Vaughan Crittenden assumed the role of the promoter at Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway over the offseason with the hopes of bringing a fresh approach to short track racing, but the sport’s newest promoter was instantly greeted with a crisis.
A little over a week after he assumed his new role, sports leagues and venues began canceling events due to the coronavirus pandemic that has significantly altered life in the United States. Instead of opening in March, Langley Speedway has been forced to sit idle and wait until the crisis passes.
“So far for us, It’s just been a lot of waiting,” Crittenden told Race22. “You spend the whole offseason preparing for opening night, so heading into the month of March, we weren’t far off from being ready for fans to come back for a new year of racing.”
Crittenden, 28, from Deltaville, Virginia, has been involved in racing in some capacity for much of his life. He became a fan of racing during the peak of the sport’s popularity and quickly got into kart racing at the Hampton Roads Karting Club, which operates out of Langley Speedway.
“I first got into racing a few years after I went to my first NASCAR race at Richmond Raceway in 2002,” Crittenden said. “I started racing myself in 2004 in karts in the Hampton Roads Kart Club. After my parents realized this was something I really wanted to do, they got me a new kart in 2005. Bill Mullis also became my crew chief that year and taught me much of what I know about racing.”
Crittenden hopes to bring a fresh approach to racing at Langley Speedway with an emphasis on digital media marketing – an area where he has excelled with Langley in the past and with Richmond Raceway.
“My vision for Langley is making it become the model for how to operate and promote a short track in today’s world. I want us to be the example for everyone else. Langley is so fortunate to be in the position it is being located in Hampton, Virginia right in the middle of a huge population of people to pull from for both fans and drivers and be in great shape. We have a great product here to sell but I also want to work with our race officials to see how we can improve the ‘show’ and make sure we never have downtime.
“I also will be expanding heavily into digital advertising this year and being creative with how we do our TV and radio spots. There are just so many aspects that go into marketing a racetrack and I plan on taking what I learned working for Richmond Raceway and NASCAR and translating it to the NASCAR Roots level.”
While the sport remains on pause, for now, the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to ease in the coming weeks and the sport may be able to resume in May or June. However, social distancing guidelines are expected to remain in place and the economy, which had enjoyed a decade of historic expansion, will likely be depressed which could change the landscape of pavement short track racing significantly. While Crittenden says it is too soon to know what exactly the sport will look like post-crisis, he says the track is planning for multiple scenarios.
“Right now, the best strategy is to plan for all those options,” Crittenden explained. “Clearly the world isn’t just going to just go back to the way it was. We’re looking at adapting to whatever allows us to open safely. Whether that’s opening with limited fans, placing social distancing guidelines for those on the property, etc. They’re all possible options. When it comes to the economic side of the issue, that’s much harder to predict. With sponsors, it will be a case by case basis, the same goes for race teams and fans.”
While the track makes plans, it has put an immense amount of pressure on Crittenden, who has been a part of Langley Speedway in the past. Langley Speedway was set to celebrate its 70th anniversary season but has been forced to sit idle during what would have been the track’s opening month.
Crittenden feels the pressures of the situation he finds himself in – a new promoter taking over the leadership role at a historic track in the midst of a historic global crisis that could profoundly change American culture both short-term and long-term.
“To put it bluntly, it sucks,” Crittenden said, about inheriting his new position during a time of crisis and turmoil. “Obviously you want to come into this job with the momentum of a successful 2019 and carry that into the track’s 70th anniversary season. For me, this was a major life decision and a huge career change. It was something I wanted to do for the last seven years. So, with everything that’s happened, this will become my most challenging year for sure. Not only will I have to completely start from scratch on a schedule, promotions, and marketing, I’ll have to do it during an extremely difficult time in our country’s history.
“People have lost jobs, income, some even losing their own businesses, so having the job of convincing people to come out to a racetrack and spend money is not going to be an easy one. I want to be successful at this. I want to be the person that leads Langley into a new era and grow the track. Moving forward from this point I’m just going to need to be patient with my expectations and put this in perspective. Hopefully, things will return to normal sooner rather than later.”
As of now, Langley Speedway’s website lists May 9th as its season opener, but that could change. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home executive order runs into early-June. However, the Democratic governor has said in recent briefings that he may pull back the state’s social distancing orders sooner.
In the meantime, Langley Speedway sits idle and Crittenden continues to prepare.