Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 6 -- Martinsville: Hot Dogs, Grandfather Clocks, and Banging Fenders

In 1995, Terry Labonte finished in dead last only completing four laps in the spring race at Martinsville. That looks a lot like a start and park entry, except in 1995 Labonte was running the #5 Rick Hendrick car and there were only 36 cars in the starting line up. Rusty Wallace won a purse of $61,945 which is less than scab entries make today. It was a tough day for Dale Earnhardt who only finished in 29th, 25 laps down.

Fast forward to preparations for the 2011 race, 44 cars are entered for 43 spots. The field on the paperclip shaped half mile track will be crowded when the green flag drops, but soon perennial leeches will pull off the track collect over $80,000 without buying replacement tires or manning a pit crew. One team will load their car in their hauler and head home, not qualifying for competition. That car could be one fully sponsored intending to complete the entire race. If any attention is mentioned about theses despicable freeloaders, Darrell Waltrip or Larry McReynolds will make patronizing comments of support for selfish creeps, washed up drivers, and marginally skilled opportunists whose presence cheapens the sports and spits in the eye of all that true sportsmanship is all about. This is short track racing in NASCAR, 2011 style.

Martinsville is a lovely old short track, a throwback to the early days of NASCAR, an event full of traditions with their jumbo red-dye loaded coleslaw covered hotdogs, grandfather clocks for trophies, and railway track just beyond the stands. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s in the middle of nowhere located far from any Interstate Highway off US-220 about halfway between Roanoke, VA and Greensboro, NC, 48 miles to Greensboro, 51 miles to Roanoke, and 131 miles to the NASCAR mother ship in Charlotte. Fans travel a long distance for those bright red hot dogs and some good fender slapping racing. Gas is a wee bit cheaper down in the Virginia hills, mostly under $3.50 a gallon, but these hardy fans spend a lot of hard earned money for a weekend of racing, and they expect the boys on the track to be hard working too. There’s just something fundamentally un-American about freeloading. NASCAR fans are common-sense kind of fellows. Work hard – play hard, earn what you get and get what you earn. Conversation’s as friendly as neighbor talking to neighbor over the backyard fence. What would these fans have to say if they got to talking about a bunch of pinhead investors freeloading off of the money they paid dearly to buy their tickets just showing up and heading home with $80,000? That’s more than most fans make in a whole year. Many of them know somebody who races under the lights on Friday and Saturday nights – guys who save every last time and work night and day just for the joy of racing at their nearest dirt track knowing that some of the fellows with those giant haulers and all that computer stuff started the same way. Jeff Burton’s from close by. He’s from just the other side of the mountain in South Boston, Virginia. The legendary Wood Brothers who’ve been in the sport from the beginning made them all proud winning the Daytona 500.

Martinsville is the kind of track where any kind of NASCAR nonsense especially standouts out. There’s something very pure and basic about a flat old short track, the only one left compared to the modern high banks at Bristol and extra quarter mile affording a super speedway type back stretch at Richmond. Perhaps down where it’s “Howdy neighbor friendly” it’s time to turn back the hands on one of those good old Martinsville grandfather’s clocks.

Cut the starting lineup back to 36 or 37 cars. If a car doesn’t make the field, have a hot dog and go home. Show up early with all your tools, car nice and shiny, helmet on ready to work – a day’s work for a day’s pay. Don’t come around here if you’re not ready to do your part. The whole neighborhood pitches in to build a barn. People do things like the Wood Brothers run a race team. There’s something especially blasphemous about coming to hallowed ground like Martinsville to freeload – are you listening Phil Parsons and Joe Nemechek? How interesting it is to see that Mike Skinner has joined in the gang of racetrack scabs. He had just been interviewed on SpeedTV earlier in the week where he acted like he should have been a real chase type driver but he hardly had a kind word for anyone else in the sport. His lack of success was someone else’s fault.

Jimmie Johnson is damned good at Martinsville. Another Virginia lad, Denny Hamlin, from the Richmond area is especially tough in his home state track. Hamlin needs a good race to get his miserable season in order. If Johnson should win, that will just get the talk of his sixth championship start to become a roar. Dale Earnhardt Jr. who looks rejuvenated in 2011 likes this track.

Qualifying awaits – more later.


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