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Analysis: Thoughts On Martinsville

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 28 2009
(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)  


(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)


By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Tony Stewart has always been big on thinking. When it comes to racing, Stewart is huge on thinking. Some say that Stewart should do less talking, but hey, what good is thinking if you can’t verbalize those thoughts.

Anyway, Stewart has obviously done some thinking about race tracks. About their   function, about their location and given the fact that this weekend’s Sprint Cup event is being held at the smallest track on the schedule, about their size.

And Stewart’s thoughts about track sizes are pretty much this: Bigger only means bigger.

Martinsville, site of the this weekend’s racing, is .526 miles around. They say it has four turns but in reality, it’s only big enough to have two. And those two turns are connect by long-for-the-track’s-length straightaways.

The place looks like it was stood up on its side and sat upon by post-carbohydrate-discovering Elvis.

But Stewart, he thinks the place is beautiful. And he thinks: Why aren’t more tracks like Martinsville? Why are the people building tracks these days not building more Martinsvilles?

“Everybody that wants to build a mile-and-a-half track…the ones we look at and wonder why they’re doing that,” Stewart thought aloud the other day. “Especially when Martinsville is as good a race as it is and (.75-mile) Richmond and (.533-mile) Bristol are as good as they are.”

A lap or two into this weekend’s race, a fair number of the drivers on the track will be cursing it, fabricators back at the shops in North Carolina will be hating on it and sponsors in big cities will be wondering why they bothered to pay millions of dollars to put their logos on cars which have been disfigured by it.

But in the calm of the pre-race garage, Stewart was left to do some thinking.

Do not confuse Stewart’s thinking, however, with wondering. Tony Stewart is a very smart guy. And he is now a businessman so he knows exactly why intermediates are the tracks of choice. 

The thinking is – or was – that the longer tracks would allow for the construction of more seats and more seats meant higher financial yield and on and on. That kind of thinking, of course, was predicated on the assumption that all seats could be sold and occupied.

“If somebody builds another mile-and-a-half track, I think I might hang myself because I don’t think we need any more of those. I’m sick of seeing guys build mile-and-a-half tri-ovals. Be creative, be unique. Build something that is your own. Don’t copy somebody else’s track.”

A couple of points, though.

One-point-five-mile distances and tri-oval shapes do not automatically translate to horrible racing. Good racing at any track has as much to do with the surface itself than track size. When surfaces come in, like they have at places like Texas and Kansas, good racing can come in too.

Pocono is certainly unique. Enough said about that.

Not everybody is as enamored as food venders and television-commercial producers with the constant wreck-induced cessation of competition at places like Martinsville and Bristol.

And, much the way the day of building those round Midwestern baseball stadiums came to an end in recent years, the days of so-called cookie-cutter tracks as being the top choice of race-venue builders may be coming to an end.

Before the onset of economic chaos in the world, International Speedway Corp. was giving serious thought to building a track near Denver. And that track was slated to be Richmond-esque.

But Stewart’s thoughts certainly echo those of a large segment of the NASCAR nation. And those thoughts will be front and center this weekend.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 28 2009
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