C.E. Falk sat in the media center at Martinsville Speedway the day before the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and said if he were to win that weekend’s race he would set the coveted grandfather clock trophy to chime every 15 minutes.
Falk made good on the promise.
Four times an hour Falk is reminded of the biggest win of his career, with the trophy sitting in his dining room.
“It’s really soothing actually,” Falk said of the near constant chiming.
Falk and his wife, Kaliegh, have programed the clock to play different melodies to break up the monotony, but he said he doesn’t plan on making it go silent any time soon.
“It’s not as bad as you think. You actually get used to it,” he said. “I heard a couple guys in the Cup Series race like, ‘I had to turn that dang thing off,’ or whatever. I’m like, ‘man, mines still going and it’s going to keep going.’… We both work full time so it’s nice to sit down and watch TV and have the clock. It’s awesome. It’s like ‘we won.’”
It took Falk 13 tries to finally get a victory at the Paperclip in a race he compared to the Daytona 500. The late model race at Martinsville Speedway is seen as the biggest of its kind in the country, and brings out drivers from all over, from many different series, racing for not only the clock but also the $25,000 grand prize.
Falk’s win this year wasn’t without controversy, though. The drivers went through three overtime periods, the maximum allowed under race rules. On the final green-white-checkered attempt, a third incident on the restart brought out a final caution, and after a lengthy delay it was determined the No. 02 car of Falk was the leader of the last completed lap and had a driveable car to cross the checkered flag, which gave him the win over the No. 78 of Corey Heim.
While the win was within the rules, it left a sour taste in the mouth many fans, who let their feelings about Falk’s win be known on social media and the internet.
“People are always going to say what they want to say,” Falk said. “Believe me, I feel the worst for fans too. I want the race to end under full green. I’ve dreamt for a long time of taking the white flag and having the spotter say ‘checkered flag next time by.’ That just wasn’t the race.
“But you can’t get caught up in what other people say. There’s always somebody out there docking it. I’ve really just turned all that off. I just listen to the people that I care about and go about my day. If you read too far into the comments you can really get your heart broke. That’s with anything in life, it doesn’t matter. I just worry about people that I care about and that’s who I take care of.”
No matter what people say though, the win isn’t stopping Falk’s drive to keep working, and the 32-year-old’s career may just be heating up.
A MOMENT ALONE
Following the checkered flag, Falk came around Turn 3 at Martinsville Speedway, got the call from his spotter, and had to wait for the tractor pulling the stage around to the front straightaway before starting the celebration. The pause gave the late model veteran a unique moment of quiet in his car before the celebration, the confetti, the photos and interviews.
While the fans and family eagerly awaited Falk to come around and start the party, he enjoyed having a chance to reflect on what it took to get to this point in his career.
“All the late nights of working so hard and you’re always doubting yourself,” he said. “You’re confident in what you’re doing but like anything in your professional life… it just validates all the hard work that I’ve put into it, my family has put into it for so long, all the people that believed in me. It felt really good to make all those people proud.
The short track racing veteran has seen his share of success in his career spanning more than a decade. He won three straight track championships at Langley Speedway from 2009-2011, and won the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Southside Speedway in 2010.
But for all the success, there’s also been heartache, especially at Martinsville. Falk tried at The Paperclip for a dozen years before his September win. He finished sixth in 2012, good enough to win the Virginia Triple Crown for the driver with the highest average finishes at South Boston, Langley and Martinsville Speedways, but followed that with finishes at Martinsville of 18th, 23rd, 19th, fourth and 10th in the next five years.
With the race only coming once a year, that put a lot of time before chances to return for another shot at a win, which was a strain on Falk early, but now makes the win more special.
“Bar none. It always will be the biggest win of my career,” Falk said. “It doesn’t matter if I win 100 more races, that’s the one everybody wants. There’s a lot of drivers in the Cup Series that have won that race and haven’t won a clock and I think it makes it most special that it only happens once a year. It’s like the Daytona 500. You don’t have a chance to go back there for a whole nother year.”
It didn’t take long for the win to fully set in either. Falk said after winning on Saturday night, he spent Sunday getting phone calls from friends and family. On Monday morning, he woke up and walked out the door to head to his day job, where he buys cars from different dealerships in Virginia and North Carolina to help other dealerships with their inventory.
“I walked out the door on Monday and I walked back in and it really just set it that the Martinsville clock was sitting in my dining room,” he said. “Just an unbelievable feeling.”
ONE FOR THE LITTLE GUYS
The world of late models has been split recently between drivers like Falk, who work day jobs and come home after to put in hours on their car in their off time, and drivers who make driving late models a full-time profession.
Two of the last three late model winners at Martinsville have been in the first group, and Falk said he hopes his win can be encouraging for those hoping to get into short track racing that anyone can find success.
“You don’t have to have 10 paid guys to come to the race track to help you,” he said. “You can have a day job and if you grind it out at night and use your time wisely and figure some things out for yourself you can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish.
“This sport take a lot of brains and a lot of effort , but If you put the time in and the commitment the results are going to show up. I’m just a living embodiment of it.”
Falk credited his wife with understanding the commitment he’s made, and helping him whenever she can.
“I work on my car every day after work,” he said. “I try not to be home too late but I have a great wife that understands and she’s out there helping me too. It’s just us two and a couple friends that come by and help us every once in a while to work on the car and have it ready for the weekend. It’s just hard work and heart. That’s what we do.”
Martinsville’s late model race is the picture of chaos, and most of the time the fastest car that day isn’t the one that crosses the finish line first. This year was no exception. With nearly a half dozen incidents in the final 50 laps, winning came down to simply being the car in the front at the right time.
And a little bit of luck.
“You can have the best race car, but without a lot of luck on your side it’s never going to work out,” Falk said. “Luckily, we might not have had the best car but we had the best luck. We’re just very fortunate to come out on top.
“It’s like winning the lottery. You play hoping to win, but you never really think it’s actually ever going to happen to you. And that’s it for us. We won. And it’s so cool.”
A NEW DRIVE
Falk will race at Motor Mile Speedway in 2019, as well as a couple races at Langley Speedway, including the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, and other select races at South Boston Speedway.
“I thought I was coming towards the end of my career but it seems like it’s just gearing back up,” he said.
The win reignited the fire in Falk to keep driving and keep trying to win more races, including at Martinsville.
And the prize money from the ValleyStar win helps springboard the team into 2019. Falk said his team always rebuilds its motor for Martinsville, so he was able to pay his dad back for that.
The rest of the winnings go towards the next season, which is critical for a small team with a driver who makes racing his hobby rather than his full-time career.
“For a team like ours that’s small It just helps us get parts and pieces to be able to compete next year. It just helps springboard us into 2019 honestly,” Falk said. “Just being able to start off on the right foot and being able to prepare like we need to.
“This late model business, it’s tough now. It’s tougher now than it’s ever been. It’s a hobby for most but there’s professional teams and people that their sole job is to work on these type of cars. It’s a tough sport. It always has been but that money really makes it so we can start 2019 off on the right foot.”
And at the end of the 2019 season is the ValleyStar 300, which Falk said he definitely won’t miss.
“What’s better than one Martinsville clock? It’s two clocks. We’ve got to even out the dining room now,” he said.
“It’s been a tough road. We’ve had a lot of wins, a lot of great victories, but also lost a lot of races and had heartache. But to finally get that one, it just gears me up to race for 10 more years… it just motivates you so much to keep going, keep trying and keep grinding. Something anybody can look at and go ‘that guy did it, I can do it.’ It just proves that to anybody. It reignites the fire in me.”