There From The Start: Martinsville Part Of Inaugural NASCAR Schedule In 1948 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 26, 2008) -- The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at 22 tracks, only one of which was part of the sanctioning body's historic first season in...
There From The Start: Martinsville Part Of Inaugural NASCAR Schedule In 1948
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 26, 2008) -- The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at 22 tracks, only one of which was part of the sanctioning body's historic first season in 1948.
The .526-mile oval is located in relatively tiny Martinsville, Va. (population approximately 15,000). But in truth, it resides in the very heart and soul of NASCAR, a status resulting from a 60-year history that has run concurrent with NASCAR.
Martinsville Speedway represents everything NASCAR was -- and everything NASCAR is today.
They started with 750 seats in 1947. (Yes, Martinsville actually got a year's head start on NASCAR. Today, there are 65,000, encircling a paper clip shaped configuration that places a premium on braking -- and not breaking, be it mechanically or mentally.
Martinsville is tough -- on car and driver. That will be evident once again on Sunday, as the track hosts the Goody's Cool Orange 500.
"It's long, and it really is one of the hardest races that we do," said Jeff Burton, winner two weeks ago at another storied short track, Bristol Motor Speedway.
"Martinsville is both a physical and emotional race. I think it's the 'longest feeling' race that we run all year."
Fonty Flock won the first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Martinsville, a July 4 event that featured primarily Modifieds but also featured NASCAR founder and president Bill France Sr., who finished eighth.
In 1948, "stock cars" were few and far between, over the course of a 52-race season. The division known as "Strictly Stocks" became viable in 1949, and an eight-race schedule resulted in Red Byron winning the first championship of what would evolve, through the years, into today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Martinsville was on that 1949 schedule too. Byron won that year's race, a 100-miler.
In 1950, NASCAR's premier series started racing twice yearly at Martinsville -- and so it remains that way today, with its second race part of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the 10-race "playoff" that determines the series champion.
How important is the place to NASCAR history?
Richard Petty won there 15 times, Darrell Waltrip 11. Fred Lorenzen won four races in a row at Martinsville and five out of seven between 1963 and '66. In the midst of that run, Lorenzen morphed into the perfect NASCAR storm -- leading 493 of 500 laps in September of 1964. Petty Enterprises has won 19 races overall, the last coming in the spring of '99, with John Andretti taking the legendary No. 43 into Victory Lane. Junior Johnson won twice as a driver -- and 13 times as a car owner. In present-day terms, history is being made still. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have won eight of the last 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup events.
"By being one of the first tracks and running as long as it has, I think it represents the very core of what Big Bill France wanted at the very start," said Hal Hamrick, a veteran auto racing journalist who did the first radio broadcast from Martinsville, in 1952.
"Martinsville is the very essence, the very backbone of what the thing is all about. That's why you have the big crowds every year. The drivers have to truly master the race track at Martinsville, instead of just driving the car around.
"It's one of the premium tracks."
The late H. Clay Earles was one of the premium individuals in NASCAR. He founded Martinsville, nurtured it. His grandson, W. Clay Campbell, now serves as track president -- and caretaker of tradition.
"We've achieved a lot," Campbell says, "but we can achieve much more.