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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It's a call Lee Pulliam's gotten before. Three times, in fact.
It was a little extra sweeter, however, the fourth time NASCAR Vice President of Weekly and Touring Series George Silbermann informed him that he was the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion.
"It was one of the best phone calls I have ever received," said Pulliam Thursday. "It's been a pretty long week, I tell you that. But it's all been worth it."
Pulliam watched his nearest challenger, Trevor Huddleston, sweep the twin Late Model features at California's Kern County Raceway Park on the final weekend points are awarded for NASCAR national standings. And then they waited as the season-long points were tabulated and confirmed. In the end, the Senora, North Carolina, driver who now hails from Virginia, won the title by three points.
Pulliam finished with 688 to Huddleston's 685.
What makes this championship different, said Pulliam, was he was able to share it with his new family. He and his wife LeAnne welcomed daughter Brantley Pulliam last July. Her birth was one of the reasons Pulliam said he scaled back his schedule last season. This year, he was back chasing the national championship and was able to do it with his wife and daughter in Victory Lane.
"It's special to me: She changed my life a lot and I hope one day she'll look back on the memories we're building," said Pulliam. "One of the reasons I wanted to win this one so bad was because of them.
"Maybe one day she'll be a NASCAR champion."
Lee Pulliam was able to make Victory Lane a family visit this season. Corey Latham
Running Late Model Stock Car all over the southeast, Pulliam collected 19 wins, 36 top fives and 43 top 10s in starts at South Carolina's Myrtle Beach Speedway and Anderson Speedway, as well as North Carolina's Southern National Raceway Park, Hickory Motor Speedway and Caraway Speedway, and Virginia's Dominion Raceway, Motor Mile Speedway and South Boston Speedway.
It was Myrtle Beach -- a relatively new track for Pulliam, a former track champion at South Boston and Motor Mile -- where he did most of his damage. He had 14 wins and three runner-up finishes in 17 races at the historic 0.538-mile oval notorious for being hard on tires.
"They're all special in different ways," said Pulliam of his previous national championship runs in 2012-13 and 2015. "This was particularly special to me because of the hard work that went into winning it. It wasn't easy leaving Motor Mile, leaving South Boston, places I was accustom to winning. We really worked hard and tested a lot of stuff. I didn't know how good we were until we got into the racing.
"We just kept on it and it all worked out. We had to beat some really big names to do it, so it was awesome."
It is the second title Pulliam drove the No. 5 Kiker Tree Service Chevrolet for car owner Eddie Kiker and Eddie's son Travis. Pulliam credited Chris Crosby and Matt Taylor for their crew chief support.
The title run ties him with Philip Morris for second most national titles, one behind the late Larry Phillips. The three are the only drivers to win crown more than once.
In addition, Pulliam claimed the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series South Carolina title to go with his North Carolina (2014) and Virginia (2012-15) trophies. He's finished in the top five in national points each of the last seven years. In that span, he's won 155 of 290 NASCAR points races.
While Pulliam ended up with the championship, it was a breakout year for Huddleston. The 21-year-old from Agoura, California, had 22 wins, 31 top fives and 32 top 10s racing at Irwindale and Kern in addition to make starts at Arizona's Tucson Speedway. Huddleston won the track titles at Kern and Irwindale en route to his third straight California championship.
The battle for third wound up going down to the wire between a pair of Canadians: Steve Cote and Gord Shepherd. Cote took the final podium spot by just two points. He had 15 wins and 22 top fives in 22 starts at Quebec's Autodrome Chaudiere and Autodrome St. Eustache. Shepherd had nine wins, 26 top fives and 28 top 10s at Ontario's Sunset Speedway.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I drivers are ranked by their best 18 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and two points for a win, with an additional three points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Midwest Late Model driver Jacob Goede rounded out the top five. He had nine wins, 23 top fives and 32 top 10 while racing at Elko Speedway in Minnesota, as well as Wisconsin's Madison International Speedway and Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway.
Mitch Keeter finished 14th in the national standings and took home the Josten's Rookie of the Year, given to the top finishing first-year Division I license holder. Keeter had 15 wins, 29 top fives and 33 top 10s at Oklahoma's Salina Highbanks Speedway and Kansas' Humboldt Speedway.
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. Crowning of US state and Canadian province champions dates back to the earliest days of NASCAR, and was resumed in 2007.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars are among the many showcases for Whelen products.
This is the second national title Lee Pulliam won in the No. 5 Kiker Tree Service Chevolet for car owner Eddie Kiker and Eddie's son Travis. Corey Latham
NASCAR WHELEN ALL-AMERICAN SERIES NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
|2017||Lee Pulliam||Semora, N.C.|
|2016||Matt Bowling||Ridgeway, Va.|
|2015||Lee Pulliam||Semora, N.C.|
|2014||Anthony Anders||Greenville, S.C.|
|2013||Lee Pulliam||Semora, N.C.|
|2012||Lee Pulliam||Semora, N.C.|
|2011||Philip Morris||Ruckersville, Va.|
|2010||Keith Rocco||Wallingford, Conn.|
|2009||Philip Morris||Ruckersville, Va.|
|2008||Philip Morris||Ruckersville, Va.|
|2007||Steve Carlson||Black River Falls, Wisc.|
|2006||Philip Morris||Ruckersville, Va.|
|2005||Peyton Sellers||Danville, Va.|
|2004||Greg Pursley||Santa Clarita, Calif.|
|2003||Mark McFarland||Winchester, Va.|
|2002||Peter Daniels||Lebanon, N.H.|
|2001||Ted Christopher||Plainville, Conn.|
|2000||Gary Webb||Bluegrass, Iowa|
|1999||Jeff Leka||Buffalo, Ill.|
|1998||Ed Kosiski||Omaha, Neb.|
|1997||Dexter Canipe||Claremont, N.C.|
|1996||Larry Phillips||Springfield, Mo.|
|1995||Larry Phillips||Springfield, Mo.|
|1994||David Rogers||Orlando, Fla.|
|1993||Barry Beggarly||Pelham, N.C.|
|1992||Larry Phillips||Springfield, Mo.|
|1991||Larry Phillips||Springfield, Mo.|
|1990||Max Prestwood||Lenoir, N.C.|
|1989||Larry Phillips||Springfield, Mo.|
|1988||Robert Powell||Moncks Corner, S.C.|
|1987||Roger Dolan||Lisbon, Iowa|
|1986||Joe Kosiski||Omaha, Neb.|
|1985||Doug McCoun||Prunedale, Calif.|
|1984||David Into||Hardeeville, S.C.|
|1983||Mike Alexander||Franklin, Tenn.|
|1982||Tom Hearst||Muscatine, Iowa|