It is common for this writer to say I love Martinsville Speedway. Some say it’s because my home is only 150 (give or take) miles from the speedway. Some try to get into my mind and say it’s because it was the first speedway I ever visited, but the truth of the matter is that little paper clip-shaped track is exactly how the whole phenomenon we now call NASCAR started. It is and was a short track where the competition is and was fierce and difficult. Everyone has and had a good seat. It’s nearly perfect as any track can be. As I calculate it, I haven’t missed but one Sprint Cup race there in 44 years.
The track is close enough to the hub of NASCAR racing (about 130 miles) that drivers can drive up on Thursday or Friday and be home Sunday night. Fans will normally run into a driver or two—it’s too small to get lost or hide—and chat with the friendly track personnel. Its position on the calendar mystifies me.
It was cold over the weekend. Friday, it didn’t get to 40 and Saturday didn’t do much better. After spending a week in 50-60 degree temperatures at my home 150 miles north, I had to pack my winter coat this time. Sunday broke the 50 degree mark, but I had to wonder why this race that traditionally (and I’m dating myself here) was run in mid April is now in late March. Mid April in southern Virginia is very nice. Late March is hit or miss.
I looked at the schedule and had a rough time understanding why Texas Motor Speedway’s race is held two weeks later in what is a much warmer climate. Why not switch these two races? It would give the series three straight short tracks, kind of a short track swing. Yes, I know that Texas is close to Talladega and having them back to back might be the reason, but asking fans to come out when the daytime temperature is 40 or less and the nighttime temperature is in the 20’s is a bit much.
In the fall, the Martinsville race is in the Eliminator Round on, you guessed it, November 1. That time of year, there could be snow in Henry County. Note that Texas is properly scheduled the week after Martinsville, but why have Talladega in October?
The attendance was good this weekend despite the weather. Most folks were bundled up in down coats, but one has to wonder what the attendance would be if they could have a comfortable experience in April or early October. And yes, where would they put all these fans? I don’t imagine Clay Campbell would complain too much.
It always seems like the big news comes out at Martinsville. This year was the buzz about doctoring tires, the announcement that Coach Joe Gibbs’ son, JD, was having a health problem and Kyle Larson fainting on Saturday and having to sit out Sunday’s race. Chase Elliott made his Cup debut. The racing was filled with drama and we saw two extremely close finishes. Joey Logano’s pass on the last lap of the truck race was breathtaking. Denny Hamlin holding off a determined Brad Keselowski was very exciting. Domination like we saw at other venues didn’t exist here. Oh yeah, and the hot dogs. I’m proud to say that I sampled a few and they’re just as good as they have been for 40 years. A little controversial for sure, but I’m not the business manager at the speedway.
I always look forward to two weekends a year at the Paper Clip, making sure my schedule is clear during race week. I’m never disappointed at what I see, and dread the cookie cutter tracks that just don’t hold up to what I see at this little track. I just wish it could be held in warmer weather.