Saturday, March 29, 2008

NASCAR Tracks: Martinsville

Back to Martinsville Speedway
“When a man plunks down his money, he deserves the best. You try to make him comfortable, give him a great show and make sure he gets his money’s worth. And we’ve always tried to do just  that.  Your customers are your greatest assets and that will never change. You actually sell the customer a memory as much as a race. If their memories are good, they’ll keep coming back.”
-- H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway

At 0.526 miles, Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia, is the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit, but it packs a lot of excitement in a small package. It's a drag race down one 800-foot straightaway, then a sharp left around a tight turn with just eleven degrees of banking, then a drag race down the other straightaway followed by another sharp left turn. Repeat for 500 laps. It's an endurance race for man and machine, especially brakes.

H. Clay Earles built a dirt track just south of Martinsville, Virginia, just north of the border with North Carolina, in 1947, a year before NASCAR was formed.  The track opened on July 4, 1948, and NASCAR ran there for the first time in 1949.  That race was the sixth race in what would eventually become the Cup Series. There were 750 seats, but a crowd of 6000 showed up to watch Red Byron win that inaugural event.

In 1955 Martinsville Speedway became NASCAR's first paved short track, but retained its original paperclip-shaped configuration.  The first 500-lap race was run there the following year.  In 1976 the turns were repaved with concrete, giving the track the unusual combination of asphalt straightaways and concrete turns.  Over the years they added grandstands and skyboxes to bring the seating up to 65,000.

In 2004, the speedway was sold to the France family for $192 million, and became a part of their International Speedway Corporation.

Richard Petty has a phenomenal record at Martinsville.  In 1960, he became the youngest Martinville winner at 22 years, 283 days.  He leads all drivers with fifteen wins, 30 Top Fives, and 37 Top Tens.  Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins.  Harry Gant became the oldest Cup winner ever when he won at Martinsville at 51 years, 255 days in September 1991.  Tony Stewart holds the Cup qualifying record, 19.306 sec. (98.084 mph), set in 2005.

The Nationwide Series does not run at Martinsville. The track was dropped from the schedule in 2007 and replaced by an event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Martinsville Speedway currently hosts a Sprint Cup race, the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500, and a Camping World Truck Series race in March. In October, the track hosts a second Cup race, the Tums Fast Relief 500, the sixth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and a second Truck Series race.

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