HAMPTON — A scene like the one Friday afternoon might have been common for a Langley Speedway Late Model race 30 years ago, but certainly not recently. The cars of nine drivers from out of town crowded next to track regulars on pit road for testing ahead of the sixth annual Hampton Heat Late Model 200 on Saturday, including one particularly impressive group of three parked side by side.
In between the cars of Langley stars Nick Smith and C.E. Falk were the vehicles of visitors Ben Rhodes, Timothy Peters and Matt Bowling. Bowling, a Martinsville native, is the defending champion, a rare out-of-towner to secure a Late Model checkered flag at the expense of locals.
Next to his car was Danville's Timothy Peters, a heat race winner on national television Wednesday in the Camping World Truck Series race – the first on dirt for a major NASCAR touring series in 43 years. Hovering over his rainbow colored car was Rhodes, from Louisville, Ky., recently tabbed by NASCAR as one of its "next" future stars.
For Langley regulars like Falk and Smith, who have won three of the five Hampton Heats between them, the presence of the out-of-towners was a welcome sign of how big the marquee Late Model event at their home track has become.
"I'm loving it," said Smith, the winner of the inaugural Heat in 2008 and a five-time Late Model winner at Langley this season. "These guys bring in a lot of competition.
"It's a pretty cool deal."
Falk, the Heat winner in 2010 and '11, and a six-time winner at Langley in 2013, echoed Smith.
"This is great, exactly what the event needs – guys who are out to steal the $10,000 (winner's check) from us," he said. "People know what we're talking about now when we talk about the Hampton Heat, and they think it's pretty big.
"Obviously, Timothy Peters thinks it's a pretty big deal to come here after racing at Eldora (Speedway) on Wednesday."
But even as Smith and Falk chatted up the visitors – or kept a wary eye on the speedy practice laps of local Matt Waltz, a three-time winner at Langley this season – they exuded confidence that a Langley driver would win.
"I know these (out-of-town) guys are out here working hard and sweating, but we've got a lot of laps here and we know what the track does," Falk said. "It wouldn't surprise me if Greg (Edwards) or Nick or Matt (Waltz) or hopefully me were to win."
Smith agreed, adding, "You can't count the guys from out of town out of it. Matt Bowling won last year and you know Timothy Peters will be tough.
"But it's still Langley and the guys who are tough here normally are going to be tough to beat."
While Bowling, Peters and Rhodes are all top-fight competitors, you got the distinct feeling they realize running up front on Saturday will be difficult. A lot of that has to do with the learning curve of setting up a car on a track only recently repaved.
"It's a whole different ballgame this year," Bowling said.
Rhodes, who finished second in the Late Model race at Daytona Beach in February, said, "Coming off of the turns we're pretty good, but going into them we're struggling."
Peters said during practice, "We're struggling some, but we'll get better."
He'll have to, as will Bowling, Rhodes, former Late Model national champion Peyton Sellers and all of the big out of town names. If not, Langley regulars like Falk, Edwards, Smith and Waltz will pounce.
"Some will get the hang of it, because guys like Peyton Sellers do this for a living and Matt Bowling was good last year," Waltz said. "But I'm pretty happy with my race car and I think I've got a real good chance.
"Today has given me even more confidence. I'm pumped and wish it was Saturday night already."
Hampton Heat at Langley
WHAT: 200-lap Late Model race.
WHERE: Langley Speedway, North Armistead Avenue and Dale Lemonds Lane in Hampton.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday. Qualifying is at 4:15 p.m.
NOTEWORTHY: Three other Langley weekly divisions will be in action prior to the Heat — Winged Champ Kart, Legends and Super Street.