Probably 1000 to one odds if Vegas bet on such a thing.”
David Looney added, “Amazing things happen when you put all the right ingredients into something. A lifetime of dedication, good people, a never quit constitution and a request for the Lord’s blessing on all of it and here you go. Congratulations to all of you.”
Not only did Mike win the Motor Mile Speedway Nascar Whelen All-American Series 2019 Late Model Champion, Track Champion and State Champion in Virginia, he also took second place in the Nascar Whelen All-American Series in North America.
“We beat out the local legend Phillip Morris and Peyton Sellers (South Boston Speedway Champion) for state title for 14 victories,” Mike noted.
The Speedway has gone through a few owners and names including, Pulaski Speedway, New River Valley Speedway and in most recent years, Motor Mile Speedway, owned by David Hagan and Larry Shelor.
At the Motor Mile Awards Ceremony, Mike gave a heartfelt speech after congratulating the other champions and runner-up winners in the other divisions. All of you, he said, are like my family.
Mike also noted that Tommy Fleming was his first car owner when he started racing in 1999 at the New River Valley Speedway. “The reason I do my victory lap on the backstretch of the pits is because that’s where my kind of people are. I put my time in and they are real racers over there,” he said.
Mike raced in the Limited Division and when that was deleted, he said he had to go to Late Model and “got my behind kicked for 15 years.”
“I learned a lot taking a beating. We couldn’t pour the money out, but we poured out the sweat. And, I appreciate my dad. I told him one day, ‘you ain’t no rich dad, but you had retired and went back to work so we could race Pure Stock back in the 90s and that means a lot.”
Mike added that a lot of people have touched his career and that “each moment and each relationship” has been special to him.
“It’s mind-boggling what it takes when you’re not rich to stand up here today. I got to thank Billy Martin,” Mike said before adding, “When I started driving for Billy, it was just for fun and we kept building it up. Billy kind of brought a part to our team that I had been missing. I used to think if you just wanted it bad enough and worked hard enough, you could get it, but God’s got a big factor into what’s going to happen. Billy lives right and he leads us right and we have a prayer before every race and for what it’s worth, other’s might want to try it because it’s worked out pretty good for us.”
Ronnie Looney, Mike’s father, is also a known name in racing. When Mike was asked how his dad usually reacts to all his wins, he responded, “He smiles mostly.”
Later, as Mike sat comfortably in his Dad’s home, Mike shared his racing history as his dad kept a continuous warm smile on his face.
When asked what his favorite part of racing was, Mike responded, “I guess it’s passing cars and going fast, being able to outsmart someone and set them up for a pass. It’s more of the mental aspect of it.”
His wife, Becky, said it has been their lifestyle. She said people ask her how it’s a hobby, but she quickly adds, “it’s a true lifestyle, because we have dived so deep into it.” Mike, who ran 35 races on seven different racetracks, continued, “It’s a Sunday through Friday thing, working on them.”
Mike said it was, “kind of crazy as we run our own car in the 90s and won the title of the Pure Stock Track Championship in Franklin County in 1998.”
He added they had a few exciting times as well, “We had to go to the Courthouse, got in two brawls, dad even got hit in the head with a torque wrench and got sprayed with pepper spray.” Ronnie just laughed, as he said he got in the middle of it too.
Mike noted, “Then I got my first gig as a driver for someone else, Tommy Fleming in the Limited Sportsman in 1999 and went to the New River Valley Speedway.”
“Tommy told me Saturday, and I didn’t know this, that the reason he let me drive back then was that he talked to Billy Martin who was racing at the time, and Billy said that he would let me drive his car. Tommy said he had never seen me race, but said, ‘If he’s good enough for Billy Martin then he is good enough for me,’” Mike said. “My last car owner told my first car owner and it’s now like a big circle that has come together in 20-year circle.”
From that conversation, Fleming let Mike drive his car and in 2000, he won the Limited Sportsmanship Championship.
“I raced Tommy’s car first, and then Billy’s and about ten more in between for a bunch of others, including the Big 02 car that Joe Dudding (Pam Dudding’s uncle) helped to build,” Mike said. “We wish we still had him too.”
“Dad actually went in 2001 with Joe and Doodle and ran at Coburn. I got to drive the 02 for them one year too,” said Mike who had six or seven more car owners and different teams in 15 years. Once Billy Martin retired from driving, he suggested Mike drive to drive.
“I got hooked up with Billy Martin out of Stuart, driving for him and it’s been a good relationship getting to have fun with no expectations and we don’t point fingers at why we didn’t’ win,” Martin said. Billy has been fighting lung cancer the last few years. “He is my car owner.”
Mike said he couldn’t quite remember how many races he and Billy have won together but thinks it’s over 25 victories in last four years, including the most prestigious race in the country, the 2016 Valley Star Credit Union 300.
Mike added a little New Castle side note. “I’m driving cars built by Forest Reynolds, who grew up on Wagner Street in New Castle, and has since moved to Concord, North Carolina, where he runs a racing business.”
“He was a wild child,” Mike said with a laugh. “When he first started, I helped him on his mini-stock and then he ran with it fulltime and now is helping me. He started in Franklin County in mini-stock and then moved up to Late Model Truck at New River before Motor Mile. He was the crew chief for Phillip Morris, and they won first place in North America last year and Forest helped Phillip get his fifth national title.”
Mike drives two cars that belong to Billy Martin. One is a Ford and the other a Chevy. When Mike was asked what one he prefers to drive, his immediate answer was, “fast.”
“To compete with those guys, you have to have a full toolbox,” Mike said. “We won Martinsville and most races in the Ford; it’s been good to us.”
Winning the track championship, state championship and placing second in the nation is an unbelievable dream for most.
“I started in 1999 at the Speedway and it took me 20 years to do it,” he said. “We finally won the top honors and it’s been a pretty cool journey.”
Mike shared that racing will probably forever be in his blood. “I spent too much of my life learning every aspect of racing to not put it to some use. 20 years of experience has no value in the real day life. This is it for me. I love it.”