Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Mark Howell · Thursday April 5, 2012
Last weekend’s controversy and excitement at Martinsville Speedway brought new attention to what is one of NASCAR’s oldest and most enduring facilities. Since 1949, when the half-mile oval hosted the sixth race in what would become today’s Sprint Cup Series, the little track in Ridgeway, Virginia has earned its place among automobile racing’s legendary locations. Wild finishes like the one we saw last Sunday are nothing unusual for the paper-clip-shaped bullring; Martinsville has enjoyed a long history of close competition punctuated by healthy aggression and mind-numbing frustration.
Just ask the folks at Hendrick Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing if you need detailed examples to prove my point.
Martinsville Speedway has always been one of my favorite tracks, but it wasn’t until the other day that I realized the cause for this most-recent wave of nostalgia about the place: this month marks the twentieth anniversary of my first behind-the-scenes NASCAR experience, and that first adventure involved a road trip to Martinsville. Allow me to explain…
In 1991, when this chapter of my life began, I was starting my second year of doctoral studies in American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. During a meeting with Dr. William Grant, my dissertation director to discuss possible research subjects, the topic of automobile racing came up. My initial idea was to write about stainless-steel diners and their demise given changes in socio-economic attitudes. My family frequented diners while I was growing up in the Northeast, and I had done research on them for my Master’s degree, so the topic was both familiar and relevant. I had seen many of these locally owned-and-operated businesses disappear under a wave of franchised logos, and their closings seemed – to me at least – to reflect a significant thread running through the fabric of American civilization.
When Dr. Grant yawned, I guessed I was in trouble.
“You said once that you grew up around auto racing. Ever think about writing something about NASCAR?” he asked. Up until that moment, I hadn’t, but now the idea seemed to have merit. Stock car racing had always been part of my life, so much so that it didn’t seem unusual or different; racing had always felt like, well, racing. Why study something that was so common? It would be like studying my backyard; what was there to say that people didn’t already understand? Growing up around racers, race fans, and the short track culture of the Northeast and New England seemed too “typical” to have any academic potential.
Oddly enough, the diner topic seemed to fit the same criteria.
“People may have seen NASCAR races, and maybe even read about NASCAR in the newspaper”, Dr. Grant said, “but no one’s ever explored it from a scholarly perspective. You seem to be the one who can do that.” With that, my studies – and my life – changed. I was going to try and make sense of this popular culture phenomenon called NASCAR.
I went back to my office that day and began thinking about possible research methods; how could I observe and analyze NASCAR in a way that would provide me with insight into the history, nature, and significance of the sport/business? Sure, I could read the various popular histories and journalistic essays already written about the sport, but to get a handle on how NASCAR related to American culture, I’d have to do more focused research.
Courses I’d taken in sociology introduced me to this thing called “participant observer” research, where the scholar/writer gathers necessary data by actually becoming part of the topic being studied. This immersion process would allow me to collect information while accumulating a diverse assortment of feelings, reactions, emotions, and “real life” experiences connected to the subject. Doing this would mean having to go “behind-the-scenes” at a NASCAR event.
I began writing to tracks that hosted what-was-then Winston Cup Series races. Frustration mounted early in 1992 as responses poured (slowly) into my mailbox; the letters I received questioned my motives, my overall seriousness, and even the relevance of conducting such research – why would anyone from academia care about stock car racing? People at universities didn’t need to see NASCAR from up close because it wasn’t what those kinds of people did. As the refusals continued to arrive, I began thinking that maybe the folks running the race tracks were right. I was about to give up on the project when a positive response arrived – an “okay” from Martinsville Speedway to attend the Hanes 500 in April.
Next thing I knew, I was driving to Virginia to attend the race with official media credentials. Since money was tight and I had no funding to finance my fieldwork, my insider’s entrée to NASCAR was a low-budget experience; a Coleman cooler containing cheese, peanut butter, and a box of saltines was my life-line that entire weekend. The closest lodging I could find (and afford) was at a Super 8 Motel in Roanoke, about sixty miles from the track, giving me a 120-mile daily commute that would consume a significant chunk of my available finances. Cash for food was limited, but once I became familiar with the speedway and its famous hot dogs, I was able to adjust my budget to allow for lunch there each day.
Morgan Shepherd was the person who introduced me to Martinsville’s most-famous cuisine – he suggested a hot dog my first day at the track when he noticed me studying a concession stand menu with way too much focused attention. What spurs a life-changing experience? For eating at Martinsville (or anywhere else), all it took was Shepherd saying, “Try one. You’ll never be the same.” He was right.
The same could be said for what I observed and learned during that research trip to Martinsville. Having grown up around NASCAR and experiencing the sport from various levels, being on the other side of the track showed me that the community of fans was only surpassed by the close community of competitors. A new team like Joe Gibbs Racing seemed to fit neatly within the sport alongside established operations like those of Junior Johnson, Petty Enterprises, and the Wood Brothers.
It was also interesting to watch innovations transition from team-to-team. The big idea that weekend involved changing the camber of the rear wheels so they leaned in at the top; the idea was that leaning the rear wheels in would increase the car’s “footprint” and allow for more grip in the corners. While the innovation seemed to work, it didn’t handle the extreme modifications attempted by some of the dominant teams.
The chances of victory for Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt, and Alan Kulwicki all ended as their cars experienced broken rear ends. Mark Martin won the race that afternoon in his Roush Racing Valvoline Ford by taking a more conservative approach to the question of cambering – running about half the angle used by the other, less-than-successful teams. He and Sterling Marlin were the only two drivers of the 32 starters to finish on the lead lap, with Martin taking the checkered flag by twelve seconds.
