Woody: NASCAR’s Senior Citizen Remains Young At Heart
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
On Jan. 9 Mark Martin will blow out 52 candles on his birthday cake and – once he catches his breath – get ready to go racing.
It will continue a ritual that began decades ago when a teen-aged Martin raced against “green-toothed pulpwood-haulers” on dirt tracks in the boondocks of Batesville, Ark.
The hair is grayer, the wrinkles more pronounced, but none of the fire has gone out.
Martin, the oldest full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series, still races like a teen-ager late for a date with the homecoming queen.
How determined is he? When a TV commentator earlier this year suggested that he should hand his keys over to youngster Kasey Kahne, Martin was incensed – and with good reason. In 2009 Martin won five races and finished second in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship. Only one driver in the entire sport – teammate Jimmie Johnson – had a better season.
Although winless and Chase-less in 2010, Martin was generally competitive and in the thick of several races.
Now he has one final season with Hendrick Motorsports and it probably represents his last
serious shot at the title has been so frustratingly elusive. Since making his first Cup start in 1981, Martin has been runner-up five times (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010).
Although Martin won’t speculate about his post-Hendrick future, this is likely his last ride with a championship-caliber team.
There’s no reason why Martin can’t make his swan song one for the ages. Harry Gant won a race when he was 52, the oldest winner in NASCAR’s Cup Series, and several other drivers have raced well beyond that.
The older racer on record is Herschel McGriff who was 81 when he ran a lower-level NASCAR race in 2009.
Nobody expects Mark Martin to match McGriff’s record – but then the only thing that’s been predictable about Martin during his career is that he’s unpredictable.
He’s not pondering what he might do at 81; he’s focused on the season at hand and determined to squeeze every drop of juice out of it.
Physically, Martin is in excellent shape. He is a fitness fanatic who takes care of himself. He is better shape than a lot of early-era racers whose workouts consisted of hoisting glasses, bottles and mugs.
Mentally Mark seems as sharp and focused as ever, his skills honed by decades of experience and a storehouse of knowledge to rely on. Nobody on the track has more been-there-done-that experience than Martin.
Motivation? Who could possibly have more? Mark is a battle-scarred warrior who had paid his dues 10 times over. He’s raced his heart out for over three decades and had it shattered time after time.
If there’s a hungrier driver on the track than Mark Martin, I wouldn’t want to get trapped between him the finish line. Nobody wants it worse, nobody deserves it more.
So don’t believe anything the calendar tells you. Martin is a stocker who’s not ready for a rocker.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments