News & Media

From the Notebook:Anticipation high for Hamlin's Showdown

April 28, 2011, Dave Rodman,

The anticipation, for Denny Hamlin, of Thursday's fourth annual Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is almost as palpable as it was 14 years ago -- the last time Late Model Stock Cars raced at Richmond International Raceway.

"I was at that race -- I was watching from the stands and I can remember wanting, so bad, to run in that race," Hamlin said of his experience, as a 16-year-old. "But by the time I got to Late Models, of course they weren't racing there any more. So this is a big deal for me and for RIR, to let Late Models come back."

Proceeds from the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown benefit the Denny Hamlin Foundation, a 501 C (3) started to raise funds for individuals and families affected by cystic fibrosis. The foundation supports organizations like The Children's Hospital of Richmond, St. Jude Hospital and the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

It's as intense a feeling as any true short track fan should feel when faced with a doubleheader that includes probably the premier NASCAR feeder series, the K&N Pro Series East; and Hamlin's Showdown. The latter matches a handful of industry celebrities, including seven active Sprint Cup drivers, with many of the area's best LMSC regulars.

The long-ago LMSC feature sounds like a classic. Hamlin's recollection is a pair of local Late Model heroes from Mechanicsville, Va., raced for the win, with the older brother ultimately prevailing -- maybe.

"It was either [younger brother] Kevin or Wayne Grubb," Hamlin said. "They were both battling for the lead all day and I remember one of the two of them won. Gosh, I want to say Wayne -- but it might have been Kevin..."

Oh, the memories that recalls of two young men who excelled in family-run LMSCs before graduating to NASCAR's national level.

Kevin won in the then-Busch Series before falling into a maze of personal issues that led to him taking his own life in May 2009, not far from RIR. Wayne has worked for years as a crewman and when necessary, as a crew chief, most recently this season for Baker Curb Racing.

The only thing that would have made Thursday's event even better -- and Hamlin agreed -- would have been a promoter's option entry for Wayne Grubb.

"Those guys, I remember them and they were good," Hamlin said. "Kevin in particular was good. I watched him and raced with him a ton -- starting in go-karts. By the time I started in Late Models he was racing in the Busch Series, but he really was good."

For this year's challenge, Wayne Grubb kinda fell through a crack -- but hopefully it won't happen in 2012.

"I'm sure he'd love to get back in a race car," Hamlin said. "That's the thing, we definitely actually forgot about that -- I didn't even think about Wayne but he's been working with that Brewco [now Baker Curb] team for such a long time.

"I've talked to him a little bit and he loves his job and what he does, but his passion is racing so [we'll see]."

A year ago, Virginia LMSC hotshot C.E. Falk III nudged Hamlin aside and won the race. The high-speed Richmond layout might preclude bump-and-runs, but not a shortage of action with 42 Late Model regulars -- including Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell -- among the 56 entries.

Hamlin's Short Track Showdown is the only LMSC event he competes in, saying the 250 laps he ran a year ago at Southside Speedway, the event's three-year home; are his only ones in a Late Model in the last year. He omitted the full day of testing he had earlier this month with Statesville, N.C., owner Greg Marlowe, whose car he'll run for the first time.

"Totally different race track, totally different feel," Hamlin said, comparing RIR to the third-mile Southside. "The car I'm running this year is a totally different car so it's a new deal for me [and] I don't have as much experience [in Late Models] as people think."

What he does have is a lot of passion for what he does -- and Thursday's event is front and center right now.

"These guys [including 10 other touring division or higher competitors] are coming early and they're spending pretty much their whole day for this event," Hamlin said. "We want the fans to feel like they got their money's worth and hopefully the show is worth it, because I think it's going to be pretty amazing.

"Some of the guys are competing in both the Late Model and the K&N race, so it might get pretty crazy."

From this fan's seat, that's certainly the hope -- after waiting four years to get here. But that's better than 14 years after the fact.