I bid you welcome gentle readers, to a bit of self-indulgence as we stroll together down Memory Lane to a time when your scribe was closer to her youth than to end of life counseling. In that time, my hair was still dark and there was enough of it to stuff a Queen-sized mattress comfortably. There was still a man at my side that delighted in telling the world he had stalked me for 49 years. Now, I tell folks that he just left to avoid that upcoming party.
After some 30 years of hunting, fishing, boating and all the things that made him happy, I finally managed to drag him to a race. Of course, like most folks, once you’ve been, you want to go again… next week! Well, we weren’t millionaires, or even hundredaires at times, but we managed to visit many tracks in the Southeast, and good old Pocono, back when Doc Joe and Rose were alive and running that big girl. Our seats there were in the Terrace Club, the section up top with the striped awnings offering shade from the blistering sun, which always seems to be closer to earth when one is in the mountains.
Yes, Pocono was great and the seats were unparalleled in our experience, but it was pretty little Martinsville that won my heart at first glance and kept it forever. She’s been on the NASCAR stock car circuit longer than any other, and is the only track remaining on schedule that was there in the first “Strictly Stock” season. Yes my purists, North Wilkesboro was built first, but in 1949, that first year for NASCAR, Martinsville ran its first sanctioned race on September 25 and North Wilkesboro ran its race on October 16. Richmond, which I’ve seen brought into that conversation, didn’t join NASCAR until 1953. In answer to a favorite trivia trap, of course Indianapolis is older than most any track still racing on the planet… BUT… NASCAR didn’t debut there until 1994. I don’t write IndyCar columns; I stick to the devil I know, and that is NASCAR.
Some folks reading here today have read my thoughts on the little track by the tracks so many times they can recite them, but every time I write about her, I know there are new fans reading, so I try to explain in a couple thousand words why she is the best of the best. In a quick rundown of what’s gone by the wayside, the train no longer runs behind the backstretch, so engineers no longer blow the whistle and wave to race fans. It’s still there, but it’s been moved behind the camp grounds.
The azaleas once found decorating the turns on the little paperclip gave way several years ago to make room for SAFER barriers. We’ll be getting to those in a few minutes, but two years ago, part owner and President of the track his Granddad H. Clay Earles built, Clay Campbell graced us with a letter he wrote in answer to my complaint about missing those azaleas and was kind enough to let me print it here on Race Fans Forever. Please do follow that link, especially if you missed it two years ago. You’ll find there every reason to know that there are still warm and caring folks in NASCAR, though they may not be found in Charlotte or Daytona Beach.
Another awesome memory that’s been lost to “Progress” is the duck pond that was home to a large and vocal flock of ducks and Canada geese that quickly developed a penchant for “people food” such as popcorn, potato chips or most anything one might drop for them. Until recently, locating a picture of that little pond proved to be impossible. I did include one of my old pics in one of the older articles, but the pond is not in it and only a pair of geese. Ah, but a friend posted a cover shot of an old Martinsville program that clearly shows what I’ve always wanted to share. Thanks to Dave Fulton for his generosity with this.
The driver in the picture is Busch Series racer, Mike Porter, but just past Mike and his car is a fair representation of part of the flock that called that pond home. The rest, I’m sure, were busy cadging food from adoring race fans in the park-like atmosphere of the Speedway grounds. If you look closely, you’ll see the Canada geese, Mallard ducks and a sprinkling of Snow geese as well. So lovely, aren’t they? Just a beautiful memory now, but one I’m happy that I have.
Now gentle readers, it’s time to look over the situation with the SAFER barriers at pretty little Martinsville. Here then, courtesy of Google Earth and my newfound friend that delineates these for me, who calls himself Gramps, is the situation at Martinsville.
Well, it’s obvious at a glance that little Martinsville has some work to be done. SAFER is found on the outside of both turns and the inside of both straightaways. Yes, I know the track is tiny; I know the speeds are lower than at larger tracks, but once again I must remind everyone reading here today… it’s not the speed that kills; it’s the angle of impact, and no track is immune to that. Little Martinsville is not known as a deadly track, but she has taken a couple of racers home to the Lord. On March 22, 1987, Modified driver Charlie Jarzombeck lost his life to a supposed stuck throttle. That might remind one of the two deaths in 2000, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr., each of which was blamed on a stuck throttle… on a track almost identical to Martinsville, but twice her size. Then of course, on October 24, 1985, our little paperclip claimed 9-time Modified Champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame racer Richie Evans in a practice crash. Cause of death is now listed as basal skull fracture. Does that sound familiar? SAFER should by now be found on every inch of every wall at every track on the circuit, where feasible. Once again, we, the fans that care, acknowledge that there are places on road courses where it’s preferable to have run-off space rather than a wall of any kind, and little Eldora, with her dirt surface, has been excluded by Dr. Sicking.
The SAFER barrier system has been my personal pet project since the inception of the idea, somewhere back in the late 1990s. No one is singling Martinsville out for not having full SAFER barrier protection. As I’m sure you know, the major injuries sustained at Daytona that have sidelined Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, have made the fans and even some NASCAR officials aware of the lack of SAFER and the extent to which it is not in place. With a little help from some friends, I’m posting, track by track, a Google Earth map of the track, with SAFER shown in green and concrete in red.
