“I know our cars are good though. I told Kennedy two weeks ago, ‘Don’t look at the results here. Our car is good and we’re gonna show it soon.’
“Me, Clanton and Marshall, we’ve actually stumbled on some stuff that’s pretty good,” he added. “That’s what we’re looking for – something that’s good almost anywhere so all you have to do is tweak it a little bit. I knew we were getting better and better with the car, so it was a matter of time.”
The correct tire choice for Merritt’s A-Main surface was the game-changer that sent Fuller vaulting out of his frustrating funk. With the softest allowable Hoosier compound under the event’s tire rule bolted on his No. 19, he glided forward from the 14th starting spot to pass race-long pacesetter Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., for the lead on lap 40 and held off upset-minded Michiganders Eric Spangler and Rich Neiser for a dramatic victory.
“We essentially didn’t get talked out of the tire that I wanted to put on,” said Fuller. “I knew what I wanted to do and usually outside sources try to talk you out of it, but I just decided I’m not doing that no more. I’m gonna do what I want to do, and this time it worked out.
“I knew it was the right tire for the track, but I also didn’t know if it would make it because I knew it was too soft. I said, ‘If I can start out fast and then keep the pace slow and save the right-rear, then maybe it could make it.’ I thought I could at least give it a whirl.”
Fuller had enough rubber to reach the finish line first, putting him in an exhilarated state of mind that he hadn’t experienced on the WoO LMS in far too long. He spun celebratory donuts with his car in Merritt’s infield and was greeted in Victory Lane by his wife Lori, 8-year-old daughter Ainsley and overjoyed crewmen Ross Robinson and Eugene Mullaney.
Seeing the emotion displayed by Robinson, a 23-year-old from Georgetown, Del., who has been Fuller’s chief mechanic since the New Yorker arrived at Kennedy Motorsports, gave Fuller a special sense of satisfaction.
“For me, it’s a living. For me, it’s a boost of confidence,” Fuller said of his victory. “But for the guys, especially for Ross, it’s everything for him. He was so excited. He really loves racing and we’ve traveled all over and struggled, so to finally get one like that – he was pretty emotional.
“That makes me happy. He was so happy when we won at Hesston (Speedway in Pennsylvania last year) and in Arizona (in January), but I knew he wanted to win an Outlaw race. I was telling Kennedy (afterward), ‘He was so happy you would’ve sworn I passed Al Unser on the last lap at Indy.’ He was that excited, and that’s so cool.”
Robinson, who does some dirt Late Model racing of his own in a family-owned car when he’s able to get back to Delaware during the season, spelled out his feelings in a post to his Facebook page on Sunday.
“When I left home to be a crew chief on the Outlaw tour I always hoped that I would get to stand in the winner’s circle as the winning crew chief,” wrote Robinson. “Well, two-and-a-half years later, it finally happened (Saturday) night in Michigan and it was well worth all the late nights and long hours. Hopefully it’s not the last.”
Fuller will attempt to keep the good vibes flowing on Thursday night at Little Valley, fast, demanding track southeast of Buffalo that Fuller visited for the first time last year.
“It’s damn flat – flatter than I ever thought it would be – and it’s big,” said Fuller, who finished 11th in last year’s WoO LMS A-Main there after pitting midway through the 50-lapper to change a flat tire. “I’ve never really seen a place like that other than something like Williams Grove (Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.) You go down fast into the corners, so you need some brakes to get slowed down to turn and head in the other direction.
“We were pretty good last year before we got the flat tire, but I think we’ll probably see a different track (surface) this year. They said the track was a lot drier than it normally is for last year’s race, so it could be totally different this time and we’ll have to adjust to it.”
Defending WoO LMS champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., won last year’s inaugural tour event at Little Valley and enters Thursday night’s action leading the circuit in wins this season but ranked third in the points standings. The 25-year-old Richards, who finished second last year at Little Valley, sits atop the points standings, leading by 62 points over Clanton and 68 over Lanigan.