martinsville


Well, and defending my master’s thesis. Apparently, they think that I do, in fact,  know something about historic race tracks. And that I can defend my research in an academic setting. One of these days, dear readers, I hope someone at the new and upcoming NASCAR Hall of Fame, or NASCAR or a team or someone in motorsports feels the same way!

I got to defend my thesis out at Martinsville Speedway. It was a beautiful day for it. Perfect for talking about stock car racing heritage and why its important. After 3.5 hours (yes, really) of defending my stuff, I headed out to Bowman-Gray Stadium. Lots of fun Saturday night short track racing. Hi to my new friends out there!

And to make sure that  I got my fill of NASCAR’s first tracks, I spent Sunday morning walking around Occoneechee Speedway. The only stock car track to be listed on the National Register. Yes, Indy is on there, but they  wouldn’t let us come play until 1994, so we’re just going to let Occoneechee have its own honor.

I need to find some good early pics of Occoneechee. It was a ghost track, until Preservation North Carolina and HOST stepped in to save it. Its now a beautiful walking trail- part of a larger one actually.

Oh well, heck! Ask and you shall receive. If you go take a peek at the Eno River Valley Home page, there it is! What the track used to look like!  http://www.enoriver.org/eno/parks/occspdwy.htm

I will upload my pics, and you can see the changes in the landscape. The track was closed in 1968, when some of the more uptight citizens didn’t take too kindly to having the roar of stock car engines in their county. Occoneechee held races from 1948 until 1968. Big Bill France purchased the lot (and incidentally, sold it to Preservation North Carolina, giving it a second life) and added it to the schedule. According to the brief history on their website, 17,000 folks showed up to watch the cars along the one mile dirt track.

Bob Flock won that first Strictly Stock race in his 48 Olds. It was  the third race of the season.

As I walked along the track, I fancied that I was the only one of the handful of folks out there that day that was a race fan. Two joggers, two dog walkers. All going the wrong direction for a race track. 😀

My best surprise of the day was coming up on the concrete bleachers. I knew that they were there, I had seen pictures…but the site of this rural ruin, a piece of stock car racing history, well, it took my breath away. Went and sat up at the top for a long time and thought about the cars going by. Go visit! Its free, its beautiful and its racing history! We like that! I was excited that I got to get to three of eight (!) of the first tracks that NASCAR raced at, ever. If I had more time this weekend, I would have gone on out to North Wilkesboro again, just for the heck of it.

Pictures? ok!

When stories about race tracks losing a date come up, poor Martinsville is always at the top of the list.

They’ll say its old, its small, its not in a “media market” or some similar nonsense. Articles mention that its the last track from the first year of NASCAR (Darlington came around one year later) but the significance of Martinsville is often downplayed.

Articles instead like to point out things  like a shiny new casino that might be built at Kansas and insist that race fans want slot machines instead of good racing. Of course race fans won’t notice if there’s no good racing, they’ll be too busy yanking on the one arm bandit.

This time, its different. An article from ESPN Insider (via Jayski) actually mentions the possibility of a date change and says that Martinsville is safe.

Yes, its just a column, but its a remarkable change in tone.
The author notes that Bristol’s repaved surface has made Martinsville one of the last tracks with real racing. Of course, wouldn’t it be nice if the Powers that Be really put some stock into that kind of thought…short track racing..we like it, yes?

I am excited that a very positive economic impact study for Martinsville was just released, and that there are articles or columns like this out there.
We’ll see. I just thought that it was an exciting change.

Interesting blurb on North Wilkesboro too. Positive and negative at the same time. I will get to that either tonight or tomorrow.

As I think you know, I am trying to work on my master’s thesis. This last week I went out to North Carolina to do research. And since I was so close to Virginia, I of course just had to go to the race at Martinsville.

I spent two days out at the National Speed Sport News Archives. It was really hard not to get distracted and read all the articles on the development of stock car racing. All told, it is a fascinating story. It was also incredibly interesting to watch the way that Speed Sport News went from barely mentioning stock car races to almost exclusively covering stock cars.

I spent some time at the library out in Rockingham. On the way home, I heard a great radio interview with Andy Hillenburg for the upcoming race at Rockingham. If you all are out there, make sure you go. It should be great. They also have created a Little Rock- which is a small track out back of the track which is shaped just like Martinsville. I got to see that track in its bulldozer making an oval in the dirt phase, and that was really cool.

So the week had two very very exciting moments. The first was the race at Martinsville. I will post about Martinsville and the race in a minute. Even more exciting was lunch on Friday.

Friday I drove down to South Carolina to have lunch with Bud Moore and Cotton Owens. It was unbelievable to hear them talk about the real days of racing. Awesome is hardly a word to describe it. They are fantastic, as is Dot, Cotton’s wife. She’s been involved in racing since the first days Cotton started racing.

I think that it was one of the most amazing lunches that I have ever had the opportunity to be at. They were so great.

Being at Martinsville was also so much fun. It was simply amazing to be at a place where so much of NASCAR’s heritage still exists.

How about some history first? H. Clay Earles came back from World War II with the idea to build a track, though he had been kicking the idea around before he even left. During the war, there was a ban on auto racing so as not to use up valuable resources. The ban was lifted in 1945, much to the joy of auto racing fans of all kinds. The next year, 1946 brought all kinds of exciting things…including organized stock car racing.

See! Distractable! Anyhow. Martinsville was one of the first tracks included in the original eight tracks that NASCAR ran for points in the first year of operations. How exciting that we still race there! The track has changed somewhat over the years. Both H. Clay Earles and his grandson Clay Campbell who is the current president of the track have said that the track is always under construction. Keeping the track up to date and exciting are both important aspects.

Did you know that the speedway is not only the tallest building in the county, but has the longest hallway too!? We love Martinsville, and are glad that it is still a part of racing. Drivers seem to love the track too- even though its not easy to drive! You need to be able to work your brakes without losing em, and have enough patience to make it through all 500 miles of the race.

You know, Martinsville, in the first years that NASCAR raced there- was a dirt track? Sure enough, it was. The track wasn’t quite finished in 1947, but they raced there anyways. There was seating for 750 people! The second race was well attended and an exciting stop on the circuit. Red Byron won the first NASCAR race there in a 1949 Oldsmobile. Byron had won earlier that same year at the second race of the season- at Daytona’s Beach and Road course. The next year, 1950, NASCAR was racing there twice a year. Once in the spring and once in the fall. The first time they raced the Virginia 500 was in 1956, and the fall race became the Old Dominion 400.

Martinsville was designed to be beautiful. Earles wanted it to look like a park, a place where you would want to bring your family. And let me tell you. It is. Martinsville might just be

the most beautiful track on the circuit.

Boy oh boy. Look what I forgot. This here is my first dog. Breakfast really. It was naked. Second one came all the way.

dawg

dawg