I’ve always loved the little village of Martinsville, Virginia and the half-mile racetrack there. It all started in 1964 when my father and his friends took me to the speedway to see the “big boys” run. I’ve been going back ever since, sometimes as a fan and since 1996 as a reporter for the internet’s first racing presence, Racing Information Service (RIS). Each 160-mile trip down to the venue is an adventure. After leaving the ease of I-64, you have to travel US Route 220 the rest of the way, but the reward has always been good racing, as it was meant to be.
[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”251″][/media-credit]This Sunday was no different. Many will say that there were too many cautions and too many drivers who didn’t check their tempers at the door, but no one could ever say it was boring. That’s never the case at Martinsville. This race day was no different. There were drivers putting a fender on an opponent and driving past, there were donuts on doors and wrecks, but no one could say it was boring, because it wasn’t, unlike a lot of races these days.
Years ago, and I’ve mentioned this before, it was always Bristol that packed the fans in because of the good, close racing that that track formerly offered. For some reason, someone decided that making the track more like the mile and a half tracks favored by its parent company would provide a better show. It hasn’t. All the while, Martinsville remains Martinsville. It really hasn’t changed in those 47 years since I first saw it. Sure, the physical plant is much better. Where once there were concrete bleachers along the backstretch and a covered grandstand on the front stretch, we now find towers on both ends of the track. The track now features a full food court on the front stretch and even a tunnel to get into the infield. Improvements, for sure, but some things have not changed.
Take the wonderful hot dogs. No other track has a signature item like Martinsville Speedway. Describing them would not do justice to the item. You just have to be there to understand. The hospitality of the staff at the track is second to none. No other track treats each patron as well as the people at Martinsville. Virginia hospitality at its best, but the racing is the key element.
On Sunday, we say a race that was a race. Modern-day gladiators fighting for a championship were present instead of a group of competitors hoping to avoid disaster. Disaster may have come to some, but it didn’t matter. To conquer this half asphalt, half concrete track, you have to be fearless, and so many were.
I worry about the day when the Martinsville’s of the world go away. It is inevitable that they might. No great population center exists where the track sits. Highways are not the best to get there and finding lodging is a monumental task. I always stay 50 miles away because there just aren’t enough rooms in Martinsville. And yet, the best racing of the season, since Bristol has gone uptown, is found at this little paper clip track in southern Virginia
For years, many have speculated that Martinsville would be cut back to one race or banished from the Sprint Cup Series. It hasn’t happened and probably won’t. The history of the track that started so long ago (1947) should insure that (of course, we thought Darlington was a lock, too). But whatever else happens, this sport needs places like Martinsville. No gas mileage runs and every pass is an adventure.
Why did the NFL eclipse MLB as America’s pastime? Excitement is the answer. Martinsville delivers that element in spades. You can take Talladega, Daytona, Bristol, or Atlanta, and any number of other venues, but I’ll take Martinsville. The stands were full and many seem to agree with me. There was no shortage of excitement on Sunday. And as one who was there, I’m glad this piece of history still exists. Just like the hot dogs, there is nothing like it.