HAMPTON – Typically, national champions in sports travel to the White House to meet the president. But Langley Speedway driver Shawn Balluzzo needed to go no further than his favorite restaurant, Anna's Italian Pizza on North Armistead Ave. in Hampton, on Wednesday for the president to come and shake his hand.
In truth, President Obama's visit to Langley Air Force Base near the speedway was all about connecting with service members and their families, and not about racing. Ditto for his visit to Anna's, where Balluzzo's wife Terri is employed.
NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series for a season that included eight victories and his fifth Langley Modified Division title in six seasons. But meeting Obama only four days after earning a track Modified record of $5,000 for winning a 100-lap race, capped a huge week for Balluzzo.
"I didn't wake up expecting to meet the president," said Balluzzo, a small businessman who stopped at Anna's to order an iced tea and a sandwich. "When I walked in, there was talk about the president coming in and I saw the SUVs (from the presidential entourage) in the parking lot.
"Then they started sweeping the parking lot, dogs were sniffing for bombs and (the Secret Service) started frisking everyone. The Secret Service was great."
At about 12:30 p.m. President Obama and his wife entered the restaurant, ordered pizza, salad and tea, and talked to veterans. He also greeted restaurant patrons, including Balluzzo.
"He was super personable and attentive when I met him," Balluzzo said. "He shook my hand and looked right at me.
"If you had a (military) uniform on he was very inquisitive. He asked them where they were from, what they did and what they were going to do when they got out."
Balluzzo said his handshake with the president was little more than an exchange of hellos and nice to meet yous. But even in a few seconds, Balluzzo says he came to understand the charisma that made the president so popular with voters three years ago.
"Whether you like his politics or not, you've got to like him," Balluzzo said.
LANGLEY TO CROWN SIX CHAMPS
The competitive phase of Langley Speedway's 2011 season will come to a close Saturday, when six more division champions will be crowned. The card, which begins at 7 p.m., includes: Grand Stock Twin 20s, Super Street 40, Legends 25, UCAR Twin 20s, Winged Champ Kart Twin 15s and an Enduro 50.
Ricky Derrick enters the Grand Stock races leading Mark Claar by 12 points, or, at two points per position, by six places. Ryan Nester leads Jamie Sample by 14 points, as they battle for the Super Street title Ritchie German might very well have won had his job not taken him out of town.
Brad Hancock (Legends) and Landon Florian (UCAR) bring more comfortable leads, 22 and 56 points respectively, into Saturday's proceedings. Chris O'Brien has a 15-point lead over Daniel Millard in a Champ Kart Division that has no repeat winners this season. Danny Harrell leads Bill Eaker by 16 points in the Enduro chase.