Denny Hamlin addresses the crowd before the 2014 Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston Speedway. Corey Latham Photo

After a short hiatus, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown returns with its debut at Langley Speedway on Thursday, April 19th.

The Showdown last ran at South Boston Speedway in 2015 and was scheduled for it’s Langley Speedway debut in 2016 when the season was abruptly canceled amidst purchase negotiations falling through just before the season started. While Langley Speedway returned to competition in 2017, the deal was put together so late that the Denny Hamlin Foundation didn’t have the time to put the race on.

So after two seasons of not having a Showdown race, Buck Reuss, the event’s promoter, and Langley Speedway owner Bill Mullis have put everything back together to continue the race’s legacy.

“This race wouldn’t be returning without the efforts of Bill Mullis and Chuck Hall at Langley Speedway,” Reuss told in a recent interview. “Bill is giving the foundation the track to use and giving all of the front gate and all of the Late Model Stock Car pit gate to the foundation. It’s the best deal we’ve ever had with any race track and they’re working hard to make everything bigger and better.”

Part of the “bigger and better” will be the anticipated crowd size for the event. The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown typically draws very large crowds for the annual Pro-Am style event matching NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series stars against the best Late Model Stock Car racers in the country but this year’s attendance is expected to be much larger.

“The City of Hampton is donating some additional temporary grandstands for race day and we expect to have the capacity up to around 8,000,” Reuss commented. “The Hampton Heat is standing room only without any NASCAR stars, so we’re trying to be as prepared as possible for the crowd coming in.”

The crowds that Langley Speedway draws on a regular basis and the close proximity to Richmond are expected to help fuel the larger crowd. Tickets will remain $25 for General Admission with kids 6-12 $15 and kids five and under get in free. Reuss expects to offer advance tickets starting on March 11th but says they’ll hold back some tickets for walk-up customers just in case they sell out online.

The venue change isn’t the only change that will greet competitors at this year’s event. The purse has been upped to $15,000 to win and $1,200 to start, making the event one of the richest Late Model Stock Car races through the field. Reuss notes there’s no steep drop-off in the purse like some events offer and additional money will be announced soon that will make the race have a potential of $18,250 payday.

That additional money will come in the form of stage bonus money. Stage racing just like in the upper levels of NASCAR will be implemented for this event with a 75, 75 and 50-lap format. Reuss says they’re working to get additional sponsorship that will allow them to pay $1,000 to win the first two stages and $5,000 total distributed from first to tenth at the end of each stage. The pole award will also net someone $1,250 for the fastest lap of the day.

For the first time in the race’s history, it will not be an invite-only event. The race will be an open competition for anybody to come and race. It will also count for NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Points. It hasn’t been decided 100% but it will likely not count for Langley Speedway track points.

Another first will be no pre-race test date. They won’t have a test the day before the event like they have done in the past and they will cut off testing at Langley Speedway on April 13th, the Friday before the event. The event structure will be the normal three rounds of practice, qualifying, and last chance race. The only question is how many drivers they will lock in through qualifying.

“We’ve got all the details done except for qualifying,” Reuss added. “We’re thinking of locking in the top 20 qualifiers like Martinsville used to do or maybe lock in the top 30, so if a guy misses it a little in qualifying he’s not stuck in the last chance race. We want those guys in the last chance race to be able to race and not just be a demolition derby for the last few spots available.”

They will only start 40-cars and expect to have as many as 75 attempt to make the event. The stars who come and compete like Denny Hamlin will have guaranteed starting positions in the race as they have before but will be placed in the field based on their qualifying times. They won’t place slower cars in front of local guys who are faster.

Hamlin will be returning to Langley Speedway for the first time since running a Grand Stock in 1998. Hamlin has had significant success at Langley Speedway winning the Mini Stock championship in 1997, while also garnering his first NASCAR sanctioned victory that season. As of now, he’s the only confirmed NASCAR “star” but Reuss says it’s too early for other drivers to commit due to sponsor obligations that might be a part of their schedule and other issues that might conflict.

“It’s too early to know who all will come and run but we’ve got feelers out for a lot of the Cup guys. Obviously, we’re working on Kyle Busch and he’s run with us in the past and the rest of the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) guys. We’re working on a lot of them and we’ll start getting commitments from them in the coming weeks.”

Super and Pro Late Model star Bubba Pollard announced recently that he’ll enter the event for the first time and that has a lot of additional buzz outside of the Late Model Stock Car racing community for this event. Pollard’s presence coupled with the NASCAR stars and other regional stars such as Philip Morris, Lee Pulliam, Tommy Lemons and local Langley Speedway drivers make this more of an All-Star type event than ever before.

“Martinsville is the pinnacle of Late Model Stock Car racing but we’re putting together a who’s who of racers for this event,” continued Reuss. “We’re looking to represent the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and feature the NASCAR guys in sort of a Pro-Am type race and this year is going to showcase event more than that with Pollard and other guys coming from outside the region.”

The Martinsville race will be front and center for the local Late Model Stock Car competitors as Jimmie Doughton from DRP Racing Products has donated a set of Hoosier F-45’s to the highest finishing Late Model Stock Car regular. The tires will be able to be redeemed at the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway in September. Additionally, most of the crew from the Martinsville Late Model Stock Car race will be used to officiate the event with Shayne Laws serving as Race Director.

Of course, will have live updates of the event on RACEDAY LIVE but Reuss says they’re still working on adding a TV or radio partner for the event for additional exposure.

“Alex Hayden and Steve Post will be helping with the announcing for the event and we don’t know yet if MRN will broadcast the race but we’re actively talking with Fox and NBC to get the race carried live. If not we’ll look into options to carry the race tape-delayed as well.”

With all the changes, the excitement of a new venue and the drivers coming to run it, this year’s Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown looks like it’s going to be the biggest and best ever.