A new challenge awaits NASCAR Late Model Stock Car drivers in September as preparations for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway are well under way.
The September 23 event, preceded by an open test on September 14, will see the debut of the historic facility’s new LED lighting system and veteran and young drivers alike say they are excited for the opportunity to be the first series to break in the LEDs.
“Martinsville, in general, gets drivers excited,” Bobby McCarty, winner of the 2017 Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway, said. “Then, you throw in being under the lights for the first time and that really changes everything.
“I know that a lot of cars are going to show up this year just because it is under the lights.”
South Boston Speedway regular Austin Thaxton said that he frankly “can’t wait” for race day to arrive.
“I think it’s going to be awesome,” Thaxton said. “I’m hoping to be the first to be able to say ‘we won under the lights.’”
Veteran racer Stacy Puryear echoed those sentiments.
“We’re really looking forward to (racing under the lights),” Puryear said. “We’re really excited.”
Once drivers get over the initial excitement of flipping the switch when the sun sets on September 23, however, the focus shifts to how they are going to attack a racing surface that will be at a lower temperature than in past years.
According to Mark Wertz, who spends most of his Saturday nights at Langley Speedway, dealing with a new track temperature is akin to “getting a whole new computer” full of setup information and makes the September 14 test session under the lights a “crucial night.”
“I think (racing at night at Martinsville) kind of resets the bar, setup-wise” Wertz said. “You see it all the time with the Cup cars, as soon as the shade rolls over the track or at tracks where they start in the day and race at night, cars that were running in the top-20 are all of a sudden in the back-20 when it’s dark.”
Macy Causey, who won her first career Late Model race earlier this season at South Boston Speedway, said that she will be paying extra attention to the drivability of her machine during pre-race practices.
“We’re going to get there and figure it out,” Causey said. “You set your car up the way you want it…but you never know what’s going to happen with a track when it gets dark and cools down.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting opinions on what the ramifications of night racing at Martinsville will be comes from three-time race winner, Philip Morris.
Morris, who currently sits in the midst of a Whelen All-American Series National Championship points battle along with fellow Late Model racer and former Martinsville winner Lee Pulliam, pointed out that the cooler temperatures could give drivers more options when it comes to getting around the half-mile speedway.
“I think you’ll see two-groove racing and it will be even more exciting,” Morris said. “I can’t wait to get down there and be able to run the outside. I think it’s going to be a two-groove track (under the lights) with cool concrete.”
Ultimately, though, each driver’s eyes lit up when asked about the prize waiting for the winner at the end of the 200-lap feature race: A grandfather clock trophy and a check for $25,000.
Speaking for all of the drivers set to enter the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, Morris said simply that he would “love to take home a grandfather clock.”
They ValleyStar Credit Union 300 open test session will take place Thursday, September 14 with the grandstands open for spectators to enter for free.
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.