The Damned Hot Dog Is the Least of It

This was my favorite race of 2014. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Martinsville when Jeff Gordon, his teammate, needed it more. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

This was my favorite race of 2014. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Martinsville when Jeff Gordon, his teammate, needed it more. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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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.

Monte Dutton

Monte Dutton

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.

These guys -- Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen -- knew their way around Martinsville.

These guys — Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen — knew their way around Martinsville.

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.

Several cars probably won't fit the templates afterwards. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Several cars probably won’t fit the templates afterwards. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

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.

How quaint.

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?

This was at Charlotte, but the only song I've written that was about NASCAR is called "Martinsville." (Chase Whitaker photo)

This was at Charlotte, but the only song I’ve written that was about NASCAR is called “Martinsville.” (Chase Whitaker photo)

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.

It's not just like this after restarts at Martinsville. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy racing)

It’s not just like this after restarts at Martinsville. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy racing)

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.

This won't happen Sunday. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

This won’t happen Sunday. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

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.

Bobby Allison raced many times at Martinsville, though not in a Dirt Modified.

Bobby Allison raced many times at Martinsville, though not in a Dirt Modified.

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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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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10 Responses to The Damned Hot Dog Is the Least of It

  1. Dave Fulton says:

    Martinsville is a must see on anyone’s racing bucket list. I was fortunate to start going back in the 60s before the corners were paved with concrete, but it’s still a must see. Now, if they’d just get their old April date back so that the dogwoods along Route 220 were in bloom, it’d be perfect. Close your eyes and remember H. Clay’s beautiful azaleas, grassy corners and the duck pond. It is a pretty picture.

  2. Dave Fulton says:

    In 2010, the National Endowment for the Humanities gave the University of Virginia Library a quarter-million dollar grant to digitize and preserve the news film archives of Roanoke, Virginia television station WSLS for the period 1953-1971.

    The collection contains many wonderful clips of both GN/Cup racing and Modified and Late Model Sportsman racing at Martinsville through the years, along with anchor scripts. Anybody who’d like to see what we mean when we talk about the good ole days at Martinsville should go through these clips. I have found wonderful items, including many driver interviews.

    One of my favorites is an interview before the spring 1971 Cup race with STP’s Fred Lorenzen attempting a comeback with the Ray Nichels Dodge. A shaggy haired, near hippie Lorenzen defends his arch rival, Richard Petty, against charges of cheating in the interview. Here is the link:

  3. Mike Ray says:

    Golly, raining at Martinsville in the spring. Listening to “Wet Willie” inside the nice, warm, little trailer house. Going to work the Souvy Trailer at SNMP tomorrow; probably get a Hotdog for dinner .Wow deja vu again.

  4. bobi says:

    Dave…thanks for sharing those links. That’s great info I would never have found on my own. I miss the duck pond too!

  5. Dave Fulton says:

    Mike, as long as you’re gonna be at Southern National, just pick up some hotdogs in Wilson at Dick’s Hot Dog Stand. They’ve been serving the best on the planet for nearly 100 years.

  6. Hey wait. I recognize at least one of those photos!

  7. tim murphy says:

    Hey All—My first time going to Martinsville was back with the Modifieds it was the best racing along with the Sportsman and GN cars at the time. We have been back many ,many times thru remnants of Hurricane Gloria blowing stuff around to the loss of Richie Evans and Charlie Jazombek. I still love it there even without “chicken bone alley” and now the end of “Jessie Jones” as the Martinsville hot dog. Remember , racecar spelled backwards is racecar.

  8. Tommy says:

    I’ve only been to martinsville once. I had no intention of eating a hot dog because acid reflux and I aren’t very good friends, but VanHoose drug several of them down to our seats mid-race and demanded I try one. Damned if it wasn’t one of those little pink valleydales my grandmother used to boil when I was a kid. Those things are hardly fit to eat when they AREN’T cold. But there it was, like a little dog pecker smothered in chili and wadded up in aluminum foil. It was bland, the bun was wet and I farted for the rest of the race. Thanks, Joe.

  9. Bill H says:

    Been to Martinsville once. The racing was better than the hot dogs. I lived in Atlanta, where the Varsity hot dogs were better than the racing. Not that the racing was bad; it was great, but Varsity hot dogs… And yes, they have chili on them.

  10. James Walker says:

    I have 50 years of memories of Martinsville stored in my old memory bank. I sat in those concrete stands and watch so many legends race and so many more become legends. for the late model and modified guys this was Daytona and so many epic battles took place an this famed 1/2 mile paperclip. Now for the truth about the hot dog and to some this will be blasphamy. A boiled hot dog that turns the water blood red can not be good. You can mask it with chili and slaw and all the other condiments in the world and it still is nasty. simple plain truth. Now the bomb is a south boston bologna burger. I’ve been eating them for 50 years and just one bypass operation i’m still eating them. Just the honest truth from an old race fan!!!!

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