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Woody: NASCAR’s Senior Citizen Remains Young At Heart

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 25 2010

Mark Martin remains a fan favorite despite his old school style. Or, perhaps because of it. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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

Mark Martin still competitive after all these years. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

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 lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 25 2010


  • SteveTheOldMan. says:

    Hey, Doobie,thanks for the info. I never knew the stuff about his father dying in a plane crash, etc. Every time I learn more about Mark Martin, the more I admire him. The way he races is the way he lives.
    Now, Mr. Woody, I am officially pissed off. Why does this have to be Mark’s last year with a first-rate organization? If he’s as damned good as you say he is…that kinda stinks. Maybe I’m really sensitive about this because I’ll be 51 in February. If the man can do the job, give it to him! When he can’t, I’m guessing he’ll be the first one to step up and stop racing.
    Thanks, all!

  • Doobie says:

    Mark Martin is an inspiration, given his past struggles with alcoholism, bankruptcy, and death of his father and other family members in a plane crash. If he can get through all this, maybe we can, too.

    Also, who else would take over his late father’s trucking company because he didn’t want the employees to lose their jobs?

    Martin’s a champion in life, and thankfully NASCAR can’t take that away from him.

  • ALL I can say about my one and only [has been for over 20 plus yrs. I LOVE THIS MAN. What a great person he is. INTEGTITY THATS MARK ALL THE WAY. HAVE A GREAT SEASON MARK. BUT ABOVE ALL BE SAFE.SEE YOU IN MAY.

  • Terry says:

    One of my best MINDS EYE….photo’s is of a picture with a caption of …..HIGH FLY’N BIRD….it was Mark’s Thunderbird I think at Riverside with the right side wheels way up in the air on a hard turn…..he won it going away……that is the has alway’s raced CLEAN and HARD……most drivers can only manage one or the other….
    I only hope doesn’t stay to long and ride around in the back like some have…..it is to hard to watch…..
    I think he has a year or two left.

    • Doobie says:

      NASCAR’s last Riverside event was in 1987, the year before Martin began driving for Jack Roush.

      That photo was probably taken at Sears Point (now called Infineon Raceway).

      • Terry says:

        Thank you DOOBIE….
        I was rumbling around in my cobwebbed mind trying to remember which track ( Gurney-Wood Bros Riverside )after that I get confused. I am suprized I got that close. Again Thanks for the correction. Point is Mark could and can drive.

  • Rasmussen says:

    Mark is a truly great driver and person. He is what made this sport great. Best wishes for many more years.