HAMPTON, Va. — Connor Hall was a couple hours away from his 22nd Late Model Stock Car start of the year at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia. He knew a win would extend his track record of 15 victories on the season and cement his status as 2023 champion.
He felt sick to his stomach.
Sure, the 26-year-old Hampton native was experiencing some anxieties related to the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division I championship, as he was entering the season’s final national points-paying weekend leading the standings. But this uneasy feeling in his gut was not a pressure-induced ailment.
He had devoured nearly a dozen fried Oreos throughout the day.
“If you can’t eat 11 fried Oreos and drink a half gallon of sweet tea on race day and get in there and still do your job, then you don’t need to be doing it,” Hall said.
Those who know him react accordingly. That’s just Connor Hall.
Hall on Tuesday was officially declared the 2023 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division 1 national champion. Though his title was not yet official when he was gobbling sweets at Langley on the final points weekend, he was aware of his impending accomplishment.
Hall by nature is laid back and collected, hence his ability to enjoy cookies on race day. (He swears he otherwise maintains a healthy diet.)
But, lately, he has obsessed over his championship standing.
This after entering 2023 having no clue he’d run a full schedule at Langley, let alone chase a national title.
Hall in April won both of Langley’s season-opening twin races for the Taylor Waste Services Late Model division. He won two more when the division held its next pair of races in May.
Week after week, he kept winning. In turn, he kept collecting NASCAR points.
Eventually, for a driver who entered the year planning to focus on his CARS Tour schedule with Chad Bryant Racing rather than his own late model program, everything changed.
‘WE BLEW THEIR DOORS OFF’
Hall’s race shop is a two-and-a-half-car garage that sits perpendicular to his parents’ house right on the Harris River in Hampton. The house is where he grew up as a person; the garage is where he continues to mature as a racer.
Hall, who works full-time as a broker for Bluewater Yacht Sales, lives in his own house a few minutes away, but he spends a significant portion of his time at the shop.
He and his friend Clayton Parrish form the duo that builds, maintains and adjusts the cars Hall races on the weekends. Hall’s father Earle also lends a heavy hand with his help in the shop and at the track.
The success Connor Hall Racing has had in 2023 is a remarkable reflection of the small team’s dedication and hard work. Quite literally, this is a couple buddies running a national championship-winning race team out of their parents’ garage.
The fruits of CHR’s labor are collected on a nearly weekly basis at the 4/10-mile paved oval located about nine miles away.
Hall opened the year at Langley Speedway winning an absurd 11 Late Model Stock races in a row. That includes a victory in the CARS Tour’s visit to the facility on June 6, plus five sweeps of twin features for the track’s Late Model Stock division.
The first Langley race Hall failed to win in 2023 was the prestigious Hampton Heat on July 22. He finished second to fellow Hampton native and Late Model racing star Brenden Queen.
On the day of the Hampton Heat, though, an important meeting took place. Hall approached a senior official to ask how the NASCAR national points system operated. Having won 10 points-paying races, his friends and fellow competitors were beginning to inform him of his impressive standing.
Hall on Aug. 5 swept another pair of races at Langley for NASCAR wins 11 and 12.
It was that following week – five months into the season – when Hall decided to make a run at the Weekly Series national championship.
“I didn’t want to have a false sense of confidence,” Hall said. “But the most important thing you can obtain is knowledge. So I went and read all the rules on how the NASCAR points system works. I went and found all the NASCAR-sanctioned races that any of my competitors would be able to run. And I just kind of built this master schedule.
“I did the math every week to figure out what would benefit us the most. Just mapping out the scenarios.”
Hall with his newfound goal knew he had to take the fight beyond the confines of Langley, so on Aug. 12, he traveled to North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway for the legendary NASCAR Home Track’s pair of Late Model races. He won both, with a notable result being the fact that he beat fellow national title contender Doug Barnes twice.
The next day, Hall raced at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina, and won again. Barnes showed up to Southern National that day but did not race.
The success at other tracks against his toughest national competition was a sign Hall was cruising toward a championship.
Until he wasn’t.
On Aug. 19, Hall for the first time in 2023 failed to win a pair of features at Langley, finishing second and fourth, respectively, in the twin Late Model races. He blames himself. After the second race, he immediately looked under his car and realized he had forgotten to adjust his track bar.
“I messed it up,” Hall said. “We were kind of assuming Langley was going to be a good chance at success. So when we struck out and went 0 for 2, that created kind of a panic. ‘Have we fallen off? Has something changed? Or did we mess it up so bad, that once we get it set back right, we’ll be fine?’
“Obviously it was a ‘we’ll be fine’ thing, because we went out there and blew their doors off the week after.”
Langley’s race season is not yet over, but Hall finished the NASCAR national points-paying portion of the schedule having won 14 races at his home track.
In all, Hall ran NASCAR points races at five tracks in 2023 – Langley, Hickory, Southern National, South Carolina’s Florence Motor Speedway and New River All American Speedway outside of Jacksonville, North Carolina. He scored 18 wins in 27 races, plus 24 top fives and 25 top 10s.
His national championship is a result of his skill and hard work as much as it is a byproduct of the behind-the-scenes guidance he’s received over the years.
‘WE SIMPLY LIVE LATE MODEL RACING’
For Hall, Langley Speedway is a NASCAR Home Track with home being the key word. It’s where he experienced a strange start to his racing career.
Hall’s parents bought him a go-kart when he was 8, and they routinely took their son to Langley’s open test sessions. He was terrible. Earle, who himself was a champion hydroplane racer, wanted to sell the go-kart. Denise insisted it was worth keeping.
They entered Connor in his first race later that year. In qualifying, once again, he was terrible. But a field invert sent the slowest driver to the front of the field to start the main event.
