Wheatland, Missouri (August 14, 2020) - In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Republic, Missouri's Payton Looney transitioned from a winless Lucas Oil MLRA feature winner, to a four-time series winner and Champion of the 28th Annual Show-Me 100, Presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com. A pretty remarkable accomplishment for most in a career, but the Atnip Motorsports driver accomplished all that in a span of just 22 days.
Now, almost a month removed from his Crown Jewel victory, Looney finally has a chance to sit back and reflect on the magnitude of the win. "It was so big in the moment that it took a while to really set in," said Looney. "The fact that we raced the next night and then we turned around and ran the next Thursday and Friday with the Summer Nationals, it didn't give me enough time to set back and actually look at what we did and what we had accomplished. I'm really thankful now that it happened that way, but at the same time it would have been nice to have a few weeks to kind of kick back and relax and see it from the outside looking in."
It was a near perfect Saturday night for the Lucas Oil MLRA point leader, picking up the overall fast time award (his 4th of the MLRA season), a heat race win, and leading all but thirteen laps en route to the $20,000 vicotry.
But did his first Super Late Model win at the Diamond of Dirt Tracks come as he expected? "If I said yes I would be lying, but I knew that I would be competitive. I knew as good of year as I have had, and as good as we have been everywhere, that I would be competitive at the Show-Me. But to think it would happen the way it did, nobody broke to give me the lead, nothing crazy happened for me to take the lead. Just for it to happen the way it did was the biggest surprise to me instead of you know a really close race or something like that," he concluded.
|Looney on the gas at Wheatland-- Lloyd Collins FastTrack Photos|
Looney's last two MLRA victories came hundreds of miles from home, leading to simple celebrations with car owner Jeremy Atnip and crew, often capped off with FaceTime victory lane celebrations with his wife and children--but this time it was different, much different for the 26 year-old. "Once I saw that we had made weight and I turned the corner there were tons of people standing there and I was high fiving everybody."
"I think the way you carry yourself and represent yourself and try to have time for every single person and just try to be the best person you can, that it maybe showed in the amount of people that were there for victory lane. A lot of times people tend to clear out, but I felt like 100% of the people were still in the stands when I got out of the car and that was pretty special to me. It was just a real cool feeling," continued Looney.
"I wish my son was a little bit older and my daughter too, to be able to understand the magnitude of what had happened, but either way it's something that I will never forget, or my wife will ever forget--just every single person that was there on that front straight-a-way, I mean I hope everybody remembers it the same way I do."
Just one week after joining all-time MLRA win leader Terry Phillips as the only Missouri drivers to win their home states crown jewel event, the celebration surprisingly continued for Looney in a gathering with family and friends.
"I'm building a place close to my grandparents and my wife had me strangely drive by there first. We had had already been out there once that day so I kind of knew something was up, but not really. Then we turned the corner to my grandparents and everybody was lined up on the street, so I knew something was up," said Looney. I was told it was going to be a family dinner and was just expecting to grill some burgers and hang out, but it was pretty cool."
Lloyd Collins--FastTrack Photos
Big time wins in any sport also tend to bring with it a rush of fanfare and media in a day and age that is dominated by social media. The rush of media in the hours and days following was really neat according to Looney, who took the time to answer to every reporter one by one in the tech building following the win, all while his family and friends awaited him at his hauler.
"I've done a lot of weird interviews to the point some didn't know anything about racing, so that's been the bizarre part. A lot of the stuff says it was an upset and I guess it probably was to an extent. But I feel like I should have been winning these races for a long time and circumstances to some degree, some in my control and some out of my control, have prevented us from winning some of these big races. Maybe if I had been able to have won some of those races like I thought I should have, maybe it wouldn't have came as such a surprise to everyone."
It's not every day a small town regional series late model driver goes toe-to-toe with the big leaguers of the sport and comes away with the win, but for Looney it's all a reflection and result of hard work and dedication. "The biggest thing is you can't worry about what everybody else is doing, you've got to focus on yourself and the things you can control." Me and Marshall (Green) talk about it a lot. You can't control circumstances, you can only control the things you can control which is the biggest thing for me."
"I know we only have one car and one motor and I've heard some comments about how I basically run out of an open trailer. I don't know if that was just stabs or what, but we'll take that in stride you know, and if we can race out of this "open trailer" and win races we will take it," Looney joked.
Looney will lead the MLRA back into action on Labor Day weekend, holding onto a 120-point lead over two-time series champion Chad Simpson and rookie candidate Jeremiah Hurst. However, when the series goes back green it will be a new role for Looney, as the series marked man to beat. "It's been a different feeling just because people are talking about you and I'm not used to that," said Looney. "I guess that's a good thing because it means your fast, but regardless of who is saying what I'm going to keep doing the same things I have always done and hopefully it pays off."