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.
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I could go into a lot of detail about the food and beverage options at Martinsville, which are relatively simple, but at the end of the day, the essence of the dining options at Martinsville can be summed up in two words: Martinsville Dog. Translation: A traditional loaded red hot dog that remains the single best food value in the world of NASCAR at $2. It is simply impossible to eat only one; in fact, I do not think I have ever heard a person place an order for just one. At that price, at a major sporting event, you just never can feel as if you are not getting your money's worth, which you most definitely are!
Here at Martinsville one does not have to worry about accidentally bypassing a concession stand or walking out onto the concourse from your seat only to have your eyes wander in each direction looking for the nearest concession stand. One of the improvements over the past year to Martinsville Speedway has been the addition of large, neon-lit signage, marking the location of each concession stand. The signs even sing the praises of the famed dog, with an image of the dog, along with the "world famous" slogan the centerpiece of each sign.
The Martinsville Dog aside the rest of the offerings are mostly the norm: nachos, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, soda, and beer. Kiosks offering the latest in "fair" food, from frozen lemonade to funnel cakes, are readily available for those looking to indulge. Across the board, for the most part, prices on food and beverage at Martinsville are somewhat lower than at most other Cup Series level NASCAR tracks.
Coolers are still allowed at Martinsville, under some restrictions such as size, soft side, no-glass, etc. Coolers are often the great equalizer for a family when it comes to deciding when and where to attend a NASCAR race. Increasingly tracks are either banning coolers into the facility outright or increasing restrictions to the point where it is no longer feasible, or overly cost-effective, for a family to bring one along for the day. By continuing to permit coolers, Martinsville is continuing to help ensure that families can have a hand in helping control costs, and in turn, still enjoy a day at a big-league NASCAR race.
Martinsville defines the term "old-school" and this is where Martinsville truly shines. The fact remains that the infrastructure and facilities at Martinsville will probably never be considered among the best on the circuit, but for what Martinsville lacks in cutting-edge or luxury it makes up for in tradition. Race fans come to Martinsville for the racing it provides. When you come to Martinsville you know you are going to witness a race with lots of beating and banging and whomever emerges victorious will have definitely earned the victory. The tradition of Martinsville combined with the knowledgeable fans and great racing ensure that Martinsville is near the top when speaking of atmosphere at the track.
Martinsville is a small town defined by a few things, racing chiefly among them. The same could have been said of former big-league NASCAR towns like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, which unfortunately no longer host the sport at the upper echelon. This town lives and breathes the two weekends per year when NASCAR rolls into town.
Not only does racing play a major role in defining this part of Virginia, but it provides one of the largest economic engines as well. The neighborhood right around the speedway is rural in nature, save for a few convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, etc. that have sprung up to mix in with single-family homes and farms that dot the hillsides.
In terms of the track being located in a great urban neighborhood where you could wander from bar to bar post race or experience a five-course fine dining experience before walking to the track for a race then you are out of luck. I do not think that most of those attending events here seem to mind however. The smell of grills scattered around the hillsides, from campsites and tailgates near and far, erases any thoughts or desire for a five-course feast.
Martinsville attendees are also among the most knowledgeable of NASCAR fans. The folks that attend an event at the "paper-clip" (so called due to the shape of the oval, which resembles a paper clip) are seasoned in the world of NASCAR and cut very much of the same mold as a fan at Talladega or Darlington, and they are not afraid to let you know that they know this sport! That is not to say that Martinsville is not accommodating to the new NASCAR fan, quite the contrary. The Martinsville fan base will welcome you warmly and would love to share their knowledge with you, and maybe a beer or two as well. It is days spent at a track like Martinsville that remind you of what NASCAR once was and also that racing "old-school" style does still exist.
Located a mere half hour north of the North Carolina border, Martinsville is definitely a destination track. Unlike say, Las Vegas Motor Speedway , which is located in a destination city, Martinsville Speedway is the destination itself. The nearest airports with commercial service of note are located to the Southeast in Greensboro, NC and the west in Roanoke, VA. If you are going to Martinsville, and this is not meant as a slight, then it is very likely that you are going to watch the NASCAR stars battle it out for 500 laps.
The roads leading to the speedway can be a bit tricky, especially if arriving close to the green flag and "close to the green flag" is defined as a couple hours. The same goes for parking at Martinsville. Most of the public parking, owned by the Speedway, consists of hilly grass fields scattered out in all directions around the track. If you prefer to land a parking spot closer to the gates then you will definitely want to plan to arrive early in the morning.
Private parking is available within walking distance of the Speedway, some of which is paved. However, be prepared to pay prices ranging from $10 to $20 to park in one of these private lots. Also, a word of warning: these grassy lots are commonly either dew soaked upon arrival in the morning or rain soaked if Mother Nature has released a recent spring shower on the track's vicinity, which is quite common. What does this mean? It means to wear a pair of good common-sense shoes with good soles that will be comfortable for a long day of walking and braving a number of hills and steps.
The Speedway is equipped with plenty of gates and appears to open all available stalls at each gate. A wait is common closer to the beginning of on-track activities, backups do occur as tickets are scanned and coolers and bags must be inspected. As an older facility some walkways, entry portals, and aisles are somewhat narrow but it does not appear to be much of a problem given a dose of patience.
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when attending a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race could be achieved without tremendous cost or forethought. Tickets were not overly expensive, concessions were fairly priced, and gas was not almost $4 a gallon. Times have changed however, NASCAR today is different from the NASCAR of 20 years ago, 10 years ago even, in many ways, and the cost associated with attending an event is one of the areas where this is most evident.
That is not to say that a hard-working blue collar family can no longer attend a Sprint Cup Series race and see their heroes up close and personal, it simply requires a bit more planning and selectivity than it might once have required. Martinsville is one of the tracks on the circuit where the cost to attend a race is still within reason, especially by today's NASCAR standards, and, as such the return on investment is high. From the $2 hot dogs to the coolers allowed policy to the free parking, the staff at Martinsville and International Speedway Corporation are doing all they can to preserve the Martinsville experience for the masses. Kudos must be given to W. Clay Campbell, the man currently in charge of operations as President at Martinsville, and the grandson of track founder Clay Earles, for imploring those in positions of power to retain many of the aspects that make Martinsville stand out among the glitz and glamour found at many of NASCAR's newer facilities.
It is all about the clock. If you are not familiar with racing at Martinsville then you might be asking yourself what a clock has to do with a NASCAR race. It is quite simple really. The victor of a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville receives a massive 7-foot tall grandfather clock. The clocks are produced by Martinsville based Ridgeway Clocks and valued at $10,000. Without question the clock, aka trophy, that a Sprint Cup Winner at Martinsville receives for their efforts after 500 intense laps is among not only the most unique, but also most revered of trophies, in NASCAR.
A few years back Martinsville installed a large three-sided video board in the infield that is extremely clear and allows a great view of instant replays and close-up views of all the beating and banging, no matter where you're seated.
Another oft-overlooked aspect that is evident at Martinsville is the courteousness and kindness of those working the gates, the ushers assisting inside, or those working behind the counter at the concession stands. Martinsville was built to be a family track and even though the facility is now a part of the larger ISC operation it has retained the genteel personality of its founder and it is nice to see that Southern hospitality is still in full-force at Martinsville.
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