MARTINSVILLE, Va., Oct. 10, 2001 - If you are looking for a track where Dodge has an excellent chance to win another NASCAR Winston Cup Series this season, consider the paperclip-shaped half-mile oval at Martinsville, Va. Among the seven tracks...
MARTINSVILLE, Va., Oct. 10, 2001 - If you are looking for a track where Dodge has an excellent chance to win another NASCAR Winston Cup Series this season, consider the paperclip-shaped half-mile oval at Martinsville, Va.
Among the seven tracks scheduled for Winston Cup visits yet this season, Martinsville has the most Dodge wins with nine. The track is tied with two others for fourth on the list of Dodge wins. Tied with Martinsville at nine Dodge wins are Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, and Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, which is no longer used for Winston Cup Series races. Leading the list are Richmond (14 Dodge wins), Daytona International Speedway (13), and Columbia Speedway in South Carolina (10), also no longer used for Winston Cup events.
The list of Dodge wins at Martinsville starts with Lee Petty's win on April 19, 1953 - Dodge's third NASCAR Grand National win - when the speedway was six years old and still a dirt track. The most recent Dodge win at Martinsville came with Dave Marcis at the wheel of the K&K Insurance Dodge on Sept. 28, 1975.
The list of Dodge drivers who won at Martinsville also includes Buck Baker, Jack Smith, Bobby Isaac and Richard Petty (twice). Dodge drivers winning the pole at Martinsville are Buck Baker, Bobby Allison (twice), Bobby Isaac, Richard Petty, Dave Marcis and Neil Bonnett. Among today's Dodge drivers, only John Andretti has a win at Martinsville. Andretti won the Goody's 500 in 1999 driving for Petty Enterprises.
Older than NASCAR itself, Martinsville is a classic short-track facility where swapping paint is common and every car is fully tested. The same is true for the drivers, who must endure 500 laps on a track with only 12 degrees of banking in the turns. All of this adds up to racing that is always interesting for teams and fans alike.
Lee Petty's win at Martinsville was one of the most controversial. Herb Thomas was flagged as the winner of the race but a later review of the scoring showed that Petty and his No. 42 Petty Engineering Dodge completed the 200 laps ahead of Thomas. Petty was then declared the winner. Thomas cried foul, claiming Petty never passed him on the track but the decision stood. Petty got the $1,000 purse for first and Thomas had to settle for runner-up status and the $700 second-place award.
The next win in the books for Dodge at Martinsville came later that same year when Jim Paschal won on Oct. 18 driving a Dodge owned by George Hutchens. Lee Petty's Dodge finished second and he was the only other driver in the 26-car field to finish on the same lap as the leader. This time, Thomas had no complaints as his car finished dead last with fuel pump problems.
Paschal's first NASCAR Grand National win was popular with the fans as he had been a frequent contender but never a winner before his breakthrough performance at Martinsville. It took him 60 races to score his first NASCAR Grand National win. Sponsored by Big Bear Super Markets in his home town of High Point, N.C., Paschal's Big Bear Dodge showed its true colors with a leaping red Dodge Ram on the front fenders.
By May 20, 1956, Martinsville Speedway was paved, and on that day Buck Baker led a Dodge sweep of podium positions in the track's inaugural 500-lap race. Baker was driving the No. 502 Carl Kiekhaefer Dodge, and he was followed across the finish line by Speedy Thompson driving the No. 500 Kiekhaefer Dodge. Lee Petty took third in the Petty Engineering Dodge. As was typical of the Kiekhaefer-owned Dodges, Baker and Thompson led all but 16 of the race's 500 laps. Baker also won the pole for the race.
In the fall race of 1956, Jack Smith won the first "mixed" race in NASCAR Grand National history. The race was considered mixed because it featured Grand National hardtops and convertibles running at the same time. This form of racing would later be known as "Sweepstakes." The inaugural mixed race was a decisive victory for hardtops as they captured the top five spots.
Smith was the newest driver to join the Carl Kiekhaefer stable and the win at Martinsville was his first NASCAR Grand National victory. There were four Kiekhaefer drivers in the race - Frank Mundy driving another Dodge, and Speedy Thompson and Buck Baker driving Chryslers. Baker won the pole and drove conservatively, finishing seventh in the race and taking first in the championship standings over Herb Thomas, who had been hospitalized following a race a few weeks earlier.
After Smith's win, Dodge came up empty at Martinsville for several years until Bobby Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge found the winner's circle there in a rain-shortened race on May 31, 1970. Bobby Allison finished second in an Allison Dodge. The race was postponed twice for rain and red-flagged after 377 of a scheduled 500 laps when rain came again for a third time that day. The win was one of 11 victories for Isaac on his way to the 1970 series championship.
