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Martinsville: Small Track, Big Tradition

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 27 2009
martinsville speedway

(photo / NASCAR.com)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – When it comes to NASCAR tradition, there’s no place like Martinsville Speedway, which is hosting NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races this weekend.

Like Bristol Motor Speedway, the other half-miler on the Sprint Cup circuit, the garage is a crowded place on Friday morning. The same show that spreads itself over acres of asphalt and concrete on the intermediate tracks is crammed inside the confines of the half-mile, paper-clip-shaped oval.

The top Cup teams work out of a low-slung garage alongside the backstretch, but many of those outside the elite group are preparing their cars out in the open in a semi-circle inside turn three. Camping World Truck Series competitors work along pit road for now. Every available spot is taken up by Goodyear tires; five to a stack, mounted on wheels and ready to race.

The metal grandstands that surround the track, mostly vacant during practice, act as amplifiers for the roar of the engines, making even the deafest of crew members reach for ear plugs.

But what Martinsville lacks in space it makes up for in tradition.

Nestled in the scenic foothills of southern Virginia, the little track traces its roots back to the very formation of the circuit now known as Sprint Cup.

The sixth race ever was held at Martinsville, back when the racing surface was Virginia clay. The first-ever champion, Red Byron, won in an Oldsmobile fielded by Raymond Parks, the Atlanta businessman who recently announced that he was donating his racing memorabilia to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

Martinsville also is a place where NASCAR’s all-time King, Richard Petty, still wears the winner’s crown. His 15 career Martinsville victories are more than double the active leader, Jeff Gordon, who has seven. Petty also holds the team-owner win title – his 19 are two more than Rick Hendrick, who this weekend is celebrating his first Cup win, back in 1984 with Geoffrey Bodine.

Hendrick, like many in NASCAR, attended his first races at Martinsville as a fan.

“I remember going to watch a convertibles race in ‘63,” Hendrick said. “I was a big Rex White fan. I got his autograph through the fence there. It was right down there the street from, where I went to South Boston every Saturday night with my family.”

Elliott Sadler, from Emporia, Va., also has a lifetime of Martinsville memories.

“I was born and raised less than 150 miles from Martinsville,” he said. “It’s close to home and it’s one of the more historic places that we race.”

But the racing history doesn’t tell the whole story of Martinsville. It’s present in many ways is just as interesting.

Martinsville is run by its founder’s grandson, Clay Campbell, following in the footsteps of the legendary Clay Earles. Campbell, a hands-on kind of guy, also tries his hand behind the wheel on a fairly regular basis, running a Late Model at nearby short tracks.

And Martinsville is a place where men who wear bib overalls and ball caps to town, still can wrangle an occasional garage pass.

Perhaps the best Martinsville stories involve one of the most famous concession items in motorsports – the Martinsville hot dog. It’s a small, red Jesse James dog, topped with a generous helping of sweet cole slaw and mild chili and just enough mustard to taste.

Mike Smith, the track’s public relations manager, said more than 50,000 Martinsville hot dogs are consumed in a typical weekend.

One Martinsville dog never seems to be enough, but that’s not a big problem.

They’re just two bucks apiece.

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 27 2009
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