Vaughan Crittenden never imagined that his first year as a track general manager would take place during a global pandemic.
Named to the position at Langley Speedway in February of 2020, Crittenden had to find a way to keep the historic track open as safety restrictions hindered or shut down other facilities along the East Coast.
Nothing came easy for Crittenden or the Langley staff but he considers himself fortunate that a full season took place despite the hapless circumstances.
“I got ten years of experience in ten months,” Crittenden said. “There was a lot to juggle like working with health departments and dealing with all the regulations. It was definitely challenging but I was lucky to have so many supportive people surrounding me.”
Once COVID-19 cases began to dwindle in May, Crittenden and representatives from Martinsville Speedway, Richmond Raceway and several minor league baseball teams in Virginia collaborated to lobby governor Ralph Northam for an easing on COVID-19 restrictions.
Although Crittenden and the others argued the spectators were essential for their businesses to survive, they all faced an uphill battle with Northam refusing to relent on safety protocols.
Langley’s battle to reopen received a major boost from Crittenden’s mother Jenny, the executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust who had been appointed to Virginia’s COVID-19 Business Task Force in April.
With Jenny helping Langley’s staff voice their concerns, the track was given permission to start their season on July 4 under strict protocols that included a capacity limit of 1,000 people. Approximately 300 people could be allowed in the infield with 700 in the grandstands but Langley adjusted those numbers to accommodate a larger entry list for the Hampton Heat.
Masks were initially only mandatory for Langley employees whenever they were indoors until another adjustment to Northam’s COVID-19 regulations required them to be worn outside.
Crittenden admitted that the restrictions were occasionally frustrating but added they were worth dealing with to provide fans and drivers an opportunity to enjoy racing at Langley, including the track’s most prestigious event in the Hampton Heat.
“Pulling off a full season was nothing short of remarkable,” Crittenden said. “The only year we didn’t have the Hampton Heat was in 2016 when the track was closed and having that race remain on the calendar was big for our racers, especially since it was the only big Late Model event [in Virginia] last year.”
Outside of dealing with the ongoing tire shortage, Crittenden said that 2021 has been a far less stressful year with minimal COVID-19 restrictions to account for. The change in pace is also motivating Crittenden to enact some ideas for Langley’s future that had been temporarily shelved due to the pandemic.
Among the changes include a new fan experience area and a rebranding of Langley’s website. Crittenden also revamped the marketing strategy for the Hampton Heat to attract more drivers and fans to Langley for the race.
Crittenden’s strategy has already started to produce results. Over two dozen drivers that include Late Model Stock standouts in Josh Berry, Peyton Sellers and Bobby McCarty are currently entered for ‘America’s Hottest Race’ on Saturday evening.
“This is the largest field we’ve had for the Hampton Heat in quite a number of years,” Crittenden said. “I also think this will be one of the race’s most competitive fields. You could point to 12 drivers that have a realistic shot of winning but drivers know how grueling of a race this can be. We’re really trying to give this race its own identity.”
Crittenden is hoping to have Langley host an event for the SMART Modified Tour in 2022 to go along with the track’s CARS Tour date. He remains optimistic that Langley can still attract national events like NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Superstar Racing Experience races.
For now, Crittenden is focused on the current season at Langley and making sure that fans and drivers are satisfied at the track while listening to any suggestions that could potentially improve the overall experience.
Crittenden said that the pandemic provided a bunch of hard lessons for him in year one but believes those challenges have made him more prepared to be a general manager at a track as historic and significant to auto racing fans as Langley.
While he may not know what the future holds for Langley, Crittenden is confident that the track will keep thriving long after the end of the pandemic.