Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 23, 2018, 12:44 p.m.
Every track evokes memories and a feel for the site. Martinsville Speedway makes me think of chilly mornings, law enforcement officers dressed in tan uniforms, trimmed in brown and pine green, rain dripping off wide-brimmed hats, and fans dressed in working-class garb of coveralls and caps with pull-down earmuffs.
These are people who brave the elements and wait out a rain delay with stoic resignation. I remember walking down the steps into the small tunnel under the fourth turn. The tunnel is always damp, and it pays to be a little careful, lest some of that shine on the concrete floor be ice and not water.
I blow on my hands because I am not adroit at scribbling on a notepad with gloves on.
Perhaps my images are jaded. I just looked at the weather forecast. Even if it doesn’t rain enough to move races, it will be chilly, as March in Virginia is prone to be. The weather report I saw lists Saturday and Sunday both as 70 percent. Even a couple days away, experience tells me that it really isn’t 70 percent. It might be 100, and it might be 40. In any event, something might be racing on Monday there.
When I was there, sitting around wasn’t always such a bad thing. It was a good time to hang out in the garage area and chat with folks I hadn’t seen in a while. I liked it a lot better than watching telecasters prattle on and on.
Martinsville is a wonderful place. It’s just often cold. I’ve already been cold often this spring. Nighttime baseball is chilly in March, too. The one I was at Wednesday featured a combined 14 errors. The high school kids looked as if they were cold, too.
NASCAR’s shortest track (.526 mile, officially) is not immune to change, though. A decade ago, the tiny backstretch grandstands were full of people, not banners. In those days, all the other grandstands sold out in advance, but the track wouldn’t sell back-straight general admission until race day, and they filled up quickly after the box office opened.
A rainout didn’t dissuade the fans back then, either. I marveled at how 90 percent of the fans finagled a way to be there on Monday. I’m satisfied most of them had jobs. The last time I was there for a Monday race, it was only a little better than everywhere else. I can’t fully explain this, but it’s true.
I guess I was more excited about the Daytona 500. Maybe. If Daytona wasn’t the first race of the season, I’d probably be more pumped for the wee paper clip in the hills.
Some says there’s nothing to do at Martinsville.
I played golf on a Martinsville weekend. I played music before a performance of a stock-car racing themed play. I played at a tweet-up. Some friends and I went to a pro wrestling show in a high school gym. I had a book signing. I drank beer with a motel roommate, watching The History Channel back when it still had history, on the night before the race. I talked about movies in the press box with Dick Thompson, as nice a man as ever worked at a NASCAR track.
I have vivid memories of the day Ricky Craven won there, and the race run on the day of the Hendrick plane crash, and driving over to South Boston to watch Tony Stewart win in midgets, and watching the dirt race in Madison, N.C., another year in the grandstands with Stewart. I remember overhearing the waitress at a barbecue joint say she loved a hairy-chested man, as long as knew Jesus as his Personal Savior. I remember pitching a fit when a colleague of mine got hassled because his skin was brown and 9/11 was still fresh in local minds.
In my song about the track, I wrote that Martinsville was “a place frozen in space and time.” I guess it’s not really frozen. It’s more a glacier sliding slowly and against great resistance into inexorable modernity.
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