Sunday afternoon wasn’t the only time Mark Martin played a role in my trip to Martinsville that year. On Saturday evening, as I walked across turn four to exit the gate there, I was welcomed with shouts of “Hey, Mark! Over here, Mark!” I wondered who was calling for me, and how they knew I was at the track that week. To my surprise, the greetings were for the man walking beside me…. the driver of the No. 6 Ford. I looked at Martin, he looked at me and grinned, and the two of us plunged into the crowd waiting there. Mark Martin stopped to sign autographs; I made my way to my truck for the drive back to Roanoke.
Martin wasn’t the only Cup driver to offer me a glimpse into the NASCAR community. During an early practice session, while I was taking some notes, someone near me asked if I noticed the impressive number of people present in the grandstands for a workday. I looked in the direction of the voice, and here was Wally Dallenbach, Jr. – driver of the no. 16 Keystone Beer Ford for Roush Racing – waiting for my response. I told Dallenbach that I agreed with him, but I had no relevant point of reference since it was my first trip to the track. His reply: that I was in for a great weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Like Morgan Shepherd, Wally Dallenbach, Jr. was right, too.
Another driver who made me feel welcome was Bill Elliott, who was driving the No. 11 Budweiser Ford for Junior Johnson back then. Elliott had already won four races by the time the Cup series made it to Martinsville. As qualifying took place, I found myself standing next to “Awesome Bill” along pit road. Elliott was using a stopwatch to time laps, and he’d lean over to show me the times of each driver as they ran against the clock. Never once did I ask to share Elliott’s watch; his offer seemed to be simply out of kindness. My impression of Bill Elliott that afternoon was a highly positive one (regardless of what some critics have insinuated), which thrilled my mother to no end because Elliott was always her favorite driver. My experience that afternoon at Martinsville simply confirmed her loyalty.
The beauty of Martinsville Speedway in April of 1992 was, as it is now, its sense of intimacy – the small size of the facility prompted a “small town” atmosphere. Such a feeling can be fairly common in the garage area at many tracks – race teams working in confined quarters need to be civil and social – but moving within the limited space of Martinsville seemed to make personal interaction more spontaneous and natural.
The quaint qualities of a place like Martinsville can too often be lost in today’s mile-and-a-half world of intermediate-sized tracks. To see Martinsville fall victim to the fates of other legendary facilities, like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, would be a tragedy. Rockingham is seeing new life with its upcoming truck race, but it’s by no means a guaranteed resurrection; if there isn’t a sufficient number of fans in the stands, hopes for “The Rock’s” bright future will dim considerably. To see a similar fate befall Martinsville Speedway would signal another lost connection to NASCAR’s storied past.
Some of my nostalgia about this 1992 trip to Martinsville may stem from the fact that the race was on my birthday. I even saved enough money to treat myself to a celebratory supper at a Waffle House near my motel on Saturday night. This might sound wildly odd, but – looking back at the event – eating this simple meal alone on the night before the Hanes 500 stands out as perhaps one of the best birthday “parties” I’ve ever had. It doesn’t say very much about my social activities (or the selectivity of my palate), but it speaks volumes about the role NASCAR has played during my life so far. A long day at a place like Martinsville Speedway is better than pretty much any shorter day anywhere else.
After the race ended and the traffic cleared, I started the long drive home from Martinsville. By the time I arrived, it was almost sunrise on Monday morning. I was scheduled to see Dr. Grant at 8:00am, so I collapsed into bed, got a couple hours of much-needed sleep, and awoke just in time to make my appointment. Dr. Grant looked up from his desk and found me leaning against the doorway of his office. I was unshaven, grimy from spending Sunday on pit road, and looking absolutely worn out. My ears were ringing, my eyes were little more than deep, dark pits, and my voice was hoarse to the point of being inaudible.
Dr. Grant gave me the once-over and said, “You look like s**t.”
“I feel like s**t….” I mumbled.
“Yeah, but you also look happy,” Dr. Grant said with a smile. And I was. The trip to Martinsville Speedway was worth all the effort and all the expense. No amount of time in a library could have provided me with the information and insight that I gathered from my weekend at the Hanes 500.
All of my experiences at Martinsville went on to shape the basis of my research project. Meeting drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, race officials, journalists, and fans from all over the country gave me the chance to think about NASCAR racing differently than I’d been considering it previously. What I learned about NASCAR Nation during that April weekend at Martinsville Speedway eventually led to more research trips to races, to fieldwork at race shops throughout North Carolina, and to the completion of my dissertation. The completed dissertation led to an award-winning book that was touted as the first “scholarly” exploration of NASCAR ever published. My life and career have revolved around the sport of stock car racing ever since.
Looking back from the perspective of today, it’s difficult to fathom all that’s happened since that research trip two decades ago this month. What’s simple to understand is just how memorable that weekend at the Hanes 500 was. It’s been twenty years, but the experience feels alive in my mind. All those memories came from a letter, an acceptance, and a road trip to the paved “paper-clip” we know and revere as Martinsville Speedway.
And now, on to the next twenty…
©2000 - 2008 Mark Howell and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Great article! I appreciated your viewpoint and are there any copies of that book available for purchase somewhere?
Great column! Keep them coming, please.
When you go to Martinsville Speedway you realize it’s the people at the Speedway and in the town that make it special and different from other tracks. It started with H. Clay and still continues.