Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 27, 2015, 10:54 a.m.
One of the smaller reasons why I love Martinsville Speedway is the hot dogs, which is not to say I don’t like them. The beauty of the Martinsville hot dog is that it isn’t just the hot dog one buys at a thousand concession stands. It’s good in the sense that it’s mass-produced, and it’s unusual to find anything unique created under such circumstances.
I come from a part of the country where there isn’t any such thing as a chili dog. A hot dog has chili. To get slaw on it, too, one has to request a slaw dog, and, as a reference, most readers of this blog are unlikely to try the slaw dogs at Whiteford’s Drive-In here in Clinton (or Laurens), but they are better than Martinsville, almost certainly because they are produced in smaller masses.
Three paragraphs are enough. Were I there, as I was for every Sprint Cup race beginning in 1993 and ending in 2012, I would likely have three. It would be on Friday, and that would satisfy me. Clinton High School football games at Wilder Stadium also feature hot dogs that are similar to Martinsville’s, and, believe it or not, they are actually cheaper.
So much for discussion of what I consider one of Martinsville’s lesser virtues. If I got up before dawn Sunday, and drove all the way to Martinsville to watch a stock car race, a hot dog wouldn’t be the reason. I’m not going to do that, but I will probably be more excited on race morning than before any of the races in the season to date.
My favorite track was, is, and always will be Darlington, but if I had to choose one race to attend, it would be one of the two at Martinsville. In the latter years of my on-site NASCAR career, I came to refer to my favorite track as The Track Too Tough to Cover. Watching Darlington on TV, and even writing about it, isn’t much more difficult in my living room than it is in the press box conveniently located on the wrong side of the track. The late Jim Hunter used to claim that they kept the press box over in the third turn, when it stopped being the first turn, because the sportswriters loved it. I still went there because, yes, I did love to watch those thundering stock cars rampage into the third turn beneath me, but there was no silver lining in writing from over there. It was, and, I suspect, still is a royal pain in the ass.
If Queen Elizabeth II wrote about auto racing, which probably last entered her mind in the 1950s, and Stirling Moss was involved, she would confirm this. Now I’m going to imagine the Queen at Darlington for the rest of the day. With Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, and moonshine.
Some fans don’t like Martinsville. They say it’s too slow, too flat, and too in the middle of nowhere. My suspicion is that most have never been there. As hard as the TV networks try to convey the race, it still seems slow, sort of a boisterous parade consisting entirely of warring Hatfields and McCoys, on TV. In person, it’s, Goldarn and dadgum, Fred, ain’t it incredible how fast they can go around this little bitty place?
I’ve probably had more fun at Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond than any ten other tracks combined.
One reason is that all three are among the tracks where I played my guitar in front of people in the parking lot. Another reason was that beer was sometimes involved (though not at Martinsville).
Martinsville provides a clear understanding of racing ethics. If you’re holding up one of the big boys, you better get your business done quickly because Martinsville does not afford the luxury of patience. If you don’t get out of the way, you’re going for a spin, or if the particular big boy happens to be in a charitable mood, he will merely bump you in a manner designed to nudge your car up a lane, where he can speed by you as you wrestle the wheel, shake your fist, and yell, “Curses, you oaf!”
If every minute of the movie Days of Thunder provided the wisdom of one Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) line – “He didn’t wreck you, Cole. He rubbed you. And rubbin’ is racin’” – it would have been a great movie and not just an amusing Hollywood treatment. One of the movie’s flaws is that it makes rubbin’ racin’ at tracks where such rules don’t work.
Daytona, for instance.
Not only is rubbin’ racin’ at Martinsville, but racin’ is also rubbin’. They are as correlated as bacon and eggs, pizza and beer, potatoes and deep fryers. (The hot dog discussion has put unhealthy food on the burner.) Some people think the racing at Martinsville is unhealthy, particularly those who aren’t any good at it.
Remember this when you’re watching on Sunday. When a driver gets mad and pile-drives into the object of his ire, it is an act of destruction. If the driver nudges the left-rear of that driver’s car, moves him up the track, and goes on his way, it is an act of skill. Drivers without that skill seldom win at Martinsville. Drivers with great all-around skill tend to win there. It’s a vastly different kind of racing than “all the cookie-cutter tracks,” but it requires great ability, composure, and timing.
Martinsville may not bring out the higher virtues in the competitors, but there is something to be said for a driver who frequently gets in one scrap after another, and, yet, in almost every instance, the aftermath involves continuing on his merry way, and the other driver stopping by the infield care center to make sure he can tell the difference between two fingers and three. Such a man was the late Dale Earnhardt.
Another reason Martinsville is rough is that it’s rare for anyone to get anything bruised but his (or her) ego. Unruly behavior doesn’t have much down side.
Every time I hear a driver say he doesn’t like Martinsville, two thoughts enter my mind: (1.) No one loves Martinsville. It’s a pain in the ass. The greatest drivers there are the ones who are good at it, not the ones who love riding the bumper cars at forty years of age; (2.) He’d better learn to indulge the old biddy because he’s stuck with her. If Martinsville were a woman, she’d be one you’d best not cross, and you’d best not divorce her because she’s going to take you for every penny you’ve got.
As an old football coach of mine was fond of saying, “It’ll put the fear of God in your ass,” and, oh, forty years ago, I’d think, So that’s why I’m feeling a little queasy.
It’s raining up there, but I’ve still got Fox Sports1 on because I want to see Cale Yarborough hit Bobby Allison in the fist with his nose another thousand times. That’s how many times the greatest stock car racers are going to dive into the Martinsville turns on Sunday, that is, if all goes according to plan.
My attention will not often wander.
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