H. Clay Earles Remembered

H. Clay Earles....... by Dick Thompson (H. Clay Earles hired Dick Thompson in 1966 as one of the first full-time Public Relations Directors in NASCAR racing. He now is Vice President of Corporate Communications.) It was old friends...

H. Clay Earles.......

by Dick Thompson

(H. Clay Earles hired Dick Thompson in 1966 as one of the first full-time Public Relations Directors in NASCAR racing. He now is Vice President of Corporate Communications.)

It was old friends saying good-bye to an old friend. In what could have passed for a NASCAR racing Hall of Fame gathering, greats came to pay their last respects to one of the original pioneers, H. Clay Earles, who opened Martinsville Speedway in 1947 and was CEO and Chairman of the Board until his death at 86. He and the late Big Bill France, the founder of NASCAR, promoted that first race on a then dirt track and despite having only 750 seats, drew a paying crowd of 6,013. Martinsville Speedway continues to flourish today and has been NASCAR sanctioned from the start. By their very nature, drivers seldom if ever attend funerals. And with the season finale coming up at Atlanta, many who would have liked to have attended couldn't. Yet, as the legends paid their respects, there was Junior Johnson, who when he raced was known as the wild man from Ronda, NC, winner of 50 Winston Cup races and later many more as well as six championships as a car owner. There were the Wood Brothers Racing team, Glen, Leonard, Eddie and Len, winners of 96 races and already ranked as legends although they remain on the circuit. There was Benny Parsons, now a renowned television announcer, who has 21 Winston Cup victories. There was Geoffrey Bodine, who virtually grew up in racing at the speedway in Modifieds. He scored his first Winston Cup victory at Martinsville and was the first driver to win in three divisions here, Winston Cup, Modified and Grand National. "Clay was like a second father to me," Bodine said. When he won his first Winston Cup race here in 1984, Earles didn't shake his hand, he hugged him. "It was like watching one of my own children succeed," Earles said. Craftsman Truck Series star Stacy Compton was at the funeral as well as a racing hierarchy that included William C. France, the president of NASCAR; Lesa Kennedy, the Executive Vice President of International Speedway Corporation; Mike Helton, Chief Operating Officer for NASCAR and Kevin Triplett, Director of competition operations for NASCAR. Also Paul Sawyer, President of Richmond International Raceway and vice president Bill Sawyer; Dr. Joe Mattioli, CEO of Pocono Raceway and his wife, Rose; Denis McGlynn, president of Dover Downs International Speedway and Chris Browning, executive vice president and general manager of North Carolina Speedway. And then there were many members of the news media on hand, not to cover a story but to also pay their respects. Earles always had a close relationship with them and was ready to answer any questions, no matter how tough. And the media admired him, because they knew he would speak his mind. When I first came to work here, Earles asked me, "who are the most important people on our grounds during a race?" "The fans," I answered. "No, the media," Earles said. "They are the ones that let the fans know about the races. And as long as you always tell the truth, you have nothing to fear from anyone." As Earles would have wished, his family greeted each person and despite their sadness, held up well. The chapel was filled to standing room for the funeral and the procession, which included the speedway's Pontiac pace car, took in 75 vehicles. Earles was buried with full military honors from his service in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Although it has been apparent from several years, Earles has passed the torch to his grandson, Clay Campbell, the president of the speedway. This was just the final lighting of it. But even in death, H. Clay Earles still knew how to draw a crowd.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Geoffrey Bodine , Stacy Compton , Benny Parsons , Junior Johnson , Mike Helton , Chris Brown , Clay Campbell , Dick Thompson
Teams Wood Brothers Racing