NASCAR Purists Seek Out Martinsville Speedway for Action, Excitement, History

Photo by Andrew Coppley/Harold Hinson Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – For NASCAR fans wanting to get back to the purest form of stock car racing, Martinsville Speedway should be the track to cure what ails you – it’s been around 70-years and is the only racetrack that can boast about being on the original touring circuit.

“Our track has never really changed,” said Brooks Taylor, director of public relations at Martinsville Speedway. “In 1955, they paved it but the layout of the track, the banking; if you look at aerial shots from 1947 until now the track itself it’s the same layout that it’s always been. It is the only original track still in the Cup Series, the only track that was on the original NASCAR schedule.”

The appeal of Martinsville Speedway for racers is that it’s similar to what they grew up watching and racing on since many of the sport’s top drivers began their careers on short tracks around the country. Plus, it is where the best-of-the-best have competed over the past seven decades.

“This is, sort of, a throwback to when they started driving,” Taylor said. “You have some tracks that are tougher than others, I think drivers will tell you Talladega, for example, is physically one of the easiest tracks to drive, mentally it’s one of the toughest tracks. At Martinsville, it is tough physically, it is tough mentally and it is a challenge. It’s unique, it’s different and I think that is why they like it. They will tell you that everything they ever learned about driving a racecar, you have to do the opposite here as far as when to brake and when to get into the gas.

“So, I think that is part of the appeal of it for drivers. And if you look back at the historical significance of Martinsville being the only remaining original track left on the schedule and all of the greats, or most all of the greats, have won here – Richard Petty, Cale Yarbrough, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson. The greats have won here and I think that makes drivers want to win here even more to be a part of that.”

Bringing that historic aspect to the fan perspective, Taylor said there are many reasons why fans pick Martinsville as their favorite short track on the circuit – one being there isn’t a bad seat in the in the grandstands. In fact, this past week, some fans camping in the infield at Talladega pulled up stakes Monday morning to head to Martinsville Speedway because they said they wanted to see their two favorite races back-to-back for perhaps the last time because of a schedule change in 2017.

“No matter what seat you sit in, you have a view of pit road,” he said. “And just about every seat – probably 95-percent, has a view of the entire track. You are right on top of the action. You can hear, you can see it, you can feel it, you can smell it. It is right there. And we haven’t had a bad race. There are tracks that would kill to have the racing we have. It doesn’t matter what NASCAR has done to the cars, what rules package they have brought out, what tires Goodyear has brought. It hasn’t impacted the racing from a fan perspective. There is always something going on on the track and if a driver gets a little frustrated with someone they can let them know. We see that every race.

“On the other side of it, there is a reason why baseball fans want to go to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. There is a reason why football fans want to go to Lambeau Field. It is a throwback and when you come to Martinsville, you are coming for a race and to see something similar to what your dad saw and your granddad before him.”

Since 1948, when NASCAR began, drivers and fans have come to Martinsville Speedway for up-close racing action at the sport’s shortest and tightest track. At just .526 of a mile, Martinsville has two flat 800-foot straightaways that blend into identical 12-degree banked, 588.64-foot arching turns at each end. The configuration resembles a paperclip, which has become somewhat of a nickname for the track. It also resembles the shape of the famous Martinsville Hot Dog, which Taylor said has become one of the most well-known food offerings in the sport.

A lot of tracks try to create an iconic food fare with some tracks even competing amongst themselves for the most audacious offerings, he said. For example, Texas Motor Speedway has been on a bacon kick for some time with such items as bacon-flavored cotton candy, a bacon-flavored beer milkshake and most recently the Hawg Heaven BBQ Melt. This past week, Talladega served up it’s the Big One Meatball, Kansas Speedway has a BBQ sundae and Phoenix International Raceway has the Carburetor Crunch Sandwich with Capt’n Crunch cereal and peanut butter and jelly.

“That’s fine and it works but the thing about it is that the hot dog was never something was created to be a Martinsville ‘thing’ it was something that just happened and took a life of its own,” Taylor said. “You can’t say you came to Martinsville and leave out of here without trying a Martinsville Hot Dog. You don’t have to like it but you can’t come here and say that you didn’t even try it.

“We will sell roughly 65,000 to 70,000 hot dogs over the course of a weekend. It’s a red hot dog with chili, mustard, onions and slaw on a steamed bun and they cost two bucks. I think that is part of the appeal because it is just something unique to Martinsville Speedway, it’s been here forever. It’s not anything we did, it was something that just became a thing and the fans, they love it.”

Something else that is unique to Martinsville is the trophy each driver receives shortly after they take the checkered flag. The famous grandfather clock has become the most sought-after trophy on the circuit because it can be placed in the living room or parlor for everyone, including racing wives, can enjoy.

Tucked away in Henry County, Va. Martinsville Speedway is at the one-time epicenter of the furniture industry. Every major brand was based on the region and the grandfather clock was first given out more than 50 years ago as a way to be different than tracks handing out a Loving Cup.

“It’s a piece of furniture. It is something that Martinsville has been known for and in 1964 Clay Earles decided to start giving a piece of Martinsville to the winner,” Taylor said. “The urban legend goes that he was talking to a driver that said he had all these trophies that his wife wouldn’t let him keep in the house. So, he wanted to come up with a trophy that would A, be special to Martinsville and B, be something that the wives would let them keep front and center in the house. Now, if you talk to drivers, they already got their spot picked out where they are going to put their clock when they win one.”

Looking through the record books, there is one driver, who has already amassed nine Martinsville Speedway clocks and this weekend he is racing in what will likely be his last-ever Sprint Cup Series event. If Gordon, who is subbing for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., can pull off a win, it would be the most wins he has at any track on the circuit. It would also be a momentous occasion for the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization, which has seen both tragedy and triumph here.

“The biggest thing going into this weekend that has not been talked about enough is that Jeff Gordon is racing in what could be his last race,” Taylor said. “He is coming in as the defending race winner and you can never count him out at Martinsville. This could be the last time fans could see Jeff Gordon and see Jeff Gordon legitimately run up front and have a shot to quite possibly win the race.

“I think if Gordon wins this race it would turn some heads but I think at the same time no one would be shocked. He is still Jeff Gordon and this is still Martinsville.”

So, for fans on the fence about attending the first race of the semi-final round of The Chase, the reasons are clear why it’s worth showing up at Martinsville Speedway, according to Taylor. There are tickets available and there are camping sites available in the unreserved camping lot overlooking the track – literally walking distance from the track with a view that is unbeatable for a race fan.

For more information tickets for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 fans can call 1-800-RACE-TIX (1-800-7223-849), they can go to www.martinsvillespeedway.com/tickets or www.nascar.com/tickets and prices start at $55.

“When you come to Martinsville, you come for the race. That’s the biggest thing and it will always be,” Taylor said. “Our tickets prices are very competitive not just within the sport but in other sports.”

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