C.E. Falk has worked tirelessly the past four years to grab the attention of folks who hand out promotions into NASCAR's top tiers. Three Langley Speedway titles, 50-plus victories and an exciting last-lap win over Tony Stewart in a high-profile short-track race later, Falk is still toiling in the Late Model ranks.
Ironically, Falk's most disappointing Late Model defeat might be the one that gives him the national visibility to gain more serious consideration. On Monday, Falk dominated the first Late Model race at Daytona International Speedway until rising star Kyle Larson wrecked him 50 yards from the checkered flag.
While Larson drove off to victory, Falk was the beneficiary of an immediate sympathy backlash and a new-found wave of respect for his talent. Falk said that a Camping World Truck Series owner approached him at Daytona on Tuesday, and is looking for a sponsor to put him in a ride at Martinsville in March.
Several Sprint Cup Series drivers weighed in on the finish of the 150-lap UNOH Battle at the Beach held Monday at Daytona Beach, Fla. Some complimented Falk for his performance, while others criticized Larson for wrecking Falk on the final straight after failing to do so on the last turn.
"Hey @CEFalk40, you were awesome," Cup driver Mark Martin tweeted. "You handled yourself well."
Cup champion Brad Keselowski disagreed with a supporter who defended Larson, tweeting, "Looked more like a dump and run (than a bump and run). Big difference. Bump and dump are 2 different things."
Falk led all but two of the final 63 laps of the race after passing pole-sitter Ben Rhodes for the lead. Larson got to Falk's back bumper with 10 laps to go, nudging him several times in an attempt to pass for the lead.
That's perfectly acceptable racing etiquette, as was Larson's bump in the final turn barely 50 yards from the finish. But when Larson spun Falk on the final straight — driving to victory, with Rhodes second — negative reaction was immediate.
"They'll say it's short-track racing, but I don't like it," said Speed Channel color commentator Hermie Sadler, a former Cup driver.
Falk said he is humbled by the reactions of Martin, Keselowski, Sadler and thousands of others.
"My Twitter following has doubled since Monday night," Falk said Tuesday afternoon. "I had about 1,000 followers and now I have more than 2,100.
"I think I ran the race the right way. He caught me and passed me (with eight laps to go), but he burned his stuff up passing me, so I passed him right back.
"He took advantage of my getting high off the last turn and used that to wreck me. But I'm going to take the positives from the race and move on."
That includes mending fences with Larson, whom he considers a friend. Falk said that he gave Larson advice on how to drive at Langley Speedway when Larson was at the track for the 2011 Drive For Diversity Combine.
Larson admitted his desire to win the inaugural Late Mode race at Daytona accounted for his aggressiveness.
"It came down to the last lap and I wanted the trophy,'' he said. "I got into him and didn't get off of him, and he spun around. I hate doing it that way; it's probably the first race I've ever won in that manner. But this was a pretty big race and I wanted to be the first to win it.''
The area driver perhaps most able to identify with Falk's feelings after being spun out is 2012 Langley Speedway champ Greg Edwards. Edwards felt that Falk intentionally wrecked him several times last season as they battled for race leads and the track title.
But Edwards expressed only respect for Falk after watching the race on television Monday.
"What people saw was C.E. run a great race and get taken out at the end," Edwards said. "C.E. did a great job, ran better than anyone else and made good passes.
"I think he made a lot of fans on how well he ran the race, and then getting spun out at the end. Most people are on his side.
"It might be the positive C.E. needs, because more people will remember him for that than if he'd won."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun