Wait a minute…. that title can’t be right? It is supposed to read Shawn Balluzzo returns to Dale Lemonds victory lane. Or, Balluzzo Earns First Victory of 2020. Or, Balluzzo Dominates Modified Feature in Triumphant Win…
Well if you stop and think about it the title to this piece isn’t really far off. Shawn did essentially return to victory lane – more than likely greeted by Dale Lemonds himself. He picked up one of life’s ultimate victories – to finally ditch that infamous limp down pit road to stand with his Father as he triumphantly watches over his family from above.
I never thought in the short time I have been covering races that I would witness something like this. Clearly, I understand that racing is a very dangerous sport, and everyone involved knows this. – trust me I know this and respect this. However, I have also witnessed this sport change over the last twenty-some years and the evolution of safety has been crazy. Plus Shawn was like Iron Man, The Energizer Bunny, and Humpty Dumpty all in one! He would pancake the wall, get out the car yelling and screaming, and chuck water bottles at you. He fell off a ladder away from the racetrack injuring himself AND STILL RACED! Shawn even got back into the cockpit of his race car when doctors gave him the worst news I imagine a father can get – your daughter has cancer. Not only did he still race but he still won.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be typing something like this. Matter of fact I sit here looking at this mostly blank piece of paper and still struggle to not only accept what happened this past Saturday night at the local short track that started everything for me but also what happened to the man and my family that not only introduced me to life in racing on the other side of the fence but honestly saved my life during the absolute worst time of my life when Terri essentially took me in as one of her own. I struggled for a few days with myself if I should even publish something like this but because of the same things I just mentioned above felt that I should.
I’ll never forget the moment I mentioned above, the day that I knew I wanted to do more than just watch the racecars at Langley Speedway. It was towards the end of my sophomore year at Kecoughtan School. I had made a new friend by the name of David McIntosh (around the race track we all know him as Christopher). Found out that his dad was a driver at the track. The dude with the mouse on his car is how I told him I knew what he was talking about.
As our friendship grew in school we would also hang out at the track when he wasn’t on pit road – which if you know Christopher wasn’t all that much. Till one night he needed a ride somewhere, come to find out that somewhere was his dad’s race shop. I remember that night like it was yesterday. Walking into that shop on 48th street almost 15 years ago. Seeing your No. 48 Late Model inches from my face on jack stands, lined up with Todd & Gene’s cars. Literally, star-struck to be that close, to touch an actual racecar. Then, for some reason to this day, I still don’t understand, you trusted Christopher and I to change the rear end while you built the motion simulator.
I had never been happier to lie on a dirty concrete floor and get covered in 90-weight gear oil. Then over some time, you let us do some bodywork. THEN I was invited to come down one Saturday night and hang out in the pits. I remember it was raining that day and my father had decided he wasn’t going to risk going out in the rain and the races not get in. I was thinking do I want to risk going and spending the money for it to rain. Well, I am glad that I ended up going.
That Saturday night you gave me an electric impact and the job of making sure your tires got on and off the car, stacked in the right spot, and cleaned off. It was that moment holding that impact, loosening and tightening those lug nuts that I was hooked. I wanted to be more than just a fan in the stands and I will forever be grateful and thankful for trusting a dorky 18-year-old kid with a bowl cut and no gloves to your tires that one summer night.
When I transitioned to the media side of things you were always available to me. At the track, at your house, at your shop, over the phone while you were either cutting vinyl or out putting it up somewhere. You offered me food and drink on race days. You never refused an interview. I called you and ordered 100 of my very first TWR bumper stickers; you legit printed me over a thousand. You printed a badass canvas for my wife and I to remember our wedding day. And later on in life allowed my crazy little girl to play around your pit stall with her best friend – your granddaughter.
I spent a lot of time over the Balluzzo house, watching and growing up with your kids. Feeling like I was legit a member of your family. I was blessed with a brother I never had and felt like I earned two sisters to help watch over and protect thanks to you and Terri. I got to watch you dominate Langley like it was easy. Laughing at you and Big Dave banter on the radio, writing countless stories of the 48 returning to victory lane. 2020 has been one of the most trying years in a lot of our lives and this past weekend just made it that much harder. I couldn’t let 2020 go by without one final story of Shawn Balluzzo.
Your family means a lot to me and for that, I will always be grateful to have known you. To use a quote from one of my all-time favorite movies; “Remember, kid. There’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die…”I think it is safe to say that you were both a Hero to many and a Legend of Langley Speedway. Just do me one favor, make sure you whip up on old them guys up there like you did down here.
A celebration of life for Shawn will be held at his home track of Langley Speedway this Thursday starting at 7 PM EDT. Speedway officials will open the grandstands starting at 6 PM to all of those who would like to come pay respect to him and his family. A stream of the service can also be found on the speedway Facebook page for those who cannot attend.