Not long after Nick Smith first wheeled a Legends car at Langley Speedway as a teenager more than a decade ago, there was talk he could be the best ever at the track in the division. That was saying something, considering legendary Dale Lemonds introduced the 5/8ths-scale replicas of 1930s and ’40s cars to Langley and talented Woody Howard cut his teeth there in them.
After quickly reeling off two championships in three full seasons from 2002-05, Smith has focused mostly on driving Late Models. Making his return to full-time Legends racing in 2012, Smith not only justified the talk about his talent, he accomplished a feat believed to be unprecedented at Langley in a weekly division: a perfect season.
Smith, 26, swept all seven Legends races at Langley en route to his third title in that division. Throw in the two races he won at Richmond-area Southside Speedway and another at Shenandoah, and Smith was a perfect 10-0.
“You plan for a perfect season every year, but there are so many tough competitors at Langley Speedway, I can’t remember anyone ever doing it in any division,” he said. “We had the perfect car.”
He credits Steven Ross, a 21-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., for providing him with a setup that “raised the bar for the rest of the competition.” He said that he often ran laps faster than the track Legends (qualifying) record in practice and in races.
In a sport where funding is key, Towne Bank was among several sponsors to ease that worry for Smith. And his bosses at Bluewater Yacht Sales in Hampton, Chris Hall and Earl Hall, gave him the freedom to test and prepare the car when needed.
Smith is serving as mentor to Earl’s son, Connor Hall, a first-year Legends driver. Connor, 15, won Rookie of the Year honors this season.
“You could see his confidence grow throughout the year,” Smith said. “If I can help him achieve more than I have, that would be a great feeling.”
Smith has accomplished plenty, and not just in Legends. He won the inaugural Hampton Heat 200 Late Model race in 2008, earning more than $15,000 for the victory, then won the $5,000 Fourth of July race at South Boston a year later.
Smith will move back into full-time Late Model racing next year, driving a Jay Hedgecock-prepared car owned by the Halls. Smith is looking forward to the bigger stage, but like
“I get the same butterflies in the pit of my stomach whether I’m winning the Hampton Heat or a Legends race,” Smith said. “It’s the same great feeling to be in Victory Lane getting your picture taken after a win on Saturday night.
“What made the perfect season feel so great was that it wasn’t easy. We beat a (Pro Division) national champion on the last turn of the last lap at Shenandoah, and Woody Howard or Spencer Saunders were right on my bumper the last three or four races at Langley.”
Below is a list of other highlights from the 2012 season at Langley Speedway:
-Greg Edwards wins his third Late Model Division championship.
-Edwards also earns $12,000 for winning the big Thanksgiving race at Southern National in Kenley, N.C. and finishes second to Tony Stewart in the prestigious
-C.E. Falk's disqualification from three victories – two for illegal parts and one because the lead weights fell out of his vehicle – short-circuits his bid for an unprecedented fourth Late Model crown.
-Falk earns some consolation, and a $5,000 check, for winning the state "
-Ryleigh Lemonds, 9, adds to the family tradition began by her grandfather Dale Lemonds – a two-time Legends Division driver who was killed in a crash racing at the track in 2004 – by winning the Bandolero Division title.
-Shawn Balluzzo, nearly sidelined by sponsorship problems at midseason, wins his sixth Modified Division title in seven seasons.
-For the second consecutive year, Langley Speedway hosts almost 20 drivers in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity combine designed to increase minority and female representation in the sport.