In an era where the engineering abilities of the larger teams has made the difference at the standard mile-and-a-half tracks NASCAR runs at, Martinsville’s lack of distance has neutralised most of the mechanical advantages they have.
Simply put, it is a place where the talent of the drivers means more than anything else.
This may be best exemplified by Ricky Rudd’s run to victory in the 1998 fall race. Rudd’s driver suit cooling system failed just five laps into the 500-lap event, and as temperatures soared inside his car, he gritted out the heat to win the race.
He climbed out of his car in Victory Lane and immediately laid down on his back, exhausted and dehydrated. Luckily, ESPN’s main pit road reporter (the honorable Dr. Jerry Punch) also had a medical degree, so he used both talents to interview Rudd while helping to administer an IV!
That determination is a requirement to victory at Martinsville – toughness is a prerequisite, more so than most tracks on the schedule.
History means everything at Martinsville. This year, the track became the first in NASCAR to celebrate its 70th anniversary.
As the sport has changed in those years, Martinsville has largely stayed the same.
There might be more grandstands, and the facilities might have been upgraded to keep up with media and medical standards, but most of what exists now would be recognizable to a NASCAR fan that visited the track in the 1950s.
The fans that camp in the rolling hills behind the backstretch might know this better than anyone. Most of them are there to light a campfire in the evenings among the explosion of color from the leaves, as many did 70 years ago.
Sometimes, the train will even whistle through on the tracks directly above the back straight. The train tracks have been a signature piece of Martinsville since 1947, an ever-present nod to their importance in 20th century America.
Fans flock to the concession stands for Martinsville’s signature food item – hot dogs (boiled, of course, with chili, sautéed onions, barbeque slaw and mustard. Nothing else!).
And they watch as drivers chase both the win, and the seven-foot grandfather clock that goes with it (given in lieu of a trophy to every Martinsville race winner and a nod to the region’s furniture-crafting heritage; the original Ridgeway clock factory sat three miles from the track for many years).
This is all before you get to the textbook history of Martinsville too. Since it is the only track that has been on every NASCAR schedule ever made, everyone in NASCAR has raced here, and many of the greats have won here.
The leaderboard for career victories at this track is littered with current and future Hall of Famers: Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, and current seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson head it up.
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