Martinsville Speedway is a magical place and a huge part of my story in terms of racing.
The paper-clipped shaped track was the first venue I ever witnessed a live NASCAR Cup race. I was in awe from the moment the traffic slowed our progress to the track until we left for home, hours later.
The experience took my path in this world in a new direction. Racing, NASCAR racing, would forever flow in my bloodstream.
I had already classified myself as a race fan when I finally made the pilgrimage to the tiny track in southwestern Virginia. But I was still a novice when it came to the characteristics of tracks that populated the South and the rest of the county that NASCAR ran its top series.
My limited knowledge of racing – NASCAR racing – was that Dale Earnhardt was my driver, I didn’t care for anyone else in the field except for Richard Petty who I knew my father liked and respected.
The year of my first race at Martinsville was September 1992 and Petty was running his Farewell to the Fans Tour. My husband Racer 187 and I packed a backpack, brought some cash to dine on the world-famous Martinsville Hot Dogs, and a book about Richard Petty we bought to get signed by The King as a gift for my dad on his birthday.
The day dawned wet and foggy. The little Toyota Celica we had got parked on a grassy hill and we left it unconcerned about how we’d eventually get out. All we cared about was starting our adventure at Martinsville Speedway.
We took in the sights, the smell of race fuel, the roar of the engines, the throngs of people dressed in driver colors, and felt we had entered another world. We didn’t feel like strangers, we finally felt Home.
I honestly can’t remember much from the racing of the day, mostly because then if my driver didn’t do well I didn’t care who did.
For the record, Geoff Bodine won the race and Earnhardt, my driver, finished dead last.
What I took away from Martinsville Speedway was a sense of community, an appreciation of the beauty surrounding the track, the camaraderie of fans who felt the same about their sport as I had come to do.
My husband had even brushed into a fast-moving Ned Jarrett, then on-air commentator for the television station airing the race, running back to the booth from the restroom. He was tall, stately, and quick!
The hotdogs were definitely memorable – unique and a must-try bucket list item for any and every NASCAR fan.
At the conclusion of the race we meandered, holding out hope we’d get to Mr. Petty to get a desperately sought after autograph for my dad’s gift. Petty didn’t have a great day and must have had an urgent need to leave as his vehicle departing the track nearly ran us over!
We were disappointed.
But our sticking around paid off in spades. We ran into both Jack Roush and Robert Yates, owners of the No. 6 and No. 28 respectively.
Both men were not the superstars they are today and were visibly surprised we had stopped to ask for their autographs – Racer 187 had (and still does) mad respect for these team owners and was delighted to speak to them and get their autographs.
After a long, drizzly, action-packed, emotional, fun-filled, and awesome experience at Martinsville Speedway we started the trek back to our car.
While climbing the hill that our Toyota Celica sat atop, the red dirt drenched in rainwater became red mud. Racer 187 who was surrounded by hundreds of other tired fans started to slip down the hill in a weird kind of slow motion mudslide.
As the person responsible for the laundry – red mud stains! – and behind Racer while he was starting his slide to the ground, I put out my hand and caught his rear end saying loudly, “NO!” before he wound up on the ground. All of the race fans around us applauded and chuckled. Racer was safe and dry and we lightened the mood of our fellow race fans!
Martinsville stayed with me. Racer 187, employed by McDonald’s at the time, got to have breakfast and meet Dale Earnhardt and Jimmy Spencer. He had his picture taken, too, but something happened with the film and he never got the picture. He still has the memory.
Our lives took us away from Virginia and back to the northeast.
Dale Earnhardt’s death took me away from NASCAR until some personal soul searching brought me back years later..
In 2009 with our two boys in tow and my daughter incubating in my belly we headed down to Martinsville to meet Internet friends at this fabulous track. We tailgated, ate Martinsville hot dogs, cemented real-life friendships born out of virtual ones, and exposed our boys to NASCAR at our favorite track.
Memories made at Martinsville Speedway with its idyllic setting, family-friendly atmosphere, and historically important NASCAR venue make it a must-return destination for our family.
In fact, I think it’s time to get my daughter to her first NASCAR race… at Martinsville!