Weedsport, NY — May 21, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Selection Committee
Charlie Langenstein has been named to receive the annual ‘Mechanic of the Year Award’ and will be formally honored during the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies Sunday, May 25 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series event at the adjacent speedway.
From DIRTcar Racing to the go-kart industry, famed Indy Car and NASCAR series, and most racing divisions in between, Langenstein has already left an indelible mark. Shaping a successful career that has carried him from the Syracuse Mile in New York State to Volusia Speedway Park in Florida, Charlie has his racing roots imbedded most deeply in the mighty Big-Block Modified class. Born in New Jersey, schooled in Delaware and currently residing in North Carolina, he first ventured to former Nazareth Raceway and the Reading Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania as well as Flemington Fair Speedway in the Garden State in 1972, and over the next two decades surfaced as one of the top wrenches in the Northeast.
“The DIRT circuit is where I really grew, it helped mold what I wanted to do in the long term,” said Langenstein, 47, who today is the mechanical supervisor for Hendrick Motorsports on the Cup circuit, overseeing all technical aspects of the cars driven by internationally acclaimed touring stars Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. With well over 250 feature wins and countless track and series championships accounted for in the Northeast Dirt Modified ranks, legendary drivers such as Brett Hearn, Jimmy Horton, Will Cagle, Kenny Brightbill and Larry Voss are among the most successful that have benefited in the unique way that Charlie maintains and preps a race car for competition.
“(DIRT) offered a rare opportunity back then …. where else could you race 120 times a year, sometimes every day of the week, and get that kind of experience? We’d work all day on cars, race at night, then go hang out afterwards with everybody else doing the same thing. I remember the fun times traveling the (Advance Auto Parts) Series, especially the Quebec tour. One time we got rained out at Three Rivers and Jacques Lalancette threw a big party. It was hard for all the Americans to race after that,” Langenstein divulged.
At a very young age Charlie was taught by Delaware racer Walt Breeding, a successful car builder in his own right, on the fabrication and design of race cars and the vital engineering ingredients. Throughout the years he continued to hone his racing skills and worked under some of the best in the business with a goal to someday set his own mark in the sport.
While still attending high school, Charlie was able to take off the entire month of May from school to work for Danville, Illinois Indy car driver Larry “Boom Boom” Cannon at the famed brickyard of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 1980 Indy 500. While the team was lacking the major funding it took to be a threat for the win, they qualified 14th-fastest for the 500 yet engine woes ultimately resulted in a 33rd-place finish. After graduation from high school in June, Charlie remained a vital part of Cannon’s Indy car Team for two more years.
From 1976-82 Langenstein accompanied George Smith’s Statewide Racing team with Jimmy Horton behind the wheel, then joined forces with big-Block star Brett Hearn before building a car for notorious owner Tony Ferraiuolo and his driver Ken Brenn Jr. to close out the 80s. “We built Tony’s first high-rail car for Ken to drive at Super DIRT Week in 1988 but never had a chance to finish the race,” said Langenstein, whose only regret is never winning at Syracuse. “It was based on a sprint car and we even copied some of the ‘Batmobile’ design that dominated in 1980. After that the Bicknell chassis incorporated high rails for awhile. When it comes to Syracuse, I kinda feel like Dan Marino, never being able to win the big one. I won a lot of 200s with Jimmy Horton and Brett Hearn but never in October at Syracuse.”
Charlie relocated to the Tar Heel State and helped Rob Moroso capture the NASCAR Grand National title in 1989 before working at the Kneisel Speed Shop in Pennsylvania from 1992-95. He then served a one-year stint with Team Freightliner owner Ray Bramall in 1996.
A self-taught race car engineer, Langenstein successfully designed and built many race car components and chassis that helped set the bench mark in motorsports today. He designed and built a NASCAR Cup chassis for Petty Enterprises in Level Cross, North Carolina with driver Bobby Hamilton that won in just its third time on the race track at the famed Rockingham (NC) Motor Speedway in the fall race in 1997.
“There’s still a few things that are incorporated in the (Big-Block) cars today, even a chassis name goes back to my Indy days,” noted Langenstein, who in the 1980s coined the nickname “Teo Bobby” for young sheet metal designer Bobby Hearn, who today heads Teo Fabrications in Vernon, New Jersey. While affiliated with the Indy car circuit, Teo Fabi was one of the hottest drivers and Charlie was impressed with Hearn’s innate ability to build Modified bodies, thus the moniker that Hearn eventually used to mark his design domain. “The way the torsion bars are set up and some of the rear-end geometry is the same as what I used back then. If I had the time I’d like to build another car just for Syracuse, I definitely want to go back there and take care of some unfinished business.”
Charlie’s ideas and business plans were also successful in building “production line” fleets of race cars for the driving school industry and for entertainment in the “show car” markets world wide. He was instrumental in working with famed race engineer, car builder and race car driver Mark Alderson of Brownsburg, Indiana in the development of an all steel frame monococ Indy car chassis for the race car driving industry. Together they also designed the worlds first Indy Car two-seater for the Motorsports and entertainment industry. This idea was also copied by many Championship Indy Car teams and race car manufactures which today is very instrumental in race car driving training and public relations projects and the movie production industry as well.
Since 2000 Charlie has worked for Hendrick Motorsports starting with the #25 cars and driver Jerry Nadeau. R & C Motorsports Ventures was launched in ‘01 by co-founders Ray Schepler and Langenstein, with Langenstein serving as Director of Racing Operations and overseeing all race car preparation and serving as crew chief. Charlie has worked for Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and two-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson since 2002.
Charlie continues to work closely with many motorsports and high performance product manufacturers to help promote, test, evaluate and market new ideas and racing concepts in the Motorsports industry. And to think it all started at three dirt short tracks that aren’t even in existence today. Langenstein’s career truly comes full circle on Sunday afternoon as he is recognized for a lifetime of achievement at the home of DIRTcar Racing in the Northeast.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts and Hoosier Racing Tire. Rite Aid Corporation is a promotional partner and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks, Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Dig Safely New York, Holley HP Carburetors, Integra Shocks, Intercomp, KSE Racing Products, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks, Rislone Oil Stabilizer and Wrisco Industries.