Years before he became a fixture at Langley Speedway, Robert C. "Duke" Osborne was a combat veteran who served with the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy. Osborne died earlier this week at the age of 90 and track promoter Chuck Hall tied his legacy together nicely.
"After Duke Osborne honored Langley Speedway by defending our country, he honored us by defending the back gate at the track," Hall said. "This is Langley's 62nd season and I can't think of another person who has been an integral part of the track through its entire history."
Osborne raced a Modified at Langley, Late Model star Mark Wertz said, when it was a dirt track. But he is best known around Langley for his work as an official of more than 50 years and as a founding member of the Hampton Roads Kart Club.
"He has to be one of the longest tenured officials in NASCAR history," former track owner Wayne Wyatt said. "Langley was a second home for Duke and his wife Vera."
For most of those more than five decades, Osborne checked in drivers and crew at the back gate. The drivers remember him as being unfailingly positive.
"He'd always tell me, 'Tonight's your night,'" said Wertz, a two-time Late Model track and regional champion. "Then he'd say, 'But if it's not, make sure to put your car back on the trailer in one piece.' He was a foundation and a fixture at Langley Speedway."
Five-time Modified champion Shawn Balluzzo said, "He was a great guy. Before a race he'd tell me, 'Go get 'em. I know you're going to do it tonight.' He was that way to everybody."
In addition to supervising the back gate, Osborne worked for years in the tech shed. And when age made it difficult for him to help out there, he simply showed up weekly at the tech shed and offered encouragement to drivers and officials.
All were glad he did.
"Duke loved people, loved kids and loved the sport," Wyatt said. "He always had a story and he never had a harsh word for anyone.
"He was one of the great team players ever at Langley Speedway."
Langley Speedway altered its schedule for Saturday to help Late Model drivers get in the 18 races they need to qualify for NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national rankings.
Instead of running a Late Model 150-lapper, the track has split the distance into twin 75-lap races. That will give the division 16 races for the season. If weather permits and the Sept. 15 twin 75s run as scheduled, Late Model drivers who compete only at Langley will get in their 18 races. Langley takes the weekend of NASCAR at Richmond International Speedway off (Sept. 7-8).
Seven other races are on tap at Langley for Saturday: Legends twin 20s, Grand Stock 40, Super Truck 25, Pro Six 30, Winged Champ Kart 20 and Bandolero 20. Because of the number of races, starts early at 6:40 p.m.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times