During his career, Mark Martin exemplified the best of NASCAR. He was a rare combination of an intense competitive spirit tempered with a moral code that garnered respect both on and off the track. When he retired in 2013, the sport lost one of its most esteemed ambassadors.
Martin, however, will soon return to NASCAR in a different role.
On May 25, he was announced as one of five inductees into the 2017 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. To celebrate the occasion, Martin traveled to a racetrack for the first time in two and a half years to drive the pace car for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a place Martin refers to as “my favorite racetrack.” While there, he spoke about the importance of safeguarding the history of NASCAR.
“The NASCAR Hall of Fame, I’ve been a big supporter of from the get-go,” Martin said. “It is so important to our sport as we move forward to preserve the history and the people that were there before us and the people that paved the way for the current competitors and the future competitors and fans, as well.
“There are so many people that are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame that are my heroes that it’s pretty incredible to think that I’m going to join them in that Hall. It’s something that I didn’t expect to happen in my lifetime so it’s happened sooner than I would have ever dreamed if it would happen at all.”
“It’s an incredible privilege, an honor and I’m extremely humbled by the opportunity to be a part of the NASCAR Hall of fame.”
Martin also admitted that while he has been enjoying his life since retirement, he has begun to miss his family at the track.
“I want to explain that for me, looking out my windshield is very exciting right now,” he said. “When I look in my rearview mirror it is a very, very foggy view of driving racecars. I’m cool with what’s in my windshield right now, really cool, really excited. That being said, I’m saying I don’t miss driving racecars, but I have missed the people. The longer it’s gone, the more I’ve missed.
“In the last two months, I’ve really noticed that I miss the fans, I miss the competitors and I miss the members of the media, the journalists and all that were around the racetrack that were my family.”
When asked about the greatest moment of his career, Martin went back to the start of his career before joining Jack Roush’s team.
“The greatest sense of pride I have is not what I accomplished when I started driving for Jack Roush to the day I hung the helmet up in 2013, it is really what happened before I got the ride at Jack Roush,” Martin explained.
“In 1981, the IROC Series, some of the crown jewels that made that possible especially the 1981 five Cup races, the car that we built. There are a lot of good old stories there that I like to tell because it’s fascinating. It’s quite different now because you don’t have the leeway.
“A guy from Indiana that was living and racing in Indiana could not do that today, build a Cup car and make it special and make it fast enough that it could sit on the pole in the third race they entered. That’s an interesting story and it’s something I’m really proud of.”
From those humble beginnings, Martin’s career in the Sprint Cup Series spanned 31 years and included five runner-up finishes in the championship standings. Although he never achieved championship status, Martin is proud of what he accomplished throughout three decades in the sport. He has 40 Cup wins, 49 XFINITY wins, seven victories in the Truck Series and he captured 13 checkered flags in the IROC Series.
“Look, I don’t have a Daytona 500 trophy,” Martin said, “and I don’t have a championship trophy, and I said many times that when people would complain about my not having one of those, I would ask the question, ‘How would my life be different if I had one?’ And, I truly believe that my life would not be very different. But my life will be different from now on because I’m in that Hall because that is my crown jewel.
“That speaks of not one year worth of success, not one great achievement, but a body of work, and that’s what I’m proud of.”
He may not have the hardware, but he is a champion in every sense of the word. Welcome home, Mark Martin, you have been missed.