For reasons Hall and his family still can’t explain, Hall in the race immediately pulled away from the field and eventually lapped every other driver.
Hall dominated in karts at Langley for six years before he moved into the track’s Legends division. More success in that class led him to the Late Model world in 2016.
He experienced sporadic success in Late Models in the seasons that followed. It was in 2019, at an ARCA Menards Series pre-race practice session at Daytona International Speedway, when Hall met Chad Bryant and began to see his world change.
Their relationship early was all about business. Hall routinely called Bryant to beg the car owner for ARCA rides. The peskiness paid off when Hall raised enough funding to race Bryant’s ARCA car at Daytona that February. A last-minute opening that June at Michigan International Speedway allowed Hall to run Bryant’s car again. Hall’s third and final ARCA start for Bryant came at Daytona in the 2020 season-opener.
Bryant recognized Hall’s talent. But the development needed to happen on the short-track ranks, where Hall would be the one building and preparing his own cars.
“Very slowly, the conversations went from me just begging him to race an ARCA car, to him kind of asking what I was racing, what I was doing, stuff like that,” Hall said of his communication with Bryant. “Slowly, he kind of started trying to, I don’t want to say help, but more of me kind of pestering him with some questions every chance I could get on the phone.
“It got to the point where he would always joke I could get one question or five minutes. So I’d always choose the five minutes. Slowly over time he started helping me more and more.”
The relationship continued to evolve to the point where, in 2022, Bryant invited Hall to race his equipment in some CARS Tour events. As part of the preparation for that season’s CARS race at Hickory, Bryant suggested Hall run his own equipment in a Weekly Series race at the track the weekend prior.
Ahead of that event, Bryant did something he had never done for Hall. Rather than suggesting a tweak or two at a time, Bryant sent Hall a complete list of setup points for his car at Hickory.
Hall completed the list and looked at the car. He was livid.
“I called Chad, and I was all pissed off,” Hall said. “The car looked terrible. I told him I thought he was messing with me.
“And he was like, ‘Fine, run it or don’t.'”
Hall of course ran Bryant’s setup at Hickory. He set a track record in qualifying and won both Late Model feature races.
“It was more of a mentorship at that point,” Hall said of his relationship with Bryant. “But I feel like now it’s gotten to the point where, I don’t know if I would call him a younger uncle I’ve never had or a form of an older brother I’ve never had … but also a friend.
“He’s always so concerned about my well being, but at the same time, if he could, he’d probably beat my ass or shove my head in a toilet. It was just a slow evolution of trust and friendship. Now it’s become more like family.”
Hall credits Bryant for the evolution that led to his 2023 Weekly Series national championship. The two speak on the phone nearly every day.
They talk about Hall’s Late Model program, of course, but the topic comes up naturally.
“It’s not like we’re trying to diagnose an issue or something,” Hall explained. “It’s just how conversations and our brains always seem to work together. It’s just the fact that we simply live Late Model racing. That’s where our conversations always go.”
Hall and Bryant entered the year planning to race the full CARS Tour season for the latter’s Late Model team. Those plans changed as Hall kept winning in his own equipment at Langley.
Eventually, Hall dropped the CARS Tour events from his schedule to replace them with NASCAR points races, a move Bryant fully understood and supported.
The duo will reunite Sept. 23 when Hall races Bryant’s car in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, a race known as the Super Bowl of the Late Model world.
Hall will do so with friends and family on hand as he continues to celebrate his 2023 national championship.
‘WE JUST STARTED DOING THE SAME THING EVERY WEEKEND’
As is the case for most competitors in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, Hall’s race program doubles as an amusement avenue to have a good time with his family and friends.
Though only a few hands touch the car, Hall’s pit box on a given weekend is packed with people who support him.
He has his family – his dad Earle, his mom Denise, his sister Kelsea and his girlfriend Lindsey. His “race team” is really just a collection of friends – Parrish the crew chief, Brad Roper the tire specialist, Bo Gurkin the spotter, Cody Gary and Brian Wroten.
Of course, away from his own race program, Hall is also supported by Zach Bruenger, Steven Civitsarese and Gage Painter from Chad Bryant Racing.
Hall does not take those supporters for granted. And in the case of this season, their playfully collective superstitions have defined the year.
Before Hall won his first race of 2023, Parrish bought Chick-fil-A breakfast for the group. One can guess where they’ve had breakfast every race-day morning since. Hall lamented the fact that, by now, he’s tired of chicken minis.
“It wasn’t really anything said,” Hall recalled of the tradition’s origin. “It was kind of a joke that slowly evolved. It still is a joke. We don’t do it because we truly believe in it. At this point, it’s kind of a principle to keep the joke going.
“Also, we ended up winning [the opener] and we ended up just sitting there drinking a couple beers together. For whatever reason, we still always sit on the surface plate around the car after the race. So, with Clayton and the Chick-fil-A breakfast, I was just trying to joke and get a free breakfast. We just starting doing the same thing every weekend.”
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Hall isn’t sure what next year and beyond will hold for his racing career. His bigger-picture goal is to race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, a national-series opportunity that has been realized by recent Weekly Series national champions.
Hall said a new challenge with his Late Model program is the expectations that arrive with success. Gone are the days when he can roll into a race track and hope to simply run well.
“There’s only one option,” Hall said. “I don’t care if we’re flying out to Kern County in California for the first time. We better sit on the pole and win the race.”
Of course, where Hall’s career goes from here and how his expectations evolve are irrelevant factors as they relate to what he accomplished in 2023, and with whom he mastered the craft.
He dominated the season at his NASCAR Home Track.
He ventured out of state and proved himself against a variety of competition.
He became a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division 1 national champion.
He did it with friends and family.
And he ate all of their fried Oreos.