The fans were told long ago that NASCAR had “mandated” the use of SAFER barriers. What we were not told is that in this instance, mandated refers only to the most obvious places, as chosen by NASCAR. In a series of what might otherwise have been routine crashes, Lady Luck came along and began pointing out how many places a car could go and not be cradled in the loving arms of SAFER when meeting unprotected walls. You’re a racer yourself, as well as having been a part of the racing scene from the day you were born, so I don’t have to explain to you the importance of having SAFER in place. I’m aware that ISC now holds controlling interest in Pretty Little Martinsville, but you still serve as President and as such have the authority to see it done… “It” being the move toward SAFER barriers everywhere. Quite honestly my friend, this needs to happen before we must say goodbye to another driver, not because of it.
Now then, gentle readers, it’s time for some current events. In the past week, Clay Campbell made an announcement that Jesse Jones hot dogs would no longer be the dogs of choice at Martinsville Speedway. Oh, the horror! Oh, the humanity! Oh, the wringing of hands and predictions of impending doom! Say it isn’t so Joe! Oh, BS!
Have you ever tasted one of those things? If that brighter than Maraschino red dye doesn’t kill you, the gluten-laden cereal fillers probably will. Somewhere on this vast waste… er… wonderland we call the Internet, I saw some genius posting about “selling out” to “some Chinese company.” Please… that thing in front of you is a computer. It holds a wealth of information that is yours for the reading. Go for it!
The “new” hotdogs will come with the “Valleydale” brand, but Valleydale has been around the Southland much longer than most anyone reading this today. You can take a little trip back to the beginning by clicking right about here. Valleydale was bought up by Smithfield in 1992, and there should be no one past the age of two that has not heard of Smithfield. They are everywhere and own a huge percentage of meats sold in the Southeastern United States and elsewhere. Their labels include Valleydale, which is now a division of Gwaltney, also owned by Smithfield, John Morrell, Eckrich, Farmland, Armour, Cook’s, Kretschmar, Curly’s, Carando, Margherita and Healthy Ones. If you click here, you can learn of the humble beginnings of Smithfield Foods, where they began and where they are today, which is still Smithfield Virginia, known as the “Ham Capital of the World.” Chinese? Really?
All Clay has done is improve on an already well-known product, allowing it to live up to its reputation as a great hot dog. I’ve had my fair share of hots bearing both the Valleydale and Gwaltney brands, and any dog in either line is a hands-down winner over Jesse Jones. Really kids, it’s not the end of civilization as we know it if Martinsville Speedway chooses to serve a palatable hot dog rather than one that drips red stuff down your chin and stains the bun a disgusting shade of cerise. Believe it or not, there are just as many folks that wouldn’t bite into one of those weird dogs as there are folks that claim to “love” them. Besides, who are we fooling? Almost anyone ordering a hot dog at Martinsville is ordering for the toppings, onions, chili and slaw… mustard I believe is optional. Those remain unchanged, and with a more traditional type hot dog lying beneath them, they should taste just the same as those I recall from oh, so many years ago at North Wilkesboro, where I enjoyed my first, and second, and third, and… well, you get it… “Southern style hot dog.” I literally left the track with a purse full of toppings, but I ate several that day and loved every bite. The purse, alas, was pretty much a total loss.
Dirty little secret: Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but even if you despise hot dogs of any sort or color, you can order up those toppings on a burger; they are just as good and quite possibly better! Try it! You’ll like it!
Clay, thanks again! Some of us… the ones with the best palates… commend you for improving the Martinsville Hot Dog! I truly wish I could join the throng at Pretty Little Martinsville this weekend, but age does take its toll, and I’ve long since conceded that the climb to where we used to sit, right under the old press box, would probably be the death of me these days, so weighing those odds, I’ll remain in my living room and watch on TV… but my heart will be in Martinsville.
And now gentle readers, it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout. Today we’ll be doing a bit of bar hopping with some of the best of them, so grab a stool, belly up to the bar and away we go! First up, we’ll hear George Jones and Merle Haggard singing about “Yesterday’s Wine.”
Next, we’ll hear an encore from the Possum, this time sharing the stage with Willie Nelson as they intone the ever popular, “I Gotta Get Drunk.”
Are we feeling good yet? OK, you’re getting the idea. Here’s a guy that sounded as if he’d had one too many when he was perfectly sober. In retrospect, he didn’t have the best voice in Nashville… or Texas, but you just had to love Ernest Tubb. I guess it was a personality thing. Here’s Ernest doing one he made famous a l-o-n-g time ago, “The Warm Red Wine.”
It’s amazing! YouTube tends to offer related songs to whatever we ask for, and every page I’ve pulled up with drinking songs has George Jones all over it. Wonder why that is…
Anyway, we’re going to reach WAY back for this one. This was introduced I believe for the first time in a 1936 movie called “Song of the Gringo.” It’s been recorded by many artists over the years, and several times by the man who sang it in the movie. I had it on my copy of “Blood on the Saddle.” Here then is “Rye Whiskey” as only the incomparable Tex Ritter can do it.
And… one more… because I was reminded that there was no Closeout on the Lady in Black article that ran late last week. There is nothing this man ever sang that I didn’t love, and this one is no exception. From 1959, here is the awesome talent of Hank Thompson with “Teach ‘em How to Swim.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!