Warren topped some of the best Late Model drivers in the business by winning the Taco Bell
Phil Warren doesn't mind being called old-fashioned. It's a philosophy that's kept him racing up front for more than 25 years, a credo that's kept his family racing for five decades. His uncle, Bruce Warren, raced at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, in the early 1960s; his father tried a few hot laps before going back over the wall; his brother, Doug, still races Langley; and his son, Anthony, races at Langley as well.
"My uncle did most of his racing back in the Sportsman days before I started. He won the track title four times," Warren says. "My other uncle raced some. My father raced a couple of times and decided it wasn't for him. He ran through the fence once and that was it."
There's nothing glitzy about this family that lives in the Tidewater area of Virginia that teeters on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and has made Langley Speedway a weekend home since Lyndon Johnson was still in the White House. You can still find a couple of race cars in Phil and his wife Barbara's backyard, and most nights a gaggle of unpaid help swarms about these cars, trying to get them ready for another war on the flat turns of Langley.
Even though the backyard activity centers around cars driven by the Warrens' 22-year-old son Anthony, Phil normally takes a stroll out back of his Norfolk, Virginia, house a couple of times a week to offer advice-if asked. His own cars, both the Hooters ProCup and Late Model variety, are parked across the peninsula in a bit nicer digs-the garage of his team owners and sponsors, Lamb and Robinson. That's a luxury, having someone else field his cars, that has taken Warren awhile to adjust to. That's where the old fashioned part comes in: he's accustomed to racing out of his own pocket, and most of the time those pockets weren't all that deep.
"I used to race on what the race car made," Warren says. "People didn't believe that."
The reason they didn't? Warren's success. He figures he has won just about 100 Late Model features. Throw into that a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Atlantic Seaboard title and seven Langley Speedway championships and you understand why people scratch their heads over Warren's low-budget success.
"I did things people didn't do and race every week," Warren says. "I'd paint two or three cars a week in my shop after I got home to pay for tires that weekend."
One hundred wins and 23 years ago, Warren strapped into a racer for the first time. The year was 1979. The next year was his first full season behind the wheel. "I actually started out in a Street Stock at Langley and they moved the class up the next year to Limited Sportsman. Then they moved it up to Late Model a couple of years later. I never really moved up. They just moved me up," Warren says.
Warren was surrounded by a bevy of strong contenders back then: Elton Sawyer, Bubba Adams, Charlie Falk, Wayne Hanberry, all familiar Late Model names from the early '80s. "I'm the only foolish one left," says Warren.
Foolish probably isn't the proper adjective. Persistence is probably a little closer to reality. Warren won a couple of races his first two years in Late Models, then he settled into a three-year drought brought on mostly by a lack of funding. By 1986, though, he was back on track and won his first Langley track championship. Two years later, in 1988, he won the second of his seven Langley titles and capped the season with a victory in a prestigious 100-lap Late Model event at Martinsville Speedway.
By the early '90s, he was winning on a regular basis. Then in 1995, he exploded with a career season. He had 20 victories, including 19 at Langley and one at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia. He won another Langley championship, and the Atlantic Seaboard regional crown. It was all done on a shoestring in his own garages.
"As long as Phil has raced, he's made sacrifices," says Wayne Wyatt, promoter at Langley. "Phil raced out of his pocket, but drove the wheels off. He learned to get the most out of what he had. He has been able to squeeze every bit out of it."