Martinsville ~ Time for the Good Stuff
OK, the playoffs have given us enough bad cafeteria food. Now it’s time for steak, Angus burgers, BBQ and all-you-can-eat crab legs. It’s time for Martinsville.
This is real racing. Why don’t we just anoint the winner as Monster/Cup Champion and start looking toward those maybe-cure-a-lot 2019 rules? Since I don’t have cable/dish at home anymore, I may have to go to a bar somewhere and watch this one.
The first-turn stands are a great place to watch the Martinsville racing, but there’s not a bad seat in the house.
teeny-tiny complaint; I know you take your sponsors wherever you get them, but
having a credit card transaction processor like First Data’s name on this race
just doesn’t seem right. It should be the Budweiser 500, Jeep 500, Remington
500, Lava Soap 500 or be named after a timber company. This is All-American
racing the way those who first thought of the idea intended it.
(Editor’s Note: In fairness, this race was the “Old Dominion 500” (or 400) from 1956 to the mid-80s, when it became the “Goody’s 500” for at least a decade before Hanes took over. It’s been kind of downhill from there)
It’s also NASCAR’s closest link to its origins (unless you include adopting an official moonshine brand). Martinsville was a dirt track (VERY dusty) back at the beginning, but it still was there. Richmond and Charlotte, which came next, both ran on different tracks this year (the “roval” wasn’t around in 1961). Martinsville, on the other hand, will run on the same speedway (albeit with layers of asphalt and concrete above that original dirt) 69 years and one month after that first event, won by Red Byron over a field of 15 cars in the sixth event in the entire history of the Strictly Stock/Grand National/Cup Series.
The first Martinsville winner, Red Byron. Car owner Raymond Parks promoted his “day” business on the car, but his “night” business – moonshining – probably paid most of the bills.
By my quick, unedited count, there have been 2,570 races in the series since then. By an equally quick, unedited count, 140 of those races have taken place on the track now known as the “paperclip.” That’s how much Martinsville means.
The quality of racing has come a ways, too, no matter what we think of NASCAR’s management today. Byron won that first race by three laps over Lee Petty, with the less-than-household-name Ray Erickson also finishing three laps down in third. Erickson, who was from Chicago, ran a handful of races in the division’s first five years but had his best two finishes – a second at Hamburg, N.Y., and the third at Martinsville – in his first two starts.
Hometown boy Clyde Minter was 10 laps farther behind in fourth. He was another infrequent competitor in the early years, and like Erickson, his first two races were his best, with another fourth coming later at North Wilkesboro.
Here’s Clyde Minter in a different car on a much less successful afternoon.
Bill Blair, a more familiar name to early NASCAR fans, finished fifth.
Curtis Turner led the race early, but Fonty Flock dominated the first half until losing a wheel on lap 103, when Byron took over.
The crowd was listed as 10,000, not bad for a country dirt track.
Of particular interest to those who pine for additional car makes to compete today, the 15-car field included no fewer than nine different brands. Note, though, that four of those (Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Mercury and Hudson) no longer exist, and Lincoln, Chrysler and Buick haven’t been involved in recent years, so we might need some substitutions. Byron was driving an Olds, while the Plymouth was Petty’s.
Back then, you could have driven your race car to the track. That might be a neat promotional stunt today, but I don’t know how racing Goodyears would do on I-81 or U.S. 220, and pit stops might be tricky.
This photo is said to be of the NASCAR Speedway Division race at Martinsville in 1952. It was the second race in the life of that unsuccessful NASCAR effort at competing with AAA with Indy-type cars. Martinsville later hosted a race for Corvettes and other sports cars.
The link between the past and today that might make the most difference is the relative lack of emphasis on aero at Martinsville. It matters, but cars can remain pretty competitive even when they’re kind of torn up – which happens – and “dirty air” (a dirty term to lots of us) just isn’t as much a factor at under 100 miles per hour. (It was even less so in 1949, when speeds barely exceeded 50.)
Last year’s race saw 23 cars finish on the lead lap – in fairness, some were only there because of the frequent “lucky dog” gifts resulting from nine cautions other than those for stage breaks – and only five cars failed to finish (three of them sidelined by wrecks). There were lots of lead changes and lots of bumping, especially at the finish. The crowd went home happy (except for those ticked off that their guy was a bump victim).
The action-packed finish of last fall’s Martinsville race, another reason short track racing remains the best out there.
If we could just figure out a way to add some other short tracks to the playoff schedule – Hickory, Eldora, Hagerstown, Rockford, Oxford, Iowa, Evergreen, Perris – there are lots of choices where racing would be awesome. Can’t we dream?
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
For those like me who won’t be at Martinsville, let me suggest another way of getting in the mood: plan your meals Sunday around the menu from Clarence’s Steak House in Ridgeway (just around the corner), one of the great racing-associated restaurants.
Used to be hard to find a major modified race that didn’t have the Clarence’s Steak House #26 in the field
For those outside the South, getting some country ham might be tricky, but a country ham biscuit (maybe with another biscuit covered with red-eye gravy) would be an appropriate breakfast.
Clarence’s proudly suggests the minced barbecue platter as a chef’s specialty, with fried chicken coming next, and – of course – it has steaks (reasonably priced, too). Any of those would make the perfect Race Day dinner.
Here’s your cardio-stress-test-on-a-plate (or several plates/baskets). Do the shrimp or the hushpuppies count as your vegetable?
I guess the real experience, though, would be a Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog, one of those bright pinkish-red critters from Jesse Jones. They’re not sold that widely in stores, but you can buy ‘em online from Wal-Mart, Kroger and others, if setting the perfect tone is worth the effort.
A well-dressed Martinsville $2 dog in the foreground. The person who ordered the one with just ketchup probably was asked by grandstand neighbors to move.
Back before International Speedway Corp. set up its food service, Americrown, in the Martinsville concessions, the track used to simmer its burgers in chili, the relatively thin kind that’s popular in many areas. Kind of doubt they do that anymore.
Whatever your choice above, you might want to reduce your sodium intake for a couple of days afterward to restore some balance to your system.
I had planned to spend last weekend in Richmond, taking in the PASS Commonwealth Classic races, which were Richmond Raceway’s latest effort to create a successful non-Cup weekend of racing. Unfortunately, a threatening weather forecast prompted the sanctioning body to cancel the event the Tuesday beforehand.
The news release suggested that the exceptionally early decision was because of the distance some drivers would have to come, but unless they really were getting street stock drivers from California (which one bit of promotion kind of suggested), it wasn’t going to take anybody four days to get to Richmond. It seems to me that fans would have understood better if PASS had waited until, say, Thursday.
Sigh… not this year
It actually was called a postponement rather than a cancellation, because a make-up date is being sought, probably late March of next year. My fear is that those who were burned by having to cancel – not postpone – accommodation and other plans for the weekend will decide they don’t want to go through that again and “pass” on the next PASS event. I really wanted this race to work, so that’s a discouraging thought.
Unless you live pretty far south or consider NASCAR on TV to be enough racing for you, the 2018 season is pretty much drawing to a close, which makes me pine for something akin to the old ESPN “Winter Heat” series. That was viewing worth buying a little more country ham to watch.