Auto Racing’s Best Kept Historical Secret, Langley Speedway

Hampton Roads is, without a doubt, full of history. A piece of history that some may not be aware of is the area’s involvement in the evolution of auto racing. For over 60 years, Langley Speedway in Hampton has seen milestones, set records and launched careers in NASCAR; one of the top auto racing organizations in the world. Long before that, the property on North Armistead Avenue was originally home to “Dude Ranch,” a track for lower-level horse racing. The owners occasionally hosted auto races, which generally brought in more fans, so in 1963 the area was converted into a full-time auto racing track.

But now the future of Langley is in question with negotiations taking place for a deal regarding the land the track sits on. While the talks take place, the Hampton History Museum decided to host a public forum to remind people of Langley’s legacy. Some of the track’s most pivotal figures were the guest speakers including; Langley Chaplin Rev. Tom Potter, owner Bill Mullis, promoter Chuck Hall, legendary racer Diane Teel and sports writer Marty O’Brien.

Rev. Tom Potter was the first to speak about his memories and love for Langley. Thanks to Potter’s efforts Langley was one of the first auto racing tracks in the U.S. to have its own church and ministry. Potter, who has been the track’s Chaplin for 20 years, also mentors the drivers.

“I like to remind the drivers that anger is one-letter away from danger, and to keep your cool on the track, because if you stay safe you’ll get another shot next week,” Potter recollected.

Potter’s chapel at the track is also home to the fan club which educates the community on its history and auto racing.

Langley owner Bill Mullis got the biggest reaction when he spoke. Mullis is a former racer and bought the track in 2009 when he knew it was in trouble because of the recession. One of Mullis’ first actions was to bring in Chuck Hall and name him Marketing Director. Hall was nationally recognized for a 50-hour radiothon he did that raised over $100,000 for victims of a wildfire in Florida near Daytona International Speedway.

Mullis quickly secured multiple racing series affiliated with NASCAR to schedule races at Langley. He also oversaw the renovations of the facility and made Langley the first NASCAR-weekly track to have skyboxes. But Mullis’ biggest passion is Langley’s Kart Club, which he refers to as the best kept secret in Hampton Roads. The Kart Club is a program designed for kids as young as 5 years old to learn how to race.

“We get up to 100 kids that come out and are so excited to learn how to race. They come to the track on Sundays saying they’ve been wearing their jumpsuit since Saturday,” Mullis said.

Former NASCAR racers such as Chesapeake’s Ricky Rudd and South Boston’s Jeff & Ward Burton got their start in the Kart Club.

Photos: The Hampton History Museum hosts NASCAR at Langley talk

Langley Speedway has seen its fair share of legends make their name at the track including; Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Dale Earnhart, Darrel Waltrip, Bobby Allison and that’s just to name a few. Active drivers such as 6-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Richmond-native Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliot and Kyle Larson used Langley as a launchpad to stardom in NASCAR. Langley has also hosted races in NASCAR’s Diversity Program, which saw up-and-coming driver from Mexico Daniel Suarez win a race there.

Though when it comes to women in racing, Langley’s importance speaks volumes. York County’s Diane Teel got her start at the track in 1977, and then became the first woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race there in 1978. Teel then went on to become the first female driver in the history of the Nationwide Series (NASCAR’s second-tier) in 1982. For her achievements she is considered a pioneer for women in racing, and is an honoree of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But for Teel Langley is about family.

“I’ve been coming to Langley since it was a horse racing track with my daddy, my son and daughter raced and won here when I retired. The track is still a big part of my family,” Teel told the crowd.

Teel’s granddaughter, Macy Causey, was just named the 2015 Rookie of the Year for Late Model Racing in Virginia, and was the youngest female driver to compete at Langley at the age of eight. Because of her success at Langley, she has been invited to compete in NASCAR’s Diversity Program.

Finishing out the panel was sports writer Marty O’Brien, who has spent more than 15 years covering the track for the Daily Press.  He spoke about what it is like to watch the stands fill-up with 7,000-plus fans for a local race on a Saturday night. O’Brien also said that Langley allowed him to really introduce the public to what drivers go through, because of the personal one-on-one access that was allowed.

As O’Brien wrapped up the focus of the discussion then turned to Langley’s future as the land deal leaves it in question. Mullis took questions from the audience about what’s next.

“I can’t get into details but I’ve got the right people in the right place, I believe we got the right deal on the table. We are going to keep working in the right direction and I’m about 90% sure racing will take place soon at Langley,” Mullis said.

The owner of a car that races at Langley, Bob Silva, even spoke over the crowd in support of Mullis saying, “We wouldn’t want anybody else at the helm”. Tremendous support from the community has poured in to help save Langley. A Facebook group titled “Support Langley Speedway” has over 6,000 members. Even the Denny Hamlin Foundation has said they will run their main charity race there once Langley is open for business.

“It may not be business as usual, but I got the right crew in place that once all the business discussions are done, we’ll be able to turn on the racing switch and Langley will pick up right where we left off,” Mullis said ending the discussion.

While many people wait for racing to return to Langley Speedway, the Hampton History Museum provided the perfect backdrop to remind everyone what kind of a footprint the track has left not only in Hampton Roads, but in the sport of auto racing.