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Curator's Corner / Historic Moments

Martinsville Speedway Turns 75

For 75 years, the smallest track in NASCAR has played host to the sport’s biggest stars and some of its greatest races.

Martinsville Speedway is celebrating a very special birthday this year, as the iconic Virginia short track will turn 75 years old.

Founded by H. Clay Earles and his partners, Martinsville predates the formation of NASCAR by more than seven months. And, in fact, the track was originally built to host AAA “big car” races, the term used for Indianapolis-style open-wheel cars in the late 1940s.

Over the years Martinsville Speedway has consistently added upgrades and amenities to make the track more family friendly. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

We’re a long way from 1947 and that’s a key part of the story: Over the last three-quarters of the century, Martinsville Speedway has not only survived, it has adapted, grown and thrived as a family friendly facility that features classic old-school short track racing.

To help the track celebrate its incredible milestone, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is collaborating with Martinsville Speedway on a special 75th anniversary exhibit here at the Hall.

Located in our “Inside NASCAR” section, the exhibit features dozens of artifacts, including track programs, numerous trophies, driver helmets, plaques, photographs and much, much more.

Among the Hall of Famers who are represented in the Martinsville exhibit are Richard Petty (2010), Richie Evans (2012), Glen Wood (2012), Fred Lorenzen (2015), Jerry Cook (2016) and Jeff Gordon (2019).

The exhibit opens to the public April 5 and will run through the end of 2022.

With that in mind, here are some historical and exhibit highlights from the 75th Anniversary of Martinsville Speedway.

Hall of Famer Red Byron won the first race at Martinsville Speedway in 1947. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

The First Race

On September 7, 1947 Martinsville Speedway hosted its first race, with stock cars from Bill France’s pre-NASCAR organization called the National Stock Car Racing Association. Though the half-mile dirt track had just 750 seats, the race drew 6,000 spectators, and soon after France and H. Clay Earles became lifelong friends and business partners.

Martinsville Speedway is the only track that has been on the NASCAR premier series schedule every year since 1949. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

NASCAR Comes To Town

The first NASCAR race at Martinsville was a Modified Division battle won by Fonty Flock on July 4, 1948. The following year, NASCAR introduced the Strictly Stock Division (now premier series), which included a race at Martinsville on September 25, 1949. Red Byron (2018) won driving for car owner and fellow Hall of Famer Raymond Parks (2017). Martinsville has remained on the schedule ever since, making it the only track to host at least one premier series race every year of the series’ existence.

In the mid-1950s, sports cars, including the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird raced at Martinsville Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

All Shapes & Sizes

Since its opening in 1947, Martinsville Speedway has hosted many racing series. The Modified Division (now NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour) was a big draw, as were the Speedway, Modified Sportsman and Convertible divisions in the early years. The track even had a few sports car races back in the day.

H. Clay Earles (left) was the first president of Martinsville Speedway. He passed the baton to his grandson Clay Campbell, who remains the track president today. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Family Affair

Although Martinsville Speedway is now owned by NASCAR, the track presidency has remained in the hands of a single family since the track opened in 1947. Track founder H. Clay Earles was the first president and his grandson, Clay Campbell took over in 1988 and remains at the helm. Both Earles and Campbell prided themselves on making Martinsville a track that is family friendly.

The Jesse Jones hot dog has been a staple of Martinsville Speedway since the late 1940s. Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR

Dog Days

Still just $2 each, the classic Jesse Jones hot dog has been a staple of the Martinsville Speedway concession stands since the late 1940s. On race weekends crewmembers will compete to see who can eat the most hot dogs, which are topped with mustard, onions, chili and vinegar-based slaw.

The first Ridgeway Clock trophy was presented to Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen (2015) after he won the 1964 Old Dominion 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR

Test of Time

Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles wanted to honor race winners in a unique way, so in 1964 he commissioned the then-nearby Ridgeway Clock Co. to create a 6-foot tall clock as a trophy. Fred Lorenzen won the first one in 1964 and to this day, a Martinsville Grandfather Clock remains one of the most coveted trophies in all of NASCAR. Lorenzen’s 1964 clock is one of the centerpieces of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s exhibit honoring the Virginia track’s 75th anniversary.

Plan your visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and purchase tickets at nascarhall.com/tickets.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

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