Martinsville: Andy Houston gets tips from father

Some Family Secrets not so Easily Shared MOORESVILLE, NC- (April 6, 2004) -When NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor Andy Houston looks for some driving tips on navigating Martinsville Speedway's tricky and tight .526 mile oval, he need look...

Some Family Secrets not so Easily Shared

MOORESVILLE, NC- (April 6, 2004) -When NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor Andy Houston looks for some driving tips on navigating Martinsville Speedway's tricky and tight .526 mile oval, he need look no further than the patriarch of his own family, his dad, Tommy Houston. The elder Houston displayed a unique mastery of Martinsville, winning three NASCAR Busch series contests while dominating the testy little Virginia short track during the 1980's and early 1990's.

"I ran at Martinsville for the first time in 1966," Tommy Houston recalled. "It was in a 1956 Ford and we ran a Late Model Sportsman race with the Modified cars on the same track at the same time. If you were the first Late Model car to finish you won that classification. Martinsville is one of those places where all of a sudden something seems to click. You start to develop a feel, the race car pulls up off the corner and you get a good comfort level with the racetrack."

That comfort level is just what the younger Houston, driver of the Team ASE/CARQUEST Dodge, is striving for. Despite a solid NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series record on short tracks, the 33 year-old Hickory, NC native's best finish at Martinsville is an 11th place finish on two different occasions, 1997 and 2000.

"I have been begging him to tell me what his secret is to getting around Martinsville," Andy Houston said. "I keep saying, help me out here, I want to figure that place out."

Not so easily done claims Tommy Houston, a 24 time winner in the NASCAR Busch Series who currently sits at third on the all-time NBS win list. Martinsville doesn't give up good finishes like a matronly aunt with candy on Halloween. You have to take the bitter with the sweet.

"It was a long time before I got the finishes I wanted at Martinsville," says Tommy Houston, who first won at Martinsville in 1986 and then again in 1989 and 1990. "We got to where we ran real well there but something would happen. We would lead a whole lot of the race and then we would break a rod with 20 laps to go. Once we sat on the pole there only to get an oil leak three or four laps into the race. Another time I was leading, took the white flag and then ran out of gas and Harry Gant won the race. I lost the Busch Series championship to Rob Moroso there in 1989 because we broke with about thirty laps left in the season. It was always the little things that would bite you. I keep telling Andy that if there was one thing I could tell him that would make it work for him, I would but it's not that easily done. It is hard to tell someone what the right feel is for a place like Martinsville. The biggest thing is to get your brakes, gear and transmission dialed in with a good baseline and then tweak on the chassis from there. It is the small adjustments at Martinsville that can make a big difference in your performance during the race."

Tommy Houston raced against some of the toughest short track customers of all time during his NASCAR Busch Series career. Legendary drivers like Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, Tommy Ellis and Butch Lindley. None of them overly willing to give an inch of real estate on the racetrack. When they would all show up at Martinsville it was time to hide the women and the children.

"Those were some hard nosed competitors," Tommy Houston remembers. "I have a lot of respect for those guys. Sam Ard, he grew up in Caraway and ran at Caraway Speedway. It had those tight, tight corners. Tommy Ellis, he ran at short tracks like Richmond, Southside and Langley. Jack Ingram was a master at New Ashville Speedway. He could make his car turn at those short tracks week in and week out. Butch Lindley was great on those type of tracks. All of them were tough at Martinsville. Ray Hendrick would show up at Martinsville and he had a bad back. They would have to help him get in the car. Then they would drop the green flag and he would just check out."

The current Houston driver had a closer than front row seat to his dad's exploits on the racetrack. He started working on his father's crew when he was as young as 12 years old. It was a family rite of passage, begun with his older brothers Scott and Marty. At one point all three of Tommy Houston's sons worked on his No. 6 Buick.

"When people ask me how old I was when I first went over the wall on a pit stop, I tell them, 'I don't know because most of the places we ran didn't have pit walls back then,'" claims Andy Houston. "I do know what I am going to do when I finally figure Martinsville out and win a race there. I am going to challenge him to a match race and pay him back for not telling me his secret sooner."

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Andy Houston , Harry Gant