It all started, to the best of my recollection, about seven years ago. The whispers started in the media center at Martinsville Speedway about the little half mile track losing at least one of its races in the future. It was a time when NASCAR was expanding and trying to make the sport more than a regional phenomenon.
Tracks were added in California, Kansas, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Traditional tracks in Rockingham and North Wilkesboro had been or were about to be taken from the schedule, and Darlington was given only one race. And they lost the traditional Labor Day weekend Southern 500. It only followed that Martinsville was the next track to lose a race. All that changed on Thursday.
In a surprise announcement at the speedway, everything has changed. No longer will the annual speculation be whether or not Martinsville loses a race, but how great it’s going to be to see the Sprint Cup drivers guaranteed two races per year well into 2015.
The reason is simple. It came in the form of a $3 million commitment from the state of Virginia and the speedway to upgrade the facility.
Details are sketchy at this point, but the good news is that the wonderful little track 50 miles from Roanoke, Virginia, will be on the schedule for quite some time, and that’s very good news. No other venue offers what Martinsville does. First, there is not a bad seat in the house. Similar to the old baseball stadiums where you seemed to be on top of the action, Martinsville offers a sight line that no other track does. You can actually see the cars, the colors, and the action like no other place in the world of NASCAR. Couple that with a friendly atmosphere and good, close racing and you have a venue that needs to be preserved, along with Darlington. And then there is the food. Or maybe I should say the hot dogs.
You can go to the night race at Bristol or you can go to Vegas, but you cannot find a track with a signature food product like Martinsville has. I had my first Martinsville hot dog in about 1965. I love the racing at the track, but I crave the hot dogs. Soft bun, bright red wiener, chili, mustard, slaw—it’s heaven on a bun. And I could eat a dozen if it weren’t for my obvious expanding waistline.
It would be a crime to take that away from race fans, and NASCAR must have agreed. I think this is part of the new philosophy at the home office in Daytona Beach. For too long, they sacrificed tradition for goal of conquering the country and defeating the NFL and MLB. It wasn’t going to happen. Stick and ball sports will survive and have survived for so long that it is impossible to even think that any racing organization could circumvent national traditions. In the meantime, as they tried, a large number of core fans, those loyal to the sport, just went away.
Today’s announcement means that NASCAR is listening, has mended their ways, and is ready to give the fans what they want. I am tempted, no ready, to give the boys in Daytona Beach a big “Atta boy.”
Let the beating and banging begin and may it continue for a long time.