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Tradition Trumps Feuds At Martinsville Speedway

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 5 2013

The clock stops when NASCAR visits Martinsville Speedway . (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Blocking, Denny Hamlin’s injury and the Joey Logano-Tony Stewart feud were popular topics of conversation at Martinsville Speedway on Friday.

But when it comes to what is arguably the most tradition-filled race track on the NASCAR circuit, seven-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon summed it up best when he said: “it’s all about the clock this weekend.”

The first time Brian Vickers strapped into a stock car it was at this historic venue.

As Vickers spoke to the assembled media on hand to cover this weekend’s STP Gas Booster 500 at the .526-mile, paper clip-shaped track, he frequently glanced over at a replica of the grandfather clock that will go to the winner on Sunday.

It has become customary for Martinsville race winners to celebrate in victory lane alongside a grandfather clock.

“I’d love to get a trophy here,” said Vickers, who will drive Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. “I don’t have one of those yet. We’ve come close.

“We’ve led laps, but we need to get a clock. I think it’s a beautiful piece. It’s one of the most unique and special trophies I think on the circuit. I know a few guys that have one or two and they think it’s one of their prized trophies.”

Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who will start on the pole, are on the opposite end of the spectrum from Vickers.

This is the face of victory at Martinsville. (RacinToday photo by Jeff Hood)

The two Hendrick Motorsports teammates each own seven Martinsville clocks.

“I have them all,” said Johnson, who will start on the pole on Sunday. “My friends and even family keep threatening to take one or the next one I win in theirs.

“Six of them are in my warehouse, my man space that I have. One is at the office. They don’t work. They don’t all cling and clang at the same time.”

Gordon admitted on Friday that the seven clocks he earned over the past two decades are scattered.

“I couldn’t go through and tell you which rooms they’re in,” he said. “I know that they’re accounted for, but I have a pretty bad memory.

“I think there’s one still in a box and I think that there are several spread out between (car owner) Rick Hendrick and (former crew chief) Ray Evernham and maybe even (car chief) Brian Whitesell and myself.

“But they’re out there. Our decorating at home doesn’t really lend itself to grandfather clocks, so it’s just not one of those trophies you’d typically display at home, but usually at the race shop or waiting for that place to put it one day. If you have all of them lined-up, that’s pretty cool also.”

But Martinsville is more than a clock being awarded to the winner.

As usual, the sales of famous Martinsville hot dogs were brisk on Friday as a long line of rail cars being pulled by a locomotive chugged along slowly on the tracks that run parallel with the speedway’s backstretch.

It has been customary over the 60-plus years of racing at this facility for the conductor to slow at a snail’s pace so he can catch a glimpse of the action.

“I actually remember coming here as a kid and watching races, standing down on the corners before pit road changed and they used to park cars down there and just watch the race and watch the trains go by,” Vickers said.

“As a kid, I always thought it was pretty cool when the train went by the race track. (Martinsville Speedway) has always been a special place for me whether it was coming as a fan, running my first stock car race here, running Late Models here or now running in the Sprint Cup Series here.”

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 5 2013
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