Martinsville is, in many ways, a milestone weekend for the ageless wonder, Mark Martin. When he straps in to his number 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, pulls those belts down tight, and takes the green flag, he’ll be making his 800th start at the Sprint Cup level. For the four-time championship runner-up, it’s the latest milestone of a career that began some thirty years ago in Spring, 1981. Only seven other drivers have more: Richard Petty (1,185), Ricky Rudd (906), Dave Marcis (883), Terry Labonte (870), Kyle Petty (829), Bill Elliott (825), and Darrell Waltrip (809) so Martin is very much in illustrious company.
Martin finished 27th that day all those years ago at North Wilkesboro Speedway, a 0.625-mile track that hosted races at all three top levels of NASCAR from 1949 to 1996, but what stood out was his fifth-place qualifying effort, wasting no time in showcasing talent the first time out. Starting up front is a trend that the Batesville, AR native has continued throughout his tenure in NASCAR and this weekend at the venerable old .526-mile paper clip, Martinsville Speedway, Martin will also be seeking another stock car milestone — a 50th Coors Light Pole Award.
No wonder why the “ageless wonder” remains competitive all the way through age 52. A key racing adage has always been “to finish first, one must first finish” and stock car statistics bear out the importance of starting first. Over the last several years, the winner of the Coors Light Pole Award has won 19 percent of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, run fifth or better 42 percent of the time and earned a top-10 finish in nearly 60 percent of all cases. At Martinsville, the stats run a shade lower, with 19 wins in 124 races for the polesitter – still a 15% clip.
The driver who turns the fastest lap time during qualifying in every race of all three top series earns the Coors Light Pole Award. The reward is one you can probably guess: bringing the field to the green flag at the start of the race as well as having the first choice at a pit stall. The Coors Light Pole Award is part of the NASCAR Prize Money and Decal Program, also referred to as the contingency program, which provides teams prize money and weekly awards based on performance in several categories.
Historically, you’ll probably not surprised to learn that “King” Richard Petty holds the record for most Coors Light Pole Awards with 123 across his illustrious career. Of those 123 starts from the pole, the King won a staggering 61 times. The only other driver to have broken the 100-pole barrier is David Pearson, who won 37 times from his 113 starts at the head of the field. Jeff Gordon, meanwhile, is tied with Cale Yarborough in third place with 69 poles.
This pole Pole Award is just one part of a far-reaching sponsorship of NASCAR by Coors Light – the Official Beer of NASCAR. The Coors Light All Access Weekend is the brand’s major NASCAR fan program for 2011. It gives 24 NASCAR fans the opportunity to wave the green flag during qualifying; have their photo taken with the Coors Light Pole Award winner; have garage and pit access all weekend; and enjoy the Coors Light hospitality area, where there is food, drink and a viewing platform atop a motor coach.
Coors Light All Access Weekend runs all season long with a unique marketing strategy. At first, the company pushes the concept nationally in February & March. Then, local markets with tracks activate around their main event(s) (typically four weeks leading up to the Cup race). In this all-access program guests get hot pass credentials, garage tours, and access to VIP entertainment in the infield (typically) at the Coors Light bus. It’s designed to be the VIP experience that only Coors Light can give the consumer through its official partnership with NASCAR.
The public face of the brand to many fans is Miss Coors Light, Rachel Rupert, who was introduced last year during the Chase to represent Coors Light as the official beer of NASCAR and the Coors Light Pole Award; 2011 is her first full NASCAR season. Miss Coors Light is at the track each week waving the flag for qualifying and most importantly, presenting and often interviewing the Coors Light Pole Award winner. Miss Coors Light and the official Coors Light Pole Award are taken to various retail locations where NASCAR fans can have their photo taken with them – just one more way the Official Beer of NASCAR participates in the sport.
“Being Miss Coors Light is a dream job for me,” Rupert says. “I was raised watching NASCAR. So being able to actually meet and award the Coors Light Pole award to different drivers I’ve admired over the years is such a thrill. I can’t believe I’m actually here representing Coors Light and enjoying such an exciting sport with the best fans in the world! It has been a privilege… I mean, what else can a girl ask for?“
“Mark Martin Museum”:http://www.markmartinmuseum.com/
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