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This Saturday, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action at the Martinsville Speedway. For all that has changed over the 23 year history of the tour, Martinsville has remained a constant. The 0.526 mile paperclip-shaped oval in southern Virginia is one of only three tracks on the inaugural Truck schedule that the series still visits. Even for a track that has held NASCAR races for 70 years, the first truck race there still seems like an eternity ago.
On Sept. 25, 1995, the third national touring division of NASCAR, known as the SuperTruck Series by Craftsman, raced at Martinsville for what would be the 16th race out of the 20 events on the 1995 schedule. The race was to serve as the precursor to Sunday’s Cup race, a relatively uncommon occurrence back then. But rain forced a change-up in the schedule and the event to be run on Monday, after the Cup race.
Mike Skinner came into the race as the points leader, having won six times already. It wasn’t unusual to see the black Goodwrench scheme up front in 1995. However, what made Skinner stand out was the fact that it adorned a Chevrolet Silverado and the name Earnhardt wasn’t anywhere on it. Skinner qualified on the pole that weekend. He bested a few drivers that fans today would recognize and even more that they wouldn’t.
Three time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip was in the field. So were Joe Nemechek and Bob Keselowski. Before they were famous as NASCAR dads, they were pretty good wheelmen themselves. There were some short track stars, like Butch Miller and Dennis Setzer. There were even a few relative unknowns who were writing the early chapters of great careers. Future champions Ron Hornaday, Jack Sprague, Johnny Benson and Mike Bliss all started that race, sporting a combined five wins between them, all of which belonged to Hornaday at that time.
When the green flag dropped that day, Skinner took off. He dominated early, leading the first 134 laps. However, the ninth and final caution of the day brought the field to his rear bumper. On the restart, 1986 Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine muscled his way past. Then with only three laps remaining, Skinner got back to Bodine in lapped traffic. He punted Bodine off of Turn 4, sending Bodine’s Ford spinning. Skinner got held up trying to get around the backwards truck, allowing Joe Ruttman to sneak past both of them. Ruttman picked up his second career win in the Truck Series, with Skinner finishing second.
Much has changed in the years since that race. Martinsville now has lights, and the trucks now pair up with the Cup cars regularly. Most of the drivers that day have moved on to other activities. One is no longer with us. Skinner moved on to spend several years in Cup. Ruttman ran in trucks full time through 2001, picking up 11 more wins. Bodine continued to make occasional truck starts until a horrific crash at Daytona in 2000 nearly ended his racing career.
The Skinners, Ruttmans, Bodines and others have moved on, replaced by names like Sauter, Crafton, Peters and Gragson. But they still go to Martinsville Speedway each year. We still have drivers who dominate, only to get shoved aside late. They still come back on each other and exact their revenge, short track style. Sometimes, someone who hasn’t been up front all day can steal a win.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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