Bobby Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge won again at Martinsville on Sept. 26, 1971. Isaac also won the pole for the event. There was grumbling after the race again, this time centered on new NASCAR rules that required the use of carburetor restrictor sleeves rather than the controversial plate. Several of the Ford teams were unhappy after the race but Isaac said his success was not due to the Dodge engine. "You can't use Martinsville as a true indicator," said Isaac. "This is strictly a handling track, not a horsepower track. If you handle well here, you run well."
There was also controversy around the fact that NASCAR said smaller Grand American cars were eligible to enter the race but track promoter Clay Earles, who still runs the facility, would not accept the entry forms from any Grand American regular. "We've scheduled a Grand National Race," he said, "and that's what we'll run."
The next Dodge win at Martinsville came two years later, on Sept. 30, 1973, when Richard Petty won a rain-shortened Old Dominion 500. Cale Yarborough had the pole and led the most laps - 366 of the scheduled 500 laps - but Petty drove his Dodge around Yarborough on lap 453 and NASCAR red-flagged the race for rain 28 laps later. Yarborough pitted a lap later with a cut right front tire and lost a lap but held on to second because the third place car of Bobby Allison was four laps behind the leader.
This time, controversy swirled around the timing of the yellow and red flags. Yarborough and his team manager, Junior Johnson, claimed the race should have been stopped earlier because the track was getting slick. "How hard does it have to rain before they put out the yellow flag?," asked Johnson. Petty, holding the winner's trophy, said, "It had been sprinkling four or five laps before I passed Cale. But the track hadn't gotten that slick."
Petty won the spring race at Martinsville two seasons later, on April 27, 1975. Petty passed Darrell Waltrip with 21 laps to go and won by a margin of six seconds. The victory was one of 13 wins he accumulated on his way to his sixth NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. Petty said he was helped at the end by the fresh tires his Dodge took on with about 50 laps to go.
"We played it safe by getting new tires," said Petty. "It gave us the advantage near the end of the race. Waltrip was sliding all over the place."
The buzz at Martinsville this time was about the track surface and a new Goodyear tire. Some said the .526-mile oval was breaking up. Petty disagreed. "The track wasn't breaking up," said Petty. "These new slicks were stickin' so good that it was peeling the track apart."
The K&K Insurance Dodge won again at Martinsville that fall - on Sept. 28, 1975 - this time with Dave Marcis at the wheel. It was the first Winston Cup Grand National win for Marcis in 223 starts. It was also the first win for the Harry Hyde-led K&K Insurance Dodge team since Buddy Baker won at Nashville on Aug. 25, 1973.
Marcis ran most of the race in the top five, and led laps now and then, but his Dodge came into its own at the end of the race after others wrecked or ran out of brakes. "We had the breaks and brakes when we needed them," said Marcis.
Marcis caught a break when pole-sitter Cale Yarborough wrecked his car with a little more than 100 laps to go. Second-place finisher Benny Parson said he had plenty of "go," but not enough "stop." At the end of the race he was pumping the brakes three or four times in each turn to control the car. "I had the horses," said Parsons, "but I didn't have the brakes.
Marcis says the race was in Martinsville, and taking care of the brakes is what that race was all about. "Harry (Hyde) always made that Dodge handle to where you didn't have to use the brakes up," said Marcis. "Also, Harry knew how to cool it properly.
"He always stressed to me, you know, 'This is Martinsville and generally everybody here runs out of brakes.' The heat would literally melt the brake springs and all of the lining off the brake shoes, and melt the drums and everything. It was always a survival-of-the-brakes race at Martinsville.
"Throughout the race, Harry kept warning me, 'Take care of the brakes, take care of the brakes,'" said Marcis. "We did that, and we had a good car all day; we didn't have to run in a lot of traffic. We could get out and kind of run by ourself, or lead the race and get some clean air, and therefore we didn't use the brakes up as bad."
This weekend at Martinsville, 10 Dodge drivers will be trying to avoid controversy, taking care of their brakes and looking for the right breaks to get them to Victory Lane.
This week in Dodge history:
* 10/16/66 - LeeRoy Yarbrough won his first NASCAR Grand National superspeedway race driving a purple Dodge at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. It was also the first win for car owner Jon Thorne.
* 10/15/67 - Buddy Baker claimed his first win in 215 Grand National starts by taking the checkered flag at the National 500 at Charlotte. Baker drove a Ray Fox-owned Dodge, beating Bobby Isaac, and the K&K Insurance Dodge Baker would later drive, by more than a full lap.