It's Martinsville ~ Let the REAL Racing Begin
The preliminaries are over. We survived the Daytona restrictor plate freak show, found out at Atlanta what this year’s racers could do without that ridiculous device, then headed west, with three dozen other drivers chasing a guy who certainly ought to be living up to his name of “Happy.” (This is being written before Fontana.)
Now we can settle down for the stuff that made this sport what it became at its peak. It’s time for Martinsville.
There’s not as much greenery around the track as in the old days, but the trains still go past on the backstretch, and most cars don’t look brand new when the race is over. Racin’ the way it was meant to be.
(Editor’s note: The railroad tracks were moved some time ago to behind the campgrounds and well away from the race track)
Yeah, I know, these cars really aren’t built to run at a place like this. We’d see a better show with late models stocks that have had technology dialed back about 30 years and tires dialed back another decade. BUT, you’re not going to see racing “up close and personal” - from your point and the driver’s - anywhere else the way it’s done here.
You could bring these cars back to Martinsville anytime, as far as I’m concerned, and the drivers, too: that’s Dale Earnhardt leading the cars still pointed in the right direction.
Of course, I know the NASCAR suits who came to this sport from the NBA or the golf tour don’t know or care about ancient history, but a lot of the ever-shrinking NASCAR fan base does, and it matters to us that Racing-Reference.info shows Martinsville as having run more than 250 (!) races in NASCAR touring series.
When Richard Petty was driving this Plymouth, Grand National/Cup racing had been going on at Martinsville for a decade already.
Actually, that number is embarrassingly low, because it doesn’t count all the Late Model and Modified races held before NASCAR starting having “official” tours for those cars back in the 1980s. The old Cardinal and Dogwood 500 doubleheaders would add several dozen more races, and while I might seem old enough to have watched the Union and Confederate troops battle for the site in 1864 (hint: that didn’t really happen), I’m not, nor can I tell you what other races were held in the 1950s, or before, since the place opened in 1947, when Red Byron took the first checkered flag. (Byron also would take the first GN/Cup win two years later.)
The Convertible Division also raced at Martinsville - and see below for a secret convertible race NASCAR doesn’t admit happened.
The Racing-Reference total doesn’t even count the annual 300-lapper for late model stocks that will be held again this year on September 29.
This spring, I believe, will mark Strictly Stock/Grand National/Winston/Nextel/Sprint/Monster Cup race number 139 and Craftsman/Camping World Truck race #39 as a prelim. Just for the record, of those previous 138 Monster/Cup events, Kevin Harvick has won exactly one. He’s also won three Truck races and one Xfinity-before-it-was-Xfinity race.
At this point, I am obliged to note that my childhood (or young-personhood) hero, the late Ray Hendrick, remains the winningest driver of all time at Martinsville with 20 wins (Richard Petty has 15). May the ghost of the Flying 11 lead the field again in 2018.
This is Ray Hendrick’s modified leading arch-rival Sonny Hutchins, who is driving the last modified ever campaigned by the Wood Brothers.
One of the King’s 15 Martinsville wins.
Here’s what you can use to win trivia contests with your friends. Did you know that there’s been an IndyCar race at Martinsville? In 1952, NASCAR’s ill-fated Speedway Division - Indy-type cars with Detroit V8 engines - paid a visit to the Virginia “paper clip” oval only a couple of months before the series pretty much folded. The outcome clearly shows why there would be no return engagement.
Seventeen cars took the green flag on May 25, and barely half were still around at the halfway point. Tex Keene of Chattanooga, Tenn., won by seven laps over Jack Smith, with Buck Baker, who had led the most laps, another seven laps back in third. Fifth-place Bob Johnson completed only 113 of the 150 laps. This one wasn’t an artistic success.
This is said to be a photo from the 1952 NASCAR Speedway Division race at Martinsville.
Oh, I don’t think I mentioned this, either: in 1952, Martinsville was still a dirt track.
Three years later, owner Clay Earles paved the place, and most finishes since then have been the kind that bring fans back. My guess is that this weekend’s race will be another like that.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
The things you find while looking for other things. This is said to be a photo of a race at Martinsville for sports cars - note the original model Corvettes up front with the T-Bird behind them. I know nothing else about this one.
Here’s the “secret” Convertible Division race. After the Convertible Division was dropped in 1959, NASCAR allowed some tracks to continue running events for the “rag-tops” but calling them regular Grand National races. Darlington’s Rebel 300 was probably the best known, but the spring 1961 GN race at Martinsville was - as can be seen here - a convertible event. That’s Rex White on the pole, with Fred Lorenzen alongside, and Richard Petty in Row 2.
Several observers have made note of the famous Martinsville Hot Dog returning to concession stands this year. Oh, it never officially left, but the wiener brand changed due to corporate tie-ins, and fans noticed, so the original, “glow-in-the-dark-red” Jesse Jones-made Martinsville dog is back, and if you want the full treatment, you’ll order it like you see below. Martinsville used to simmer their cooked burgers in that chili; bet that Americrown doesn’t do that, anymore.