A pair of former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions, Peyton Sellers and Philip Morris ,appear to be early favorites in Saturday night’s Hampton Heat 200, the marquee event of the season at the recently re-opened Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway in Virginia. However, a contingent of local drivers look to stand in their way.
The ninth running of the Hampton Heat 200 is one of the biggest races of the season in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car racing, boasting a $10,000 payout to the winner. During Friday’s open practice, 2005 NWAAS national champion and 2013 Hampton Heat winner Peyton Sellers set the fast time.
“I feel real good,” Sellers said about his chances of winning a second Hampton Heat 200. “We’re very close right now. We need that one little change that can set us apart from being a second- or third-place car to being out front. Philip Morris is right there with us, if not just a shade better than we are. We’ve got a good car. It’s solid, it’s driving good. There are some other cars that might be faster than us but I think, come race time, we’re going to be where we need to be.”
The 2017 campaign has been a solid season for Sellers, who is driving the iconic No. 26 Clarence’s Steakhouse car. Heading into the Hampton Heat, Sellers has three wins at South Boston (Virginia) Speedway and three wins at Dominion Raceway in Manassas, Virginia.
Sellers feels like his toughest competition could be Morris, who has nine wins this season at three different tracks, including a recent victory at Langley and a win in South Boston’s Thunder Road Harley Davidson 200 earlier this month.
After practicing in the heat of the day on Friday, Morris feels confident heading into Saturday night’s race.
“I think we made some good adjustments in the heat,” Morris said. “Usually when you can pick up a little bit of speed in the heat, it’s exponential at night. I think we’re on the right track. We weren’t that bad the other night. I had a couple issues I didn’t like but Forrest Reynolds got it right. Guys worked hard today.”
Earlier this season, Morris made history when he scored his 100th career win at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia. While Morris, who is dubbed “The King of Late Model Stock Car Racing” by many of his fans and competitors alike, is no stranger to success, he has been surprised by how well he has performed this season.
“It’s weird, it’s not like we didn’t prepare last year,” Morris said. “Sometimes it’s your year and you don’t know what the formula is. It’s looking like this year, Reynolds Racing Chassis and Darrell Poe Racing Engines is the combination working out for us and everything else is falling into place. When you get that good of a start, it’s like a momentum and you ride it all the way to the end so we’re looking forward to getting more wins by the end of this year.”
Saturday night’s race features a mix of veterans, Langley regulars and up-and-comers, however Sellers feels the conditions will be favorable to veteran racers like himself and Morris.
“I normally say experience doesn’t always pay off but I really think this race is a veteran’s race,” Sellers commented. “Guys like Timothy Peters, Philip Morris, Greg Edwards, they’re gonna be there. They’re going to be right up there up front. C.E. Falk will put it together at the end of the night as well. I really think you will see a veteran win this race unless it turns into a crashfest and we tear up a ton of cars.”
The 2004 South Boston champion, Timothy Peters, known most for his success in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, had a strong run in the 2013 Hampton Heat 200 and is hoping to have another stellar showing on Saturday. However, Peters is mostly just having some fun.
“We came here earlier this year to get some data and get the proper adjustments that we feel like we need to be better when we came back,” Peters said. “We picked up right where we left off earlier this year. Can’t thank Barry Nelson and everyone at Autos by Nelson enough for letting us come here and play around. SunTrust coming on board this weekend. We’re just having a lot of fun this weekend. It should be a good night, one hot night for sure.”
Nick Smith, the 2016 Dominion champion, won the inaugural Hampton Heat 200 back in 2008. Since then, he has watched the race grow from Langley’s biggest race to one of the biggest races of the season in all of short track racing.
“Things were a lot different back when I won it, not in a less competitive way,” Smith said. “It was very competitive the year I won it. We won a lot of races that year and that was one of my first years racing Late Models. We were young and I had a lot to learn.”
Since his triumph in 2008, the Hampton Heat 200 has frustrated the veteran racer. He has had strong runs and been in contention for the win, but has not been able to join Falk as a repeat winner of the event. However, Smith’s team has been hard at work making his car faster so he will be in peak performance mode.
“The past couple races, I haven’t been that great but I’ve been fortunate to be able to fight for a win in the end,” Smith said. “We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got the car better the couple weeks coming into the race. I feel pretty confident about the car, it’s getting better all the time. There are a lot of good cars here, but we’re steadily getting better. This can be anybody’s race, you have to be in the top-five to win it.”
Like Nick Smith, Brenden Queen found himself displaced from his hometown track last season when Langley was forced to shut down to leasing issues. And, like Smith, Queen went on to win a track championship elsewhere – Queen’s coming at East Carolina Motor Speedway in Robersonville, North Carolina.
“We got a championship,” Queen said. “A lot of people can’t say they have one. It took a lot of discipline to beat Louis White and those guys. It propelled us into the bigger races, we showed we could run with the big guys. We almost won the Thanksgiving Classic and had top-10s at Martinsville and Myrtle Beach.”
While getting his first career win, and championship, was huge, a win on Saturday would be the biggest of the young man who goes by Butterbean’s career.
“A win tomorrow would be the biggest win of my career,” Queen said. “To win at home, I’ve got some family here from out of town that are coming up to watch. To win the Hampton Heat would be huge. That would set us up good going into Martinsville.”
Meanwhile, sophomore racer Maddy Ryan Mulligan is hoping a strong run in the Hampton Heat 200 can turn her season around. Mulligan entered the Late Model Stock Car ranks last season when Langley closed its doors and went on to compete at South Boston, East Carolina, Dominion and Carteret County Speedway. However, Mulligan has yet to score the breakthrough performance she seeks.
“A strong run tomorrow night would be a really big deal to us honestly,” Mulligan said. “We’ve had a few issues this year, especially at the very beginning of the year. We lost two motors the first two weeks out. Since then, we’re tweaking on handling but we’re getting where we need to be especially picking it up more in practice. Just minor things. A turnaround tomorrow night would mean the world.”
The Hampton Heat 200 is the second race of the Virginia Triple Crown which also consists of the Thunder Road Harley Davidson 200 at South Boston, a race won by Morris, and the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway on September 23.
Entering Saturday night’s race, hometown driver Matt Waltz leads the track championship standings with one win on the season, but the dominant driver has been five-time Langley champion Greg Edwards who has amassed four wins at the .396-mile oval so far in 2017. The star-studded field also features former national champion Matt Bowling, popular fan favorite Macy Causey, veteran Mark Wertz, Connor Hall, Sam Hunt, sophomore driver Cameron Bowen and many more.
For fans who are unable to attend the Hampton Heat 200, the race will broadcast live in its entirety on FansChoice.TV. The green flag will wave on the night’s racing program at 7 p.m. EST.