MARTINSVILLE (April 3, 2002) Â No matter how far he travels or how famous he becomes, Jeff Burton's roots are in southside Virginia. And his Winston Cup racing roots are dug firmly into Martinsville Speedway. "There are about seven or eight ...
MARTINSVILLE (April 3, 2002) No matter how far he travels or how famous he becomes, Jeff Burton's roots are in southside Virginia. And his Winston Cup racing roots are dug firmly into Martinsville Speedway.
"There are about seven or eight tracks on the circuit that really mean a lot to me. I try to downplay that a little bit because they all pay the same amount of points. Martinsville is one of those because it is where we were from," said Burton.
For the record Burton and his brother Ward are from South Boston, VA., but Martinsville is only about 50 miles west and that makes it their Winston Cup home. It was the place their father John took them to see their first Winston Cup races and big-time Late Model Sportsman and Modified races.
"I went there and watched the doubleheaders when they ran the Sportsman and Modifieds," said Burton, recalling his earliest trips to the track. "I just sat up there in the grandstands without earplugs and my ears would ring for three days."
Both Burton brothers will be making a trip to Martinsville Speedway this week for the running of the Virginia 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race on Sunday, April 14. Even though the two started coming to Martinsville as pre-teen spectators, they've shown up as competitors since the mid-1980s when they first started running Late Model Stock events at the .526-mile oval.
"I remember the first race they ever ran the Late Models over there. Man it was like going to Daytona," said Burton. "I'll never forget being down there and going across the road to Lowes and buying four pieces of plywood to put our car on because in the infield then it was all grass. You couldn't put your car up on jackstands because it would sink into the mud. It would be 120 cars there for those races and just making the race would be a big deal."
Burton never won a Late Model event at Martinsville, but his fortunes have been a bit better since. In 16 Martinsville starts Burton has seven top-five finishes, including a win in the Old Dominion 500 in 1997. And although he's never won the Virginia 500, he's been strong in the spring race with two seconds and a third.
But just because he runs well at Martinsville, doesn't mean he thinks the track is a pushover. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"If Martinsville is not the hardest place we go to, it's one of them. It hurts drivers. There a lot of carbon monoxide in there and there's a lot of heat. It's the most physical demanding track we go to all year in my opinion, even though the speed is down. It's a real grind," said Burton.
"When I got to Martinsville, man, I'm like, I just get myself in that mode of OK, we've got a long race and can't get excited. You have to approach that race different than others. You get to 250 laps and you say `Oh, man, we're only half way'."
But despite its toughness, Burton doesn't think there's anywhere else quite like Martinsville Speedway.
"It's what racing used to be. I guess it's cool to go to nice new race tracks and I know that's good for our sport, but these places are like playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium (home of Burton's beloved Duke Blue Devils) ... it's like playing at Madison Square Garden. It's just history," said Burton.
"Even with the high-tech game we play today, you go to these race tracks and it's still old-fashioned racing."
Burton and the rest of the Winston Cup drivers will roll into town Friday morning for MW Windows Pole Day. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors will time trial for the Advance Auto Parts 250 at 1:30 p.m. while qualifying for the Virginia 500 is set for 3 p.m. Tickets for qualifying are $15 for adults and children under 12 get in free. The Craftsman Truck Series racing action begins at 2 p.m. on April 13 when the green flag waves on the Advance Auto Parts 250. Tickets for the Advance Auto Parts 250 Craftsman Truck race are $30 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12. All seats are unreserved.
There still are great seats available for the Virginia 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race for $40-$70 each. To purchase tickets call the speedway ticket office toll free at 877-722-3849 or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com