|A wide angle shot of the Martinsville Speedway paperclip.|
Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
My introduction to NASCAR, besides my father’s watching races whenever time and broadcasting allowed, was when I moved to southwestern Virginia to attend college. I followed my husband down the I-81 corridor from my native New Jersey because he attended VPI & SU ( Virginia Tech). I opted to attend the “Harvard of the South," Roanoke College located in Salem, Virginia.
We were not well-versed in NASCAR but knew we were surrounded by fans of the sport so we gave Cup racing a try by tuning in to the 1990 season closer and were dazzled.
Once hooked on the sport, which happened immediately, we plotted attending our first race and that took us to the historic venue of Martinsville Speedway.
Martinsville was not only close to us, but held the allure of being a short track and a part of NASCAR’s grand history.
Martinsville Speedway opened in 1947 and held its first NASCAR race on July 4, 1948. In 1949 Martinsville was the sixth stop in the circuit that would later be renamed the Cup Series.
The way the track looked when Red Byron won the first NASCAR event held at Martinsville Speedway is the way the track is configured today.
What struck me about Martinsville when I was fortunate to attend an event in September 1992 was how intimate the setting was. Short tracks obviously lend themselves to that feel because of their size, but Martinsville took that a step further.
At Martinsville Speedway there is a pervasive sense of family. Families attend races at Martinsville. NASCAR is a family. Families come together at Martinsville Speedway to celebrate NASCAR. The track even hands out a stately grandfather clock to the winner of each of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races run.
At the time the race we attended left some indelible marks – like the red dirt where we parked our car. It had rained during the race so the dirt had become a crimson, slick mud and proved difficult to navigate.
Our car was located atop a rather steep incline we had to scale. My husband, leading the way, was somehow sliding back toward me in slow motion and I had to use my wits and strength to stop the inevitable. Putting a well-placed hand on his posterior saved him some face and me a great deal of laundry! Still, those around us chuckled uproariously!
Our trip to Martinsville Speedway was one of the last in the 'Farewell to the King' tour that Richard Petty had embarked in 1992 to show his appreciation to the fans. "The King" had an accident early in the event that saw him uncharacteristically leave before the autograph-seeking fans were satisfied.
We grumbled a bit at the time, but took our Richard Petty book and got signatures from Robert Yates and Jack Roush, not nearly the names then that they are today. My husband and I have been huge fans of both men ever since.
My driver, Dale Earnhardt, had a crummy day. I had to look up the winner of the race because back then I was the type of fan who only cared how her driver placed – it was Geoffrey Bodine. Dale Earnhardt finished dead last.
Yet, despite the disappointment of having my driver having a bad day – Dale Earnhardt had won the bloomin’ race the year before – I still had the best experience ever attending my first NASCAR event.
I wasn’t able to return to Martinsville until 2009 when some of my NASCAR friends from across the country met to attend the March race. Once again, although modernized (gone was the red dirt parking), Martinsville was the same old wonderful, welcoming place. Our seats were reasonable and great – high up top but still a great view of the action at this short track.
Bristol used to get all of the Rock Star recognition between these two short tracks, but Martinsville always did and will have my heart. And now Bristol, feeling pressure to conform anew after changes made in 2007 left the track “different”, is no longer the darling it was. Martinsville, however, remains steadfastly the same – a rare and precious jewel in NASCAR’s crown.
I couldn’t be more thrilled that racing returns to Martinsville this week. I’m looking forward to a beatin’, bangin’, rollickin’ good time all in the friendly confines of this venue. Having Martinsville Speedway on the circuit (twice) is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.