Martinsville Speedway provides career boost

MARTINSVILLE, VA. (Aug. 9, 2001) -- It's no secret that the Taco Bell 300 at Martinsville Speedway is the biggest, most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race around. But that's the way it's always been with Late Model Stock Car racing ...

MARTINSVILLE, VA. (Aug. 9, 2001) -- It's no secret that the Taco Bell 300 at Martinsville Speedway is the biggest, most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race around.

But that's the way it's always been with Late Model Stock Car racing at Martinsville Speedway, going all the way back to when the cars first started visiting the track in 1986.

In fact, the track has been like a finishing school for drivers with higher aspirations. The list of Late Model drivers who have passed the test at Martinsville and moved on and up is an impressive one.

Mark Martin, Mike Skinner, Stacy Compton and Elliott Sadler, all Winston Cup drivers today, raced in the Late Model ranks at Martinsville. But the list goes on. Dennis Setzer and Scott Riggs, who both have won this season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, raced at Martinsville early in their careers.

There's more though. Elton Sawyer, Curtis Markham, Mike Dillon, Michael Ritch, Hermie Sadler and Johnny Rumley all raced Late Models at Martinsville before moving on to the Busch Grand National division.

"The Late Model races at Martinsville is the granddaddy of them all," said Elliott Sadler, who now drives for the Wood Brothers on the Winston Cup circuit. "Racing there in the Late Models was really good for my career."

Setzer was a virtual unknown out of Hickory, N.C. when he won a 100-lap Late Model race at Martinsville in 1992. That win almost a decade ago was such a pivotal point in his career he still includes it on his racing resume.

"It's always the toughest show to make. The best of the best come there," said Setzer, who may try to make this year's Taco Bell 300, set for Sunday, September 30, during a break in the Truck schedule.

"When I went up there and ran well, nobody from Hickory (Speedway) had done well there. I was able to go back to Hickory and feel like the king of the world."

Setzer said the tip-off to the importance of the Taco Bell 300 actually comes a couple of weeks before the show when the track holds a mid-week test session for the Late Models. This year's test day is set for Sept. 19.

"The open test date reflects what the race is all about. You won't see that anywhere else in the country where 50 or 60 teams show up on a weekday and the pay station isn't even open when you leave," said Setzer, who may make an attempt to run this year's Taco Bell 300 if he can work it into his Craftsman Truck Series schedule.

And while the Taco Bell 300 has left good memories for many drivers, it actually leaves them with something much more tangible, something that will carry over wherever their career may go.

"Racing Late Models at Martinsville really helped me learn that track," said Sadler. "It's very important to know where the braking and acceleration points are. The seat time I gained in a Late Model has been very helpful, especially since the Busch Series doesn't compete at Martinsville.

"The setups between a Late Model and Winston Cup car are not comparable, but seat time is irreplaceable."

Qualifying for the Taco Bell 300 begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 to determine the top 20 starting position. The fastest qualifier will receive $1,000 from Chatlee Boats.

On Sunday, September 30, the Taco Bell 300 kicks off four 25-lap qualifying races with the top five drivers from each race filling out positions 21-40 in the starting field. There will be two provisionals given to complete the 42-car starting lineup for the 200-lap feature race.

At lap 100, of the 200-lap feature, the race will be stopped for a 10-minute break and the leader at lap 100 will be presented the $5,000 BB&T Award. Also at the break, several of the top cars will be inverted. The race will continue until the caution is displayed at lap 190 for a single file restart for the final 10 green flag laps.

Tickets for the Taco Bell 300 are $20 each for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12. All seats are unreserved.

The Taco Bell 300 is the first of two weekends of racing at Martinsville Speedway this fall.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series will run the Old Dominion 500 on Sunday, October 14 at 12:30 p.m. On Saturday, October 13, the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series will run the Advance Auto Parts 200 beginning at 2:45 p.m. Tickets for the Advance Auto Parts 200 are $30 each and children ages 6-12 get in for $5. All seats are unreserved.

Great reserved seats are available in the towers for $40-$70. Tickets can be ordered by calling the speedway ticket office toll free at 1-877-722-3849 or (540) 956-3151. Tickets also can be ordered online at

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Drivers Mike Skinner , Elton Sawyer , Stacy Compton , Dennis Setzer , Scott Riggs , Hermie Sadler , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin , Johnny R