When Sandy Lemonds heard the news that Shawn Balluzzo died July 11 in a Modified Division race at Langley Speedway, her heart broke.
She felt the shock of losing a longtime friend, someone who served as spotter for many of her late husband Dale Lemonds’ racing victories at the track. Worse, though, was the pain she felt for his widow, Terri Balluzzo.
“We honor and pray for the dead, but it’s for the living that we cry our tears,” Sandy Lemonds said.
She wishes she could’ve dried those tears, driven from Grafton to Hampton and simply hugged Terri Balluzzo in the days after Shawn Balluzzo’s death. The coronavirus pandemic made that impractical.
She would’ve phoned to offer Terri Balluzzo words of comfort, advice and, especially, empathy, but she understands those words would get lost so soon after the tragedy. Sandy Lemonds understands because she, too, lost her husband in a racing accident at Langley Speedway.
Dale Lemonds died in a Legends Division race on Aug. 28, 2004, crashing into the wall just a few yards up the track from where Shawn Balluzzo hit it in Turn 2. Both were killed instantly, the only drivers to die in a racing accident at Langley Speedway during the past 55 years.
“We’re in a unique group that nobody wants to be part of,” said Chris Lemonds, who was driving in the race in which his father was killed.
Bonds among the families, the night of Dale Lemonds’ death in particular, run deep. Sandy Lemonds was once track office manager, a job Terri Balluzzo currently holds.
Only an hour before the fateful Legends race in 2004, Dale Lemonds and Shawn Balluzzo sat together at a picnic table discussing the future of the then-struggling track. There, Dale Lemonds showed him the letter-of-intent he’d signed two days earlier to assume operational control of Langley Speedway.
“(Dale) talked about his plans to bring the track back to what it used to be,” Shawn Balluzzo recalled in a 2005 Daily Press article. “The future was really bright.”
When Dale Lemonds crashed, Terri Balluzzo, perhaps aware of the magnitude of the wreck, sprinted to Chris Lemonds’ car to keep him from going over to his dad’s. He and Sandy Lemonds are grateful still.
“I felt like she was protecting me because she knew something was bad,” said Chris Lemonds, who was 28 at the time. “She got me out of my car and comforted me.”
Sandy Lemonds, who was not at the race, said, “I didn’t know about that until later on and I don’t know if I ever reached out to thank her for that.”
Brandi (Lemonds) Posey, Sandy and Dale’s daughter, saw the accident from the family skybox at the track. She says she learned something that night that will help Terri and the rest of the Balluzzo family.
“I knew at that moment that I had the support of everybody at that race track,” Brandi Posey said. “The racing community is a family and I feel now, even after 16 years, I can reach out to any one of those people.
“They’re going to be there for the Balluzzos and we’re going to be there, too, because we understand.”
Brandi Posey says that one reason leaning on people in the racing family helps is because they accept the risks that racers take in a way people not associated with the sport do not.
“Do what you love,” she said. “Racing is in our blood, our DNA, it’s something we did as a family.
“It’s not OK, but it’s OK, because we understood the risks and understand my dad wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Lou Gotti, a Dale Lemonds confidant and crew member who went on to operate Langley Speedway from 2006-09, said as much in 2005.
“Dale always told me, ‘Damn, if I’m going to die, I want to die in one of these (race cars),’” Gotti told the Daily Press. “He never wanted to be sick and old.
“Thank God he went fast, doing what he loved.”
That is not to say life was easy for the Lemonds family after Dale’s death, but hope and happiness eventually emerged.
Sandy Lemonds honored her husband’s letter-of-intent and operated the track for 18 months. When her brother King Hodges, who handled day-to-day operations, died, she sold the lease to Gotti and has found contentment in family.
“Losing someone, especially when you’re in the public eye, is hard,” Sandy Lemonds said. “But if I can say anything to Terri, along with giving comfort, I’d say there’s a reason to go on and live your life, enjoy your family and celebrate those times that are just so precious in a life that is so darn short.
“I just celebrated the birth of my first great-grandchild. As sad as I am Dale never got to meet him, I’m sure he and the little guy passed each other in heaven.”
Chris Lemonds said he lost direction when his father died, descending into drug addiction. He has been clean for years and is enjoying life with his wife, Joy, and daughter Ryleigh, 17, and son Brayden, 12.
“‘You don’t have to be alone and time really does heal,‘” Chris Lemonds said he would tell the Balluzzos. “I’ve come through the other side of my dad’s accident and through drug addiction.
“My years are filled with life, now, instead of my life being filled with years.”
Added Brandi: “If our father’s accident was so that we could learn to pray for the Balluzzos and support them in a way no one else can, then it wasn’t in vain.”
Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, firstname.lastname@example.org
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