For 70 years, legends of stock car racing have made a name for themselves on 0.526 miles in Southwest Virginia.
As the track has gone from dirt to asphalt to the mixed surface of the modern era with concrete corners banked at 12-degrees, history has been made, repeated, and turned to legend.
That history is not lost on current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. On October 29, they will each have a chance to carve their name into future tall tales born on the half mile of mayhem.
“I think history in our sport is special. It’s fun to be able to come to these racetracks that have a lot of history and Martinsville is right there at the top,” Martinsville winner Kyle Busch said. “You have to look at Daytona, Darlington and Martinsville (as the most historic venues).”
Jimmie Johnson has established himself as a Martinsville master. With nine grandfather clock trophies to show for his efforts at the Speedway, the seven-time champion ranked Martinsville as one of the “five majors” in his mind.
“Because of the history of the track, the connection to history when you experience it first hand, and the tradition of the trophy, I have an experience when I race there that feels like I could be racing in the 50’s or 60’s,” Johnson said. “It has that feel and that intensity to it…it really is a track that I suggest all my friends go to. When people ask me what track to visit, I tell them that they won’t find a more intimate and cool track to experience than Martinsville.”
Martin Truex Jr. is no stranger to the tall tales told of races at Martinsville thanks in large part to his family’s history racing modifieds at the track.
“I can remember hearing stories as a kid about my dad and uncle coming to Martinsville every year to race their modified,” Truex Jr. recalled. “That was a huge deal to them. That was like going to the Daytona 500 every year for them. The track and the history of it has great meaning to me because of my family racing on it, how long it has been around, and what it means to the sport.”
For Martinsville winner Ryan Newman, his grandfather clock trophy is a reminder of the drivers who visited Victory Lane there before him.
“The grandfather clock from my victory there is pretty special because it is such a unique trophy,” Newman said. “The history of NASCAR, the history of modifieds and stock cars racing there - Martinsville has been an important part of all of that.”
For those that haven’t found their way to Victory Lane at Martinsville, it sits on the short list of desired victories.
“There’s not many short tracks left and there’s none like Martinsville. Short track racing is where everything came from. Short tracks are an important part of the sport,” former series champion Matt Kenseth said. “If you were to ask me three years ago ‘if you could win one more race, where would it be?’ I would have said Martinsville.”
As for those wanting to add their name to the illustrious list of winners at Martinsville through the years? Two-time Martinsville winner Kurt Busch offered some wisdom.
“Martinsville is a unique win because of how difficult it really is to have a perfect day. There’s never perfect races, really. It’s how you roll with it and navigate the challenges of the day,” Busch said. “When you win there, it feels like a top-five, marquee event because it is such a difficult track to win at.”
That challenge will be amped up as drivers open the Round of Eight of the NASCAR Playoffs looking to seal a spot in the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That makes the First Data 500 the “most important Playoff race” according to 2004 series champion Kurt Busch.
“Martinsville is, with no disrespect to the other Playoff races, the most important Playoff race,” Busch said. “You can lock your way into Homestead or you can have a rough day there and be digging out of a hole you can’t survive.”
Brad Keselowski, a race-winner at Martinsville just five months ago and the 2012 series champion, noted that recent success at the track can be encouraging for drivers when they arrive with a chance to clinch a spot in the ultimate round of the Playoffs.
“Martinsville is a critical race. Being the first race in the third round, if you win that one you’ve got two weeks to really think about Homestead and dial in and focus on that race,” Keselowski said. “I think that’s an incredible opportunity.”
The First Data 500 is the first race in the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. If the winning driver is in the Playoffs, he or she would be the first to clinch a spot in the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Last fall, Johnson won his ninth grandfather clock, on the way to winning his record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship.
As part of the on-site entertainment during First Data 500 weekend Martinsville Speedway will host FanFest on Saturday, October 28 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., featuring eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. FanFest is a free event giving fans an up-close look at some of the sport’s biggest stars, off the track. There will be special accommodations made for youth in attendance at the event so that they may experience FanFest front and center.Tickets for the First Data 500 start at $55 and are on sale now. Youth tickets are available starting at $15, with teen pricing available starting at $25. Family four packs start at $110 and military specials are available, as well. Tickets may be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.