The first Late Model race in the history of storied Daytona International Speedway was an instant classic and very nearly the crowning achievement of three-time Langley Speedway champion C.E. Falk's young stock-car racing career. Instead, it ended as bitter as any pill Falk ever has swallowed in racing.
Just 50 yards from victory in the UNOH Battle at the Beach, Falk was spun out by 2012 K&N Pro Series East national champion Kyle Larson. Larson drove the final yards to victory, with teammate Ben Rhodes second and Falk, who straightened his Toyota after spinning into the expansive asphalt infield, an angry third.
Falk wore a look of disgust and disbelief on his face after coming within inches of weathering a storm of repeated bumps from Larson over the final 10 laps. Falk bumped pole-sitter Rhodes aside to move into the lead on lap 88.
Falk led all but two of the final 63 laps of the 150-lap race in the debut of a 4/10-of-a-mile circuit that included part of the back-straight of the famed track in Daytona Beach. Larson, who ran third behind Falk and Rhodes most of the night, reached Falk's back bumper with 10 laps to go.
Larson, running with a damaged nose, put a bump-and-run on Falk to take the lead with eight laps remaining. But Falk, brake rotors glowing bright orange through the super-tight triangular-shaped corners, passed back within a lap.
Larson bumped Falk's rear left quarter panel several times coming off the turns in the final laps, and Falk somehow kept his car straight. Coming into the final turn, Falk was slowed ever so slightly by the lapped car of Trey Gibson, who was, ironically, sponsored by Langley Speedway.
That allowed Larson to get his right front bumper to Falk's left rear quarter again. And again Falk kept his car straight and in the lead. But Larson spun Falk on the straight after they exited the final turn, a move that clinched the victory and $15,000 first prize, but prompted criticism from Speed Channel color commentator Hermie Sadler.
"They'll say it's short-track racing, but I don't like it," Sadler said.