Roller Coaster Run

Payton Looney - Kenny Shaw photo

Soon-to-be dad Payton Looney has maintained a positive outlook despite some tough luck in the 2017 season. (Kenny Shaw photo)

Payton Looney’s 2017 has been anything but boring and hasn’t reached the finish line yet.

The 23-year-old from Republic, Mo., plans to have his Rocket XR1 back together in time for Saturday night’s Lucas Oil MLRA Larry Phillips Memorial at Lucas Oil Speedway. This after a wreck that pretty well destroyed the car last Saturday night at 1-55 Speedway.

Looney has just moved into fourth place in a strong field when Bobby Pierce clipped the wall in front of him, flipped onto his roof and left nowhere for Looney to go. Cars from behind, in a chain-reaction, piled into Looney’s white-and-yellow No. 15.

“A lot of the damage was cosmetic and looked a little worse than it was,” Looney said of his Atnip Motorsports ride. “Nothing that we can’t fix.”

Looney described the incident as typical of a season in which he’s been fast and in contention a bunch – often against top-notch competition – only to have something go amiss.

Like during Show-Me 100 weekend, when he was fast qualifier on night two and finished sixth in the Tribute to Don and Billie Gibson. That earned him a third-row starting spot in the Show-Me 100, but a mechanical issue early in the race left his engine in flames.

“We’ve been fast just about everywhere we’ve been, against both the regional and national guys,” Looney said. “We know we can compete. We just have to take that next step and be able to finish instead of running up front and breaking or getting caught up in a wreck.

“We’ve had stuff happen. It has been a rollercoaster, I guess.”

But for the upbeat and personable Looney, a recent graduate of Missouri State University, it’s hard to keep him down. Off the track, it’s an exciting time as he and wife Emilee soon will welcome their first child.

After this weekend’s action, Looney said his racing plans will be uncertain until the baby boy is born. He called it “an exciting time for us” and said he’s eager for life as a dad.

Meanwhile, Looney looks to continue his racing education as he concludes his second season in an open Late Model after a standout 2015 in the Lucas Cattle Company ULMA Late Model division.

Payton Looney during driver intros

Payton Looney during driver intros (Kenny Shaw photo)

“You learn every time you strap into the car,” Looney said, whose best MLRA finish this season is a second to three-time series champ Terry Phillips at the Freedom Classic at Salina Highbanks Speedway.

“I thought we might have something for him at the end,” Looney said of the veteran. “I think experience got me late in the race. Those MLRA races are tough. I feel like we have the best regional cars in the country that race around here. That makes us better, I guess.”

Phillips gave Looney his stamp of approval for way he handles himself on and off track.

“Especially as young as he is, just starting out, he does a real good job,” Phillips said. “He’s not a weapon out there. And he’s nice to people.”

The Lucas Oil MLRA Late Models race for a $5,075-to-win feature at the Larry Phillips Memorial. Meanwhile, the Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mods go after $1,075 in a 30-lap main event.

Gates will open at 5 p.m. Saturday evening on the dirt track with hot laps at 7 and racing at 7:30. Fans who purchase a ticket to Saturday’s Diamond Drag Boat Nationals or a three-day boat-race pass are admitted to the dirt track free.

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