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Official Review by Josh Oakes, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Tucked away among the gently rolling hills of southern Virginia is a half-mile track that has been attracting families and race fans for decades. Racing legend Clay Earles opened Martinsville Speedway two years before NASCAR even existed. The initial capacity was a mere 750, but this did not stop the 6,000-plus racing fans from seeing Red Byron win the inaugural race on 4 July 1947. When NASCAR formed in 1949, Martinsville was the sixth track to host a race in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and is the only track from that initial series to still host a Sprint Cup Race.
Earnhardt, Waltrip, Yarborough, Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr. are just some of the legends that have conquered the half-mile of mayhem since Red first did it 1947. It was at Martinsville that Fred Lorenzen won the first Ridgeway Grandfather clock back in 1961 and Richard Petty accumulated 15 victories there.
Every NASCAR fan that has ever been to Martinsville Speedway will tell you that it is the best track in NASCAR, whether it is your first race or fiftieth race.
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There are plenty of concession stands located along the concourses, serving up foot long corn dogs, fried bologna sandwiches, fried PB&J, barbecue sandwiches, Italian sausages, gyros, and beer. The Martinsville Dog is a red hot dog that can be found at every permanent stand, along with long lines. A race fan told me to load it up with as many toppings as possible, as the hot dog itself is less than impressive. The $2 price tag more than makes up for the lack of overall size, however. The prices in general are low, with nothing above $10. Martinsville allows fans to bring in food and beer in soft-sided coolers, so visiting the concession stands really is not necessary.
One word that comes to mind when describing the atmosphere at Martinsville Speedway is community. During race week, thousands of fans camp out in the fields of Ridgeway, turning the area around the speedway into a colorful village. Within this village, neighborhoods of fans pulling for the same team form. These neighborhoods extend from the fields into the arena itself. The Clay Earle's tower, for example, is where fans of team Hendrick tend to sit.
Unlike Texas Motor Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway, nearly every seat at Martinsville Speedway provides an excellent view of the entire track. The .562-mile circumference makes Martinsville the shortest track in the Sprint Cup Circuit. This, combined with turns only banked at 11 degrees, makes for some of the most exiting and closest racing in the world of NASCAR. Also unique to Martinsville is the pit row and small infield. Pit row begins on the end of the back straightaway at turn 4, extends along the front straightaway, and finally ends at the start of the back straightaway off turn 2. This configuration, often referred to as the paperclip, forces the teams to share a garage and makes for a tighter race off pit row. These pit battles can easily be seen from every seat, which means all the fans can see all the action all the time.
Auto racing has been the heart and soul of southern Virginia since 1947. The speedway is actually located about five miles south of Martinsville in the small, rural community of Ridgeway, a community of about 725 residents. A Wendy's, Hardee's, and a couple gas stations across the road from the speedway make for the only other commercial buildings within a five-mile radius, and the town of Martinsville doesn't have much more to offer other than Cook-Out and Checkered Pig. On race day, 220 Business is lined with merchandise tents selling everything from model cars to old NASCAR tires to NFL jerseys.
The sense of community here cannot be missed. Fans have been flocking to Martinsville Speedway since 1947, and they know their stuff. Everyone here is a subject matter expert when it comes to NASCAR, and the sober fans are more than happy to explain the ins and outs of their sport and tell you exactly why and how you should not cheer for the rival of their favorite driver. Though the physical structure of the speedway has changed a lot over the years, the fans have not. Martinsville is one of the few places where the term "old school" is still very much alive, thanks to the fans.
Martinsville Speedway is located along US 220 Business, so finding it should not be an issue. The issue comes in its location, 44 miles from the nearest city, which is Greensboro, North Carolina and 56 miles from Roanoke, Virginia. It is not a place you will stumble on by accident.
This being said, US 220 Business provides the only access to the speedway, and traffic on race day backs up for miles both to the north and south. There is free parking in the fields surrounding the track. However, these lots are mostly full by the time race day rolls around, and those that are not fill up early in the morning, so be prepared to spend hours in traffic before and after the race. There is plenty of parking aside from the public lots to be had. People for miles will let you park in their yard or business for anywhere from $5-$40.
There are a total of six gates stretching from turn 4 to turn 2, and the lines move fairly quickly. Once inside, you will find no shortage of restrooms, and the concourses are wide enough to prevent congestion.
Nothing says old school racing quite like Martinsville Speedway. Since Red Byron won $500 at Martinsville in 1947, the capacity has gone from 750 to 65,000, the track is no longer made of dirt, and luxury suites have been installed above the front stretch. Through all this, the philosophy of Clay Earles remains.
"If their memories are good, they'll keep coming back."
Clay's grandson, W. Clay Campbell is the current president of the track, and is doing everything possible to give every race fan that attends Martinsville Speedway those good memories.
There is something to be said for elegance in simplicity. There are no casinos with flashing lights or five-star resorts with fancy fountains. There are only green fields, good food, and good memories that are entirely your own.
The winner at Martinsville receives one of the most unique trophies in all of sports, a 7-foot tall $10,000 Ridgeway Grandfather clock. Until 2004, these clocks were hand made by Ridgeway Clocks just three miles from the track. Even though they are made in Michigan now, this grandfather clock remains one of the most coveted trophies in NASCAR.
On top of the terrific sightlines, there is a large video board that rises above the infield, making it even easier to keep up with all the action.
The level of professionalism among the staff and fans is something uncommon in the world today. Everyone is polite and ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.
Member Review by Norm
Since opening in 1947, Martinsville Speedway has grown from an initial seating capacity of just 750 to over 65,000 today. The track is the brainchild of H. Clay Earles, one of NASCAR's earliest pioneers and the man responsible for turning "two drag strips connected by short turns" into one of NASCAR's most exciting tracks. The straights at Martinsville are barely 800 feet in length and the tight turns are banked a mere 12 degrees.
The construction of Martinsville was originally projected to cost $10,000, but ended up at over $60,000 before a single car had roared to life. Since Red Byron took the checkered flag during that inaugural event and collected $500 in winner's money from a purse of $2,000, the names etched in history as Martinsville Victors reads like a who's who of NASCAR history. They are all there, from Fred Lorenzen's first career victory in 1961, to Richard Petty's 15 career victories at Martinsville, the most wins at Martinsville by any single driver. Waltrip, Wallace, Earnhardt, Pearson, Baker, Isaac, Gant, Yarborough, and the list continues with the stars of today: Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, and Stewart.
Perhaps as much as, if not more, than any other track still hosting NASCAR racing at the highest levels, Martinsville's present is shaped by its past and if Clay Earles was still alive today I am sure he would not have it any other way.
Member Review by alee1227 on Nov 08, 2014
Hands down, some of the best NASCAR fans. Expect it to take HOURS, yes I said hours to get out after the race.
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