Langley Speedway offers much to watch as 2012 season opens

HAMPTON – It's been quiet at Langley Speedway since November, when the track hosted a prestigious national event designed to enhance minority driving opportunities in NASCAR.

That lack of noise is a good thing, underscoring the stability owner Bill Mullis has brought since purchasing Langley a little more than three years ago. While several weekly track have closed down in recent years, Langley under Mullis appears to be on as solid a footing as its ever been.

So, to the delight of track fans, the silence will end on Saturday when Langley kicks off its 62nd season with a six-race card. The 2012 season will feature a mix of national touring events like the K&N Pro East Series and the NASCAR Southern Modifieds, along with marquee local events and multiple plot lines.

Below we offer five things to watch for 2012.

Record Quest for C.E. Falk

Falk tied Langley legend Elton Sawyer last season for the track record by winning a third consecutive Late Model Division title, but it was a close-run thing. Although Falk dominated Victory Lane more than ever, winning 12 of 16 races, Greg Edwards pushed him in the points almost to the final week.

Greg Edwards, five-time champion Danny Edwards, Mark Wertz and C.E's brother Wesley Falk lead the list of challengers. But only a larger commitment to another series appears to be C.E.'s biggest impediment to an unprecedented fourth Late Model title in the wake of season-opening wins at South Boston and Motor Mile.

K&N Race Returns

The K&N Pro Series East field on June 23 is expected to be filled with stellar names. There's the next generation angle, with Chase Elliott (Bill's son), Ben Kennedy (of the France family dynasty), Corey LaJoie (son of the former Nationwide Series legend) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (son of the three-time Formula One champion) possible entrants.

Other notables likely to compete include Travis Pastrana – an 16-time X Games gold medalist and superstar of multiple motorsports genres – defending race champ Sergio Pena of Winchester and rising NASCAR star Darrell Wallace Jr. Add in Brandon Gdovic, a former Langley Late Model regular, there are lots of reasons most of Langley's 5,600-seat grandstand should be filled.

Shawn Balluzzo Defends National Title

Every year the Modifield Division field seems to get a little larger and a little more competitive. And every year, Shawn Balluzzo – with five titles in the past six seasons – seems to find a way to fend off the competition.

This year, Balluzzo defends the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tier two national title he won a year ago. A large group of capable drivers, most long-time standouts at Langley, hopes to make defending either title difficult: Anthony Kincaid, Cameron Patrick, Robbie Babb, Mike Rudy, Danny Harrell, Bobby Spivey and Casey Wyatt among them.

Hampton Heat Gets Hotter

The Hampton Heat has consistently been Langley Speedway's most popular event featuring local and regional drivers since its 2008 launch. This year's race takes on added meaning with the inception of the state Triple Crown, a championship (and $5,000 check) awarded to the top points finisher in the three high-dollar races at South Boston, Langley (the July 28 Hampton Heat) and Martinsville.

With C.E. Falk and Nick Smith finishing first and second in the first leg of the crown on March 10 at South Boston, odds are a Langley driver could win the first title.

Other Title Races to Watch

The Legends points race should certainly take center stage with former two-time champ Nick Smith rejoining the fray. He'll have to battle a host of regulars in what is perennially an ultra-competitive division: defending champion Brad Hancock, Steve Keesee, Spencer Saunders and Chris Raiford included. In addition, newcomers Connor Hall and Brenden Queen are potentially very good.

UCAR champ Landon Florian joins the growing Pro-6 Division, where Casey Sipe, former Super Truck champion Neil Sipe (no relation), Steven Williams and Anthony Perez should contend.

Word is Super Street star Ritchie German is moving to Grand Stock. That should add another contender to battle defending champion Ricky Derrick and Mark Claar, who waged a close duel for the title last season.

Langley opener

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Langley Speedway, N. Armistead Ave. and Dale Lemonds Lane, across from the NASA Langley Wind Tunnel.

WHAT: Six stock-car races (Late Model 100, Super Truck twin-20s, UCAR 25, Pro-Six 30, Champ Kart 20).

TICKETS: $10 adults, $8 military and seniors, $5 ages 6-12, $25 family pack (two adults, two children).

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