Big Dave and Mighty Mouse. The combination sounds more like a tag team wrestling duo than arguably the most successful spotter-driver combination in Langley Speedway history.
Mighty Mouse, Shawn Balluzzo, raced stock cars at Langley for more than 35 years. For 30 of them, Big Dave, Dave Oshman, was his spotter and partner on the other end of their two-way communications.
Oshman doubled as the guy who drenched Balluzzo in water in Dale Lemonds Victory Lane through scores of victories and 11 Modified Division championships — four more titles than any driver in the track’s 70 years. His was the last voice Balluzzo, 64, heard on Saturday in the split second before he crashed to his death in a Modified race.
“Outside, outside,” Oshman said to Balluzzo, alerting him of the position of competitor Chris Johnson an instant before their wheels touched, sending Balluzzo flying over Johnson’s hood and front-first into the Turn 2 wall.
The words haunt Oshman, not because they were incorrect — the incident unfolded so quickly, no spotter could’ve seen it coming — but because they seem so inadequate an ending. So, Oshman bade his final farewell to Balluzzo in a Facebook post on Monday.
“Shawn my best friend for 32 years,” Oshman wrote to Balluzzo. “You and I have been through a lot together and I would never trade that for anything in the world.
“I was the last person on this earth to talk (to) you. The only thing I wish I could have said was that ‘I love you.‘ ”
The rest of the Langley Speedway family will have the opportunity to express their love to the late driver, his widow, Terri, and his four children on Thursday when the track hosts a “Shawn Balluzzo Celebration of Life.” Gates open at 6 p.m., and the celebration begins at 7 p.m., is open to the public and will be streamed live on the Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway Facebook page.
Among those paying tribute to Balluzzo will be Mark Wertz. He joined Balluzzo’s Late Model team shortly after Oshman in the early 1990s, and Balluzzo served as a mentor to both.
“He taught us a lot of things, years ago, me and Dave Oshman,” said Wertz, who went on to become a two-time Late Model champion at Langley Speedway and was second to Matt Carter in the race that claimed Balluzzo’s life. “That joined our friendship and pushed us on to do more things.
“l learned all of the ins and out of Late Model stock cars from Shawn.”
Oshman said Balluzzo was “The Little Guy That Could” during his Late Model days. Lacking the money of division stars like Chip Hudson, Phil Warren and Danny Edwards Jr. back then, Balluzzo rose to competitiveness with elbow grease and driving talent.
“He liked to design, build and set up his own cars,” Oshman said. “He was always changing things and his attention to detail was incredible.
“He kept trying, trying and trying, and put everything together that night he won his first pole and led all 100 laps to beat Danny Edwards for his first win. I think that was September 1989 and it was the best thing that ever happened to him to that point.”
Ever the racer, Balluzzo skipped a race at Southampton Motor Speedway on a Friday in June 1997 so he could get married to Terri and leave his Saturday open for the Late Model 100 at Langley Speedway. He finished fourth to track legends Warren, Edwards and Mike Buffkin on his honeymoon weekend.
Finances made Late Model wins over such heavyweights rare for Balluzzo at Langley Speedway. But when he did win — like when he broke a four-year non-winning streak at Langley in April 2003 — he was a delight in Victory Lane.
“Write this down,” he said with a smile. “We have (illegal) traction control.
“Actually, we have a motor so underpowered that it won’t spin the tires up off the corner. The car really handled like a dream.”
His rise to legendary status began in 2008, when the open-wheel Modifieds became part of the weekly show at Langley. Able to match finances with his talents as a driver and mechanic, Balluzzo began to win and win ... and win.
At age 52, he won his first division championship. It was his crowning achievement, but he would add 10 more jewels to it over the next 11 years.
“I think that meant a lot to Shawn,” Oshman said. “He proved that he was a really good driver — a guy with the talent to pick the right lane, make the right moves and make the right decisions — if you gave him good equipment.
“Nobody out there was as precise and smooth as he was driving those Modified cars.”
Tributes poured in this week at the news of Balluzzo’s death. The owner of a graphics and signs business, the blue-collar Balluzzo would’ve been amused that People Magazine was among numerous national outlets to mourn his passing. He would’ve appreciated the mention he received Sunday on the telecast of the NASCAR Cup race.
Because he sported the No. 48 on his Modified, it is fitting that seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, that most famous No. 48 of all, ran with the “No. 48 Godspeed Shawn Balluzzo” Mighty Mouse sticker on the left-side seatpost of his Chevy in the NASCAR All-Star race on Wednesday night in Bristol.
Johnson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, who began is stock car career at Langley Speedway, said that Balluzzo was “a good friend of mine and an early influence on my racing career.
“I’m very proud and fortunate to carry this decal in honor of him.”
Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, firstname.lastname@example.org
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