Martin Still A ‘Freak’ When It Comes To Talent

Charlotte, NC (April 30th) – Watching Mark Martin win the pole position and drive to a solid eighth-place finish was one of the more enjoyable stories to come out of Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Speedway.

Now age 53 and a select-event Cup Series participant in 2012, Martin showed there was still a lot of someone we called ‘The Kid’ back in the late 1970’s still in his tank. Martin’s skill, touch and feel behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car as a teenager back then made everyone take notice.

At Richmond Saturday – more than 30 years later – everyone got to notice again.

Martin is truly a freak in the racing world. His gifts in a racecar were already evident the first time I saw him after he broke of the Arkansas Stock Car ranks and headed to the Midwest to cross swords with the best asphalt short-track racers in the country.

Midwest Stock Car Racing had it all back in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. A powerful short-track association in the American Speed Association (ASA) – and a number of varied, great racetracks from the likes of Rockford Speedway to The Milwaukee Mile – allowed Martin to mature and master his craft quickly.

It was only a matter of time until Martin started thinking about moving back South to NASCAR and he did so making his Cup debut at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the spring of 1981. Back then, a 22-year-old in Cup was unheard of.

So were the two top-five and eight top-10 finishes Martin posted as a full-time Cup regular in 1982. Martin’s NASCAR driving future looked incredibly bright, but behind the scenes lurked personal issues that derailed his efforts in 1983 where he competed in just 16 of 30 Cup races. The last of those at Charlotte, where rear-end problems saddled his Morgan-McClure Chevy with a 33rd-place finish, would be the final time Martin would sit in a Cup car for more than three years.

Over that period, Martin returned to the Midwest and rejoined the weekly racing circuit there. That gave this reporter an opportunity to spend a lot of time with him as Martin returned to his winning ways, especially in the ASA circuit. Those were great times and produced a lot of cherished memories.

Martin would return to Cup full-time by 1988, rescued by then fledgling NASCAR team owner Jack Roush. The rest, as you know, is history. Martin won his first Cup race at Rockingham in 1989 and has been to Victory Lane 39 additional times since. His Richmond start Saturday was the 837th of his Cup career.

Meanwhile, Martin has ruled the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series when he has chosen to compete there winning 49 NNS events and seven NCWTS races – six of them during the 2006 season.

All of those numbers made Martin’s performance at Richmond even more satisfying to watch. His late qualifying run produced a second pole of the season dramatically knocking Carl Edwards out of the top spot.

Then in the event, Martin again proved he’s one of NASCAR’s smartest racers competing when he needed to – especially in the middle portion of the race when a bad pit stop dropped him deep in the running order.

Through it all, Martin kept smiling. Why not? He more than anybody knows how special his career has been – how lucky he is to have the gifts he does – and how hard he’s had to work to maintain and improve them.

Saturday at Richmond was just another reminder that regardless of age – young or old – that Mark Martin has been and is one of the best racing talents to ever grace a stock car.

Congrats on a nice weekend, Shorty.

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