Separating The Gold From The Scrap At Martinsville

Charlotte, NC – In the James Bond thriller Goldfinger, Bond’s nemesis Odd Job wheels a Lincoln Continental into the salvage yard where it is compacted into a small cube of metal. The scrap is then placed into the back of a Ford Falcon pick up truck and driven away to separate the gold from the scrap metal.

There was no sign that Odd Job was on the job at Martinsville Speedway this weekend, but he might as well have been as the NASCAR races there produced enough scrap to build a battleship.

The carnage began Saturday when 83 of the 253 laps in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race were run under caution. In all, the event was slowed 16 times as safety crews were continually dispatched to pick up the pieces of shattered racing vehicles. While 34 of the 36 starters were running at the finish, nearly all of the trucks in the race were battered hulks thanks to their visit to the .526-mile Martinsville oval.

The Martinsville track – also known as ‘The Paper Clip’ – was back shredding cars on Sunday as 89 laps of the Goody’s 500 were subjected to 18 periods of yellow fever. Again, car after car took a pounding as the little track took its toll on the racers.

In a perfect world, race cars and drivers would never run into each other. Every event would be clean and green. Fans would get their full measure of competition and racers/teams would see their vehicles live to race another day. Racing, however, is far from perfect and cars make contact on a regular basis for any number of reasons. At Martinsville, that reason is you can’t pass unless you have 60-lap better tires. If not, you just have to run over someone.

The ‘rubbin’ is racin’ show at Martinsville this weekend wasn’t relegated to the racetrack as several vehicles also collided on pit road. In what is easily the most dangerous on- or off-track piece of real estate in all of NASCAR racing, Martinsville’s pit road (right) is a serious accident waiting to happen. Given all the incidents on pit road over the weekend, it’s a small miracle a crew member wasn’t seriously injured.

After the NASCAR weekend at Martinsville last fall yielded much of the same results, this reporter editorialized the shortcomings of track in a column posted on this web site. We received numerous comments from readers and some members of the NASCAR community refuting those claims. Before those letters and calls come around things time – no, we don’t hate Martinsville Speedway or short-track racing in general.

We also don’t want to see all NASCAR races on ‘cookie-cutter’ one and a half mile raceways. What we do want are clean, competitive races not continually slowed by needless vehicle shredding caution flag incidents. We want to see teams, especially those who are strapped for cash like those in the Truck Series, not taking home a bucket of bolts every time they visit Martinsville.

Most of all – first and foremost – we want the events to be as safe as possible. It’s not too much to ask any track on the circuit to provide that to the fans and the competitors.

Martinsville has a rich racing history, but it’s not 1949 anymore and there are anywhere from 36 to 43 high-powered exotic racing machines now competing on a track that was perfectly suited to meet the needs of the 15 competitors driving Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, Mercurys, Fords, Chevys, Lincolns, Buicks and Hudsons in the first NASCAR event held at the speedway that year.

There was plenty of talk about reconfiguring California Speedway to make it more competitive after a snoozer event there earlier this year and when Jeff Gordon pounded an unprotected part of the backstretch wall at Las Vegas a month ago, initiatives were immediately enacted to make the track safer. Why these conversations never seem to surface about Martinsville is puzzling to us especially given the kind of racing carnage and pit road dangers the track presents.

No, we don’t want Martinsville to lose its NASCAR dates, but we don’t think it’s too much to ask to make the venerable speedway more race worthy and safe. In our estimation, it’s not an unreasonable request.

Not Digging Digger –

As long as we apparently are on a rant today, is there anything more annoying than the animated ‘Digger’ gopher character that continually popped up throughout the FOX telecasts this weekend? Okay, you might think it’s Darrell Waltrip’s hog call to start the races on FOX each weekend, but that’s another story.

Personally, we think the shots provided from the camera imbedded in the track are great and we applaud FOX for giving those watching the race at home an additional viewing angle. The constant promotion of the Digger character however – highlighted by the shameless shilling of T-Shirts featuring the furry creature – is way beyond good taste and broadcast sense.

While ESPN provided Indy Racing League viewers with every lap of the action thanks to its innovative ‘side-by-side’ screen shots that share the race during the commercial breaks Saturday evening, FOX served up the distracting inane animated character ad nauseum this weekend.

Is that what they considered innovative or entertaining race coverage? What’s next? Are we going to bring back the NASCUBS?

FOX needs to do everyone a favor and put Digger six feet under and keep him there.

Last Rant Of The Day –

Kyle Busch got called into the principal’s office – the NASCAR hauler – after the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Saturday. Seems Busch’s latest on-track incident – a last-lap crash that ignited a pit road incident between his team and Johnny Benson’s crew – didn’t sit too well with NASCAR officials.

By our count, that makes Busch 3-for-4 in NASCAR Truck Series races this season. At Daytona, he ignited a wreck off of Turn 2 on Lap 20 that involved 10 other trucks. At Atlanta, he drove into no man’s land on the apron coming off of Turn 2 and wrecked the No. 6 truck of Colin Braun.

On Saturday, Busch had his last-lap tangle with Benson that sent Benson from second to 25th in the final running order. Somehow, Busch managed to not be involved in the three cautions (two were for debris) that were recorded in the NCTS race at California.

Busch has been a sensation in the media circles this season thanks to his quick start in all three NASCAR divisions. While we agree that the young driver is an amazing talent, there is a fine line between brilliance and recklessness on the racetrack. Busch has been both this year – especially the latter when it comes to racing in the Truck Series where he is admittedly racing for wins only and not a championship.

That’s all fine and dandy as long as you aren’t continually running over the division regulars who are running for the title and compete in that series as their primary source of employment and income. Our guess is he wouldn’t get away with that kind of driving in Cup and he certainly shouldn’t in the Nationwide or Truck Series either.

Hopefully, the trip to the NASCAR hauler after Saturday’s Truck Series race will give Busch a little better perspective and racing judgment the next time he straps on a truck at Kansas in three weeks.

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