Top-10 List: Martinsville Magic
by Tom Jensen April 09, 2021
Historic Martinsville Speedway might be small in size, but it’s huge in terms of NASCAR history and heritage
Pick your catch phrase: Size matters. Good things come in small packages. Bigger is not always better.
All of the above apply to historic Martinsville Speedway, a technically challenging short track located in Southern Virginia, about 30 miles north of the border with North Carolina. Martinsville might not be a big track in terms of actual size, but it occupies a huge and well-earned spot in the NASCAR history books for a lot of reasons.
So this week’s Curators’ Corner Top-10 List is all about the lore, the history and the magic that is Martinsville Speedway, where on April 10, the track will host the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 premier series race.
So let’s dig in to this week’s Top-10 list:
10. From the Beginning
Built in 1947, Martinsville hosted its first NASCAR Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) race on September 25, 1949, during the inaugural year of the series. The first race was won by Hall of Famer Red Byron (2018) in an Oldsmobile owned by fellow Hall of Famer Raymond Parks (2017). Martinsville has remained on the premier series schedule every year since, making it the oldest continual use track on the NASCAR schedule.
9. A Long History
Given its age, it’s not surprising that Martinsville has hosted 144 premier series races so far. That ranks second behind the 148 races that have taken place to date at Daytona International Speedway. A footnote: Even though Daytona is a decade younger than Martinsville, from 1959-71, the two Daytona 500 qualifying races counted as points races, so the superspeedway had four points races a year for its first 13 seasons.
8. Short Way Around
At just 0.526 miles, Martinsville is the shortest track in NASCAR, a mere 0.007 miles shorter than Bristol Motor Speedway. Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond Raceway are the only premier series tracks shorter than one mile.
7. Going Down Slow
Given that Martinsville is the shortest track in NASCAR and that the turns are banked only 12 degrees, it’s the slowest track in the premier series. The track record average race speed is a mere 82.223 mph, set by Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon (2019) in 1996. Only once in the last nine Martinsville races has the winner averaged more than 80 mph. The I-85 traffic headed south to Charlotte is often faster than that.
6. Traffic Jam
On May 6, 1951, Curtis Turner (2016) won a 200-lap premier series race on the old Martinsville layout, which was a 0.500-mile dirt track. That Turner won was not remarkable; after all, he was one of the top drivers of the day. What was remarkable is that Turner was one of just four drivers who finished the race, as multiple accidents and attrition took out nearly 90 percent of the 35-car field.
5. Old Grandad
In 1964, Martinsville owner and founder H. Clay Earles decided he wanted to honor race winners with something more substantial and distinctive than a typical trophy. Earles, winner of the 2017 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR, commissioned the Ridgeway Clock Co., which at the time was based about three miles from the track, to build grandfather clocks for race winners. Today, a Martinsville grandfather clock remains one of the most coveted trophies in NASCAR. You can find several examples of these unique trophies on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
4. Last Chance
In 1984, Rick Hendrick (2017) was about to shut down his first year All-Star Racing team for lack of funding, but he decided to give the team one last chance. That chance paid off big, when Hendrick’s driver, Geoffrey Bodine, won the Sovran Bank 500 on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville. The winnings were enough to keep the team going, and the following year the team was re-named Hendrick Motorsports. The rest is history as Hendrick’s team went on to win a record 13 premier series titles.
3. Last Win
One of the most emotional victories at Martinsville came in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 on Nov. 1, 2015. In that race, Jeff Gordon (2019) capped off a remarkable career by winning his 93rd and final premier series race and in the process, he earned a trip to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After taking the checkered flag, an elated Gordon leapt from his car and joyously screamed, “We’re going to Homestead! We’re going to Homestead!”
2. Going to the Dogs
More than any other track in NASCAR, Martinsville is known for its signature food, the Jesse Jones hot dog, a/k/a the famous Martinsville hot dog. The bright red hot dogs come covered in chili, onions and mustard, and cost a mere $2 each. Crewmembers have been known to keep a running tally of how many Martinsville hot dogs they eat in a weekend by putting a slash mark on the garage wall for each one they consume. Although there is no official record, some team members claim to have eaten 50 or more of the Martinsville hot dogs in a single weekend.
1. The King of Martinsville
There’s a reason Richard Petty (2010) is called “The King.” Well, a lot of reasons, actually. As much as people associate Petty with his record seven Daytona 500 victories, he was remarkable on short tracks. Petty holds the Martinsville track record with 15 victories, which is more wins than many drivers have in their entire careers. Petty also won 15 times at North Wilkesboro Speedway, 12 times at Richmond Raceway and 11 more at North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham. That’s 53 victories at just four tracks. Amazing.