The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 festivities at Martinsville Speedway began in earnest on Thursday night as NASCAR’s best Late Model Stock Car drivers hit the half-mile for a six hour test session.
The session began at 4 p.m. under natural light, but the second half of the evening was spent under the Speedway’s new LED lights, as the Late Models were the first cars to hit the track in anger under the permanent lighting.
Drivers, many of whom noted that the night was special due to the debut of the LEDs, said that the racing is always good at Martinsville and the lights add even more prestige to NASCAR’s biggest and richest Late Model race.
Kres Van Dyke, who has multiple state championships in Tennessee, along with a pair of top-three finishes in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, is one of them.
“I told everyone earlier, us, the Late Models, we get a shot at being in victory lane the first of any NASCAR drivers under the lights and that is pretty cool,” Van Dyke said. “This place, it’s a different world. It’s super awesome. The lighting is great. They’ve done a great job on it. It’s just a different animal up here. It’s really nice.”
Lee Pulliam, who has two ValleyStar Credit Union 300 wins on his resume, along with three national championships said racing under the lights was “pretty cool.”
“Seeing the first cars go out there was pretty special to watch,” Pulliam said. “You know, this is always the most prestigious late model race in the country and this just took it to the next level. I’m really hoping we can win us another clock.”
Four-time National Champion Philip Morris, who has three ValleyStar Credit Union 300 wins under his belt, said a fourth win in the race, which would tie Curtis Markham for the most at Martinsville in a Late Model, would be the sweetest.
“This would rank as number one,” among Morris’ Martinsville wins, he said. “It’s never been like this (with the lights). It would mean an awful lot to me.”
Brenden Queen, who will be making his second start at Martinsville in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 after a top-10 finish a year ago, said he is excited to be among the first to race under the permanent lights.
“This will be really cool, to be the first race with the lights,” Queen said. “I look at this as the biggest Late Model race of the year. It’s our Daytona 500. It’s got so much prestige. It’s the hardest race to make, the best of the best are here. It’s just one of those races you mark on the calendar. Anyone who is anyone in Late Model racing is here.”
Tommy Lemons Jr., a two-time winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, said that he believes that the excitement of the race will only be on brighter display under the lights.
“The drivers are crazy. Lights, no lights, I think the race will be a wild one no matter what,” Lemons said. “Running under the lights is definitely going to add a new element to this place. The first race under the lights adds a little bit more (prestige) to it.”
Morris said that he saw glimpses of a different Martinsville Speedway under the lights than he is used to during the day.
“There is more grip,” Morris said. “I saw glimpses of (a second groove). I don’t know if it’s enough of an advantage. It’s out there, you just have to decide if you want to go get it.”
Pulliam and Van Dyke both echoed Morris’ thoughts about grip and said racing under the lights also added some speed.
“It’s got more grip everywhere,” Pulliam said. “It’s going to be faster. The pace won’t fall off quite as much.”
“The track firmed up a little bit, picked up some rubber,” Van Dyke said. “It picked up speed more than it did anything else. It really didn’t change the feel of the car, it just got faster.”
Drivers weren’t the only ones who were impressed with the lights. Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell, was impressed with what he saw.
“I thought it was fantastic to finally see the place lit up, with all these cars on track,” Campbell said. “It was pretty spectacular, especially under these LED lights.”The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious Late Model Stock Car race. Race day – Saturday, September 23 – starts with three 25-lap qualifying races to set the field, followed by a 25-lap “last chance” qualifying race. Tickets for the event are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 1-877-RACE-TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.