There aren’t many short track racing events left on my bucket list. I’ve been to just about all the big races that I have ever wanted to see and have been to almost 100 racetracks throughout our great country over the years. Up until Sunday, there was only one race left on that list that I wanted to check out – the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300.
I had heard plenty about that race since I got involved in this short track game. I knew about the heroes that have won there over the years and had talked to drivers that have won it in recent seasons about what Martinsville really meant to them.
So, I figured this year, I had an opportunity to go to the Late Model Stock Car scene’s biggest race. I jumped at it. I kept a running diary on the day and came up with some off-the-cuff musings about the two days I spent in Martinsville. Keep in mind, they are just my thoughts and ideas. They don’t necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of anyone else. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.
- First off, pre-race Sunday at Martinsville was as close to a Snowball Derby pre-race atmosphere that I’ve been a part of. The Martinsville High School band, the stage for pre-race ceremonies, the autograph session and the packed grandstands were pretty damn cool to witness in person. When it comes to a short track race, nobody does it better than Five Flags on Derby morning, but this was as close of a contender to that title as it gets.
- Now, onto the juicy stuff. I’ve had people tell me in person, via email and I’ve read on Facebook and on Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage that what Lee Pulliam did by rooting Matt McCall from the lead in the final corner was a disgrace. If moving a guy – not crashing him – in the last corner of your type of racing’s most prestigious and richest race is wrong, screw being right. McCall is a great guy and a hell of a racer. Pulliam is proving to be one of the next big stars of Late Model racing. People have said that there’s no way McCall would’ve moved Pulliam if the roles were reversed. Maybe so. But I damn sure bet he’d think about it and not apologize if he actually did it.
- If Coleman Pressley wasn’t wheelman-status-worthy before Sunday afternoon, the way he finished the race certainly earned that title. Late in the race, it seemed like every piece from the firewall-forward on his #59 car was mangled, but he still finished the race with a top-10 spot despite a plume of smoke and steam.
- Young racers in the grandstands learned a valuable lesson Sunday: put your car in gear before you get out of your car to show you’re pissed off. Jesse Little learned that lesson for you as he chased his car down the banking after he threw his hands up at Tommy Lemons, Jr.
- Little needed some help just to get into the show. He didn’t transfer in through his heat, but was added to the field when Travis Swaim, who had raced in through his heat, withdrew with mechanical problems. I preface this by saying I haven’t talked to either side, but I’ll leave it at this: Little is the son of a NASCAR official.
- I’m all for Ryan Reed’s team’s self-promotion, but when you have your driver’s face plastered on your tent on pit road and your pit stall looks like the grand opening celebration at the local Verizon store, I think that’s going a little too far for Late Model racing.
- Tim George, Jr. didn’t run very well. No punchline needed.
- Perhaps the thing that I was most impressed with was the crowd. I can only guess-timate the figure, but just by looking at the grandstands, it was probably the biggest crowd for a standalone short track event (not including the New Hampshire Modified races before Nationwide/Truck races, etc.)
- I was talking to my buddy Danny O’Quinn, a former Late Model regular, UARA Champion and current NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, the week of Martinsville and he admitted he didn’t understand why teams would put new bodies on their cars before Martinsville. “Just to get tore up? That’s stupid,” he said. I didn’t get it, thinking you’d want to have the best of everything going into your biggest race if you were a driver, right? Turns out ol’ DOQ knew what he was talking about. Not a single car went without some kind of body damage, save for Alex Yontz who blew a motor before he could get torn up.
- I have to give a call to Kenny Forbes for qualifying fifth. After Saturday’s qualifying round, all anyone could talk about was how Philip Morris qualified two-tenths quicker than second-place Matt McCall and perhaps the race’s three favorites, Morris, McCall and Pulliam, qualified in the top-three. All Forbes did was went out there and qualified fifth. He ran pretty well too before ending up in a turn-one tangle.
- I don’t know if I’m the first one to come up with this name (and if I am, I’m sure it’ll get copied by other websites...and if I'm not, proper credit to whoever you are), but I’m going to start calling Matt McCall “The Zenmaster.” Yes, he is a Mixed Martial Arts master and takes it very seriously, but he kept his cool (for the most part) when he confronted Pulliam in victory lane after the last-lap tussle. Instead of starting a brawl, like many figured he would, he extended a hand for a handshake. A few words were said along the lines of “I’ll see you sometime,” between the two, but a handshake and a smile is the ultimate “(Expletive) You” move when you feel you’ve been done wrong. Makes the other guy think a little more, doesn’t it?
- Another buddy John texted me a photo on the way home from Martinsville. The photo was of the sign out in front of Clarence’s Steakhouse, just down the road from the track, who has sponsored Philip Morris’ cars for years. The sign misspelled Morris’ name. As long as they spell it right on the check, I guess that’s what really matters.
- I’m a big fan of the format of the race. Four 25-lap heats to set the second-half of the field to make 100 laps. Then, the “Martinsville 300” is actually a 200-lap race with a halfway break and a mandatory caution with 10 laps to go. People said going into the race, “Those last 10 laps are always a wreckfest.” Guess they forgot there was 190 laps of Wreck-a-palooza before that too. Made for a fun race to watch, that’s for sure.
- And I’ll leave with this. It doesn’t matter the series or type of racecar, I’m sick of hearing the old excuse, “I’m not going to (insert race or track here) because all you’ll do is tear your stuff up.” Well, Martinsville is one of those races and tracks. More than 80 cars were there. I don’t understand the logic of the scared.