It’s called the “paperclip for its unique design, tight corners and longer straightaways than most conventional half mile ovals. It can also be called the grandfather of NASCAR tracks. Having hosted NASCAR events since 1949, Martinsville’s two races are an annual staple of the Cup Series schedule. This year, the track’s 70th anniversary features the STP 500 the first weekend in April. The fall race is October 29th, the last Sunday in October. The Lasco Press was invited to cover this year’s spring race at Martinsville. This is an event you must see in person. Television does not capture the excitement of side-by-side racing all around the track. Bumper taps and fender rubs occur repeatedly on hundreds of laps around the tight corners. Viewing a race at Martinsville is truly a unique experience. One that every stock car fan should add to their list of must-dos.
From Southeastern Michigan, it’s about a 10-hour drive to Martinsville Speedway. Two primary routes through Ohio can get you to Interstate 77, the main north-south artery through the Virginias. Taking Highway 23 / I-75 south to Findlay you can cut diagonally across the state through Columbus. Travel is mostly on secondary roads. We opted to go Interstate all the way and took I-90, the Ohio Turnpike, to Cleveland. Then picked up I-77 on the south side of the metro area. Once outside of the Cleveland-Canton-Akron urban areas the scenery is very appealing. The rolling foothills in southern Ohio turn into the rugged mountain passes of the Appalachians in West Virginia. Once into Virginia, you descend to the Piedmont plains and more beautiful scenery.
While Martinsville offers on-site camping, hotel accommodations are in short supply around the track. Rates are high and three-night minimum stays are generally the rule. We opted to stay in Winston-Salem North Carolina, about one hour south of the track. Rooms were plentiful and moderately priced. A newer Microtel Inn around Hanes Mall offered rooms for $55 per night. Two nights in a superb Courtyard by Marriott, also at Hanes Mall, cost us a very reasonable $100 per night. The drive to the track passed quickly as we viewed the local sights along the way.
Set in a small valley just south of town, Martinsville Speedway has all the charm of a local short track. However, its fan-friendly atmosphere rivals that of any track on the NASCAR circuit. High rise grandstands circle the corners and front straight with up-close views of the action. A complete track view is offered from almost every seat. Pre-race and post-race activities are conducted on the track offering fans incredible access for picture taking. Once a dirt-track, Martinsville was paved with asphalt in 1955. Rumor has it that track owner H. Clay Earles was a perfectionist and everything at the track had to be just right come race day. He became so annoyed with drivers tearing up the asphalt in the turns that he paved the corners with concrete. That unique aspect of the track remains to this day.
No visit to Martinsville is complete without sampling a famous Martinsville hot dog. A red-hot dog topped Coney style and finished off with a topping of finely chopped slaw. It’s very tasty, the slaw gives the dog a sweet vinegary flavor. Concession stands pumped out thousands during the weekend.
Martinsville is everything that short-track racing should be. Hard to pass, faster cars often must run double wide for several laps to complete a pass. Putting a bumper to the car in front of you is the equivalent of blowing your horn. Rubbing fenders, hardly a car leaves the track without some sign of contact with a competitor.
Great views for fans sitting close to the racing surface and constant action at every corner. Winner Brad Keselowski even walked up into the grandstands to great fans after the victory lane celebration.
Traffic exiting the track was handled efficiently as police cordoned off lanes for outbound traffic. For Michigan race fans, it is a bit of a drive to southern Virginia. But, one that’s worth the effort to experience one of the most unique racetracks in the country. A chance to see NASCAR’s stars up-close and enjoy exciting racing for 500 laps. Just what every race fan looks for when they purchase a ticket to an event. Take the drive to Martinsville, you will be glad you did.