It’s Time To Pull The Plug On Martinsville Speedway

Charlotte, NC

It?s time to pull the plug on Martinsville Speedway.

As a NASCAR traditionalist, it?s hard to make that claim, but after another weekend of on-track carnage and off-track inconvenience, it?s just a statement of fact.

Opened in 1940s and currently owned by International Speedway Corporation ? the parent company of NASCAR – Martinsville is one of NASCAR?s most historic venues. Shear numerology as evidenced by the track’s 118 NASCAR premiere division (Strictly Stock, Grand National and Cup), 34 Busch, and 18 Craftsman Truck Series events ? 170 races in all – make it hallowed ground.

How can you walk away from all that?

Let?s start with racing ? or lack of it.

Martinsville is the smallest of all NASCAR tracks, just .526 miles in length. While it might have been just fine for Red Byron and the 14 other drivers who competed in the first NASCAR race there on September 15, 1949, it?s woefully inadequate in serving the needs of the 43 high-powered race cars that took the green flag Sunday.

Not only is the track too small and narrow for the today?s potent racing machines, but repaving the corners with concrete some years back all but eliminated the top groove. The result is a conga line of racers with no place to go, no place to effectively pass.

The results of the small, one-groove Martinsville track are predictable. Saturday?s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Sunday?s Nextel Cup events weren?t races, they were demolition derbies. The truck event featured 13 caution flags for 70 laps while the Cup race set an all-time Martinsville record with 21 yellow-flag periods totaling 127 circuits.

If you?re not doing the math at home, that?s 28 percent of the laps this weekend run under caution and untold lost dollars in destroyed equipment.

These are the best stock car drivers in the world in the finest equipment money can buy. Putting them in a situation where they can?t pass without running into each other is ridiculous – a recipe for disaster as evidenced by the beyond incredible wrecks witnessed in this weekend?s Truck and Cup events.

Assuming you don?t mind all the twisted metal and extended periods of ?yellow fever,? Martinsville still has plenty of warts that should eliminate it from the NASCAR circuit.

Most prominent among them is the issue of safety.

The curved pit road at Martinsville is the most unsafe for crews and teams on the circuit. Narrow and featuring the smallest pit boxes of any NASCAR track, crews are in constant peril of being run over at Martinsville. As a team member, you hold your breath every time your guys go over the wall. It?s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt ? or worse ? on pit road in Martinsville.

Additionally, the small infield at Martinsville is packed to the gills with equipment. Race team transporters are squeezed together so closely that they are barely able to open their side storage areas. Pit road, and other support equipment such as NASCAR inspection and safety gear, is squashed into the infield as well making it a nightmare to move around in. Throw in a couple thousand team and media members, sponsor and marketing types, and just plain fans who somehow got an infield pass, and people are in constant threat of being run over or in the way of a moving race car or piece of pit equipment.

Heaven help all of us in the infield at Martinsville if there would ever be a fire of any size because the consequences would be devastating. With everything jammed together the way it is, walkways are limited and there is virtually no way out ? the place ringed by a sky-high wheel fence. The potential loss in human and financial terms is almost unthinkable.

Not swayed by the safety issue ? how about a serious dose of inconvenience?

Martinsville infield is so small that when multiple divisions compete ? as was the case this weekend ? not all the team haulers fit in the infield.

This weekend, all the Craftsman Truck Series haulers (and some Cup transporters) were unloaded on Thursday and then parked approximately a quarter mile up the hill from the track. It begs the question of how can you hold a race at a track where all the team equipment can?t be accommodated?

Every time a team needed an extra piece of equipment not in its pit box this past weekend at Martinsville, a team member was dispatched up the hill to get it. Since there is no vehicle access tunnel at Martinsville, that meant large items such as gears and transmissions had to be hand carried up and down the steps of the infield access pedestrian tunnel.

Meanwhile, all of the truck team?s (and Cup cars without garage stalls) equipment was subject to the wet weather conditions that hit the track Friday. With their haulers outside the facility, teams did their best to keep their equipment dry as they huddled under EZ-Ups and tarps in the infield.

Back up on the hill, millions of dollars in team transporters and driver/team owner motor coaches wallowed in the muddy gravel parking lot provided for them yet another year ? a final indignity to everyone after Martinsville Speedway proudly issued a press release prior to this past weekend?s event trumpeting the paving of the fan souvenir area.

Want more?

How about market size or location?

While this writer has never been in favor or moving a race to another venue because of market size or location issues, Martinsville is a prime candidate to get knocked off the schedule based on past NASCAR initiatives like taking a race from Darlington and giving it to California Speedway.

With a population estimate of just over 15,000 people, Martinsville is no metropolis. Things NASCAR highly values – media and support services like hotels and restaurants ? can be described as limited at best. Most teams and fans wind up staying 30 to 40 miles away in Danville, VA or Greensboro, NC.

Forgetting the limited size and services at Martinsville for a moment, Cup races at Charlotte, Bristol, Richmond and Darlington (eight total including the All-Star race) are all within a stone?s throw of the tiny Virginia oval. That could be sighted as market oversaturation and used as a reason to take the track off the circuit.

Need examples? Think Rockingham or North Wilkesboro.

Put all these factors in the mix, and it is amazing Martinsville has a NASCAR Cup race ? much less two of them ? each season. Even more incredible is the fact that one of those races hosts a ?championship event? ? one of the 10 Chase races each season.

It breaks my heart to bash tradition and to call for the demise of Martinsville Speedway, but after another weekend of bad racing, millions of dollars in wrecked racing gear, unsafe and overcrowded infield conditions, inconvenient track and lodging conditions, and finally ? watching people gulp down thousands of those totally nasty ?famous? Martinsville hot dogs – it?s time to pull the plug on Martinsville Speedway.

The good old days are just that ? old.

Martinsville Speedway was good while it lasted, but the days of NASCAR premiere division racing has long past its usefulness on multiple levels at the track and it?s time to put the ?venerable? old facility in history?s rear view mirror.

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