Balluzzo Makes It Seven At Langley Speedway
Hampton, VA – No one said winning a championship would ever be easy, so you can image the pressure of winning more than one. Shawn Balluzzo was on the brink of rewriting the history books of Langley Speedway if he could hold onto an eighteen point advantage going into the Modified’s longest and final race of the season. Something that would have been an easy feat earlier in the season, however tonight twenty-two IMCA style modifieds took to the flat asphalt of Langley Speedway. What made things worse for the six-time champion, Balluzzo had a motor expire three days prior in an open practice.
“We were only going to practice to make sure everything was good after the win at East Carolina,” Balluzzo told us about losing the motor. “Yea its [talking about the motor in his #48 machine] broke but we will be there somehow someway.” With the help of fellow modified driver Wayne Hartley who offered up his ride for the evening.
Things got underway early again this weekend due to the eight divisions running that evening. Qualifying time trials got under way and two new faces found their way up to the front row. Matt Slye was first out of the gate following the ten lap scuff session and set a time that would not be beat with 16.259. Rookie of the Year top contender Taylor Sarkees would finally find himself on the front row starting from the outside pole with a time of 16.372. Points leader Shawn Balluzzo would line up seventh, while Danny Harrell qualified inside the top five.
With twenty-two cars on the track it was only a matter of time before things got dicey. We saw the first yellow flag three laps in, now from where I was standing I did not see the initial contact but it ended with Curtis Hughes in the wall, Bobby Gery with pretty heavy right front damage, and sent Scott Lawrence on a wild ride through the back stretch grass.
Once clean up was complete on the track out came the cone, which if you didn’t know allows for the lead lap cars to give up their position on the track and take the high line to help better their position. Robbie Babb was the first of the cars to take the cone and well, if you ask me jumped the ensuing restart and would take over the top spot.
While Slye and Babb were up front exchanging the lead race control was forced to post the 95 of Danny Harrall due to the heavy plume of smoke trailing from his car and reports from other teams of oil on their drivers windshields. Harrell did bring his machine down to the attention of his crew, going two laps down in the process. A saving grace for Harrell was when the 05 of Mason Bailey went into turn three and had a motor blow sending multiple cars into the wall. There was enough mangled cars and fluid on the track Jimmy Walker was forced to bring out the red flag. The worst part of the whole ordeal is I watched Harrell and his crew take the valve cover off of the motor, under red flag conditions, make the repair and return to the race.
After making sure the track was completely cleaned up and the field were able to get the tires back up to temps, the one to go signal was given by flagman Shane Snyder allowing Mark Wertz to try his luck on the high side. Wertz was able to hold onto the top spot for about a lap but would have to surrender to the faster machine of Babb and the top three of Robbie Babb, Mark Wertz and Matt Slye were off and running nose to tail. By this time championship contender Danny Harrell still running two laps down with more and more smoke coming from his machine, while Balluzzo moved over and let the lap machine of Harrell go by and continue to run a solid twelfth position.
Back up front it looked as if Slye was beginning to catch the rest bumper of the 44 machine and on top of that, Babb looked to be burning up a right rear tire trying to get his car to turn in the corners. The charge from Slye would have to be put on hold as the field was put under yellow due to a spin from rookie Taylor Sarkees. Practically at the same time reports were coming from Mike Rudy’s crew that his windshield was covered in oil from the 95 machine.
When the green flag waved over the field again we were actually able to get a pretty good run, cars were able to spread out including leader Robbie Babb who built a two car lead over Matt Slye. Seemed like it was a night full of issues for the top two guys running for the title; Danny Harrell came by me in turn four with smoke still coming out of the back of his ride and now you could hear he was not running full throttle. Could have been down a cylinder but I think he was just trying to click off as many laps as he could, then radio communications from Balluzzo’s crew was that he may have a tire going down. Harrell would eventually bring his machine down pit road and pull it behind the wall, and Balluzzo was continue to tick off laps running a very cautious line.
Once we returned our attention back to the on track action Slye had worked his way around the 44 machine and started to build himself a hefty lead. Slye would eventually put the points leader a lap down with just five laps to go and looking very poised for a dominating victory. That again would have to be put on hold thanks to a spinning Sarkees, no reports of damage or debris on the track however, Sarkess would bring his car to the attention of his crew while track officials sorted out the line up for the three lap dash to the finish.
When the Krispy Kreme cone came out, Robbie Babb, Matt Carter and Rick Gdovic take the cone and set up one crazy finish. Balluzzo would get the lucky dog and get his lap back coming to the restart looking to finish out his night and wrap up his seventh championship. Out would come the green, the field would dive into turn one with Slye holding onto a slight advantage over the field until the yellow flag was displayed again. This time Scott Lawrence was the culprit as he went for a spin down the backstretch.
Matt Slye would again be the control car for the ensuing restart with Mark Wertz and Joe Scarbrough behind him and again Babb, Carter and Gdovic take the cone and line up on the outside. As soon as they jumped on the throttle looked like Babb spun the tires then over corrected and spun the car with the nose facing the wall. The collision from McPhearson at the line was just silly in my opinion and earns the “D’oh Moment of the Race Award”
Coming to the final restart of the night Mark Wertz looked like he would have a good enough jump to grab the lead from Slye but that was not the case coming to the white flag. Matt Slye was declared the victor after 75 laps claiming his first victory of the season at Langley Speedway. Mark Wertz crossed the line second in his best finish of the season as well. Must have been a night of best finishes because the top five saw the likes of Joe Scarbrough, Rick Gdovic and rookie Donnie Holston. Danny Harrell would finish the night in the seventeenth spot ironically only completing 48 laps and handing over the title to the number 48 of Balluzzo.
“The car was pretty good. I was just biding my time for a while, trying to make sure I didn’t burn the tires off of it,” Slye said during the post race interview. “We decided to go ahead and make a move and got out in the lead and put a pretty big lead on those guys.” As for that final restart, Slye wasn’t all that sure what happened with the 44 car, “I don’t know what happened with Robbie, to be honest with you. I think I broke the wheels loose and I think we touched. I really don’t know. I’m sorry that happened to him, but I’m glad to finally get a win out here.”
Post race interviews continued as Balluzzo brought his borrowed car to victory lane and cracked open the Langley Speedway record book and etched his name next to the great Phil Warren with seven division titles. “The crew did an awesome job. We broke a motor Thursday night and worked our butts off to get this one ready,” Balluzzo said in victory lane. “We borrowed the car from Wayne Hartley, and fixed this up.”
As far as Langley is concerned this was the final time the Modified division would run laps around the flat, almost 4/10 mi track but would not be the final time this style of car would run in this region. East Carolina Motor Speedway has confirmed they will be running a 75 lap feature for this series October 18th as part of the Ronnie Barnette Memorial 200. We are still waiting for official word if this division will be running in the Thanksgiving All-Start Classic held at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina.
1. #33 Matt Slye
2. #15 Mark Wertz
3. #93 Joe Scarbrough
4. #47 Rick Gdovic
5. #1 Donnie Holston
6. #48 Shawn Balluzzo
7. #44 Robbie Babb
8. #78 Matt Carter
9. #8 Mike Rudy
10. #88 Jack Sharkey
11. #83 Scott Lawrence
12. #16 Eric McPherson
13. #98 Taylor Sarkees
14. #5 Andrew Fortin
15. #2 Dennis Fowlkes
16. #60 Bobby Gery
17. 95 Danny Harrell
18. 05 Mason Bailey
19. #11 Jimmy Humblet
20. #4 Jon Largena
21. #87 Darrell Vance
22. #70 Curtis Hughes