Perennial champ Shawn Balluzzo to keep racing after almost parking his car

HAMPTON — For much of last week, the hottest rumor around Langley Speedway was that Shawn Balluzzo's quest for a fourth consecutive Modified Division title — and sixth in seven seasons — would end with him on the sidelines.

Balluzzo will, in fact, run in the Twin 25-lappers that are the featured races on the six-race card this week at Langley. Racing has been moved to 7 p.m. Friday because of the July 4 holiday, and will feature a fireworks display.

Balluzzo says the rumors that his No. 48 could be parked were not exaggerated, because owner John Bradley can no longer finance it or the No. 57 Modified driven by Todd Van Guilder. Balluzzo said that he has agreed to finance the No. 48, and Bradley and the crew will maintain it so they can continue competing.

"John is a body shop man and he's been paying for the cars out of hip pocket, which is amazing," Balluzzo said. "We haven't had any sponsorship, and the crew members pay for the own pit passes, but we're proud to have been able to accomplish more with less.

"But John has some health issues, and I think the stress of having to pay for everything has been difficult on him. When my tire came off in the last race, and the No. 57 blew a motor, he decided he'd had enough and quit."

Balluzzo understood, but, sitting only six points behind Modified leader Mike Rudy even after the disaster of the previous race, he refused to quit. So Balluzzo talked Bradley into finishing the season by offering to ease his financial stress.

"I told John, `We make magic together when you handle the car and I drive, so let's keep going,' " Balluzzo said.

That magic included finishing on top of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series' second tier national standings last season. Following that success, he set his sights on a sixth Modified title, with hopes of joining former Late Model star Phil Warren someday as a seven-time champion.

"Usually, I don't care what people think about me, but I didn't want quitting to be my legacy," Balluzzo said. "We're too close to a sixth championship to give up now."

Spotter will be missed

Langley promoter Chuck Hall said that a moment of silence will precede Friday's races in honor of K.P. "Hook" Harrell, who died at home on Saturday of a heart attack. Harrell, 56, was a longtime spotter for nearly a dozen track competitors, including Wayne Wyatt, Joe Gaita and, most recently, for Modified and Late Model driver Casey Wyatt.

Wayne Wyatt said Harrell was at the track early Saturday, expecting to spot for a driver in the K&N Pro Series East race, but went home after hearing the driver had a spotter.

"He seemed fine and was talking about when we were going to play golf again," Wyatt said of Harrell, a three-sport athlete at Bethel High in the early 1970s.

Gaita, who, like Wyatt, employed Harrell in his home remodeling business, said Harrell will be remembered for his unfailing wit and optimism.

"KP spotted for me for 15 years," said Gaita, who won three races in the prestigious Hooters Pro Cup Series and competed in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series. "He had a funny saying for everything, like `Chickens in the road! Chickens in the road!' when there was a multi-car wreck in front of you.

"He was more than just a great spotter, he was great at giving encouragement. You never felt out of a race with him on the radio, even on a bad day.

"He would've made a great coach."

Brooks recovering

Winged Champ Karts driver Mark Brooks underwent back surgery this week after fracturing a vertebrae as a result of a crash into the Turn 1 wall in Saturday's race. Dave Millard, Brooks' teammate, said the surgery went well, and that Brooks has movement in all of his extremities and is expected to make a complete recovery.

Brooks slammed into the wall backward when his brakes locked as he stopped to avoid a wreck in front of him. Brooks walked to the safety truck following the wreck and transported to the pits.

He was taken by ambulance to a hospital shortly thereafter when he exhibited breathing difficulties and complained of back pain. Millard said that Brooks is a favorite of other Kart drivers and will be missed in the pits.

"He's helped out a lot of drivers, supplying motors and tires in Karts and back to when I met him in the Arena Racing Series," Millard said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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