NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Rolled into Martinsville, Virginia this week for one of the great races of the year. Martinsville is the only track that has hosted races every season since the stock car division began in 1947. It's a place where state-of-the-art present-day super teams run smack-dab into the very roots of racing.
The trophy at Martinsville is appropriately a grandfather clock; it was today's drivers' grandfathers who paved the way, literally, for the success of the sport today.
Martinsville started as a dirt track, much like the local raceways enjoyed by so many fans. It's a place where the famous coleslaw-covered hot dogs and fried bologna sandwiches have made generations of mouths water, and where decades of NASCAR fans have loved the close-quarter, bumper-to-bumper action.
Shaped like a paper clip, the shortest track on the schedule is just over half-a-mile around, creating tight turns and chances for breakaways on the straight-aways. Fans sit almost on top of the action, and are able to see all of it.
Short tracks inherently make for exciting racing. Contact is not only more frequent than at the bigger tracks, it is inevitable. You can always count on Martinsville events to feature lots of rubbing, scraping, beating and banging. Sometimes you even get to see fist-shaking and helmet-throwing after drivers get too close to each other and the walls.
The short track means that the speeds are the slowest of the season, but at more than 95 mph, it's still a lot faster than we're allowed to drive.
Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex, Jr. were involved in a dramatic, fiery crash that did so much damage to the wall, the race was stopped for about 25 minutes for crews to make repairs. Still, the safer barriers did their job, and the drivers could laugh about the experience a few minutes later.
Martinsville's a place where a well-executed bump-and-go can pay big dividends. When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tapped Kyle Busch to take a late-race lead, harkening back to the days of the Intimidator himself, the sold-out crowd went wild.
Little E settled for second, but has five-straight top-12 finishes, and stands 8th overall. That bodes well for the sport, and the other drivers know it. Earnhardt's popularity is so prevalent that race-winner Kevin Harvick referred to himself as the "bad guy" for taking the lead away from the series' favorite son.
At the same time, drivers know they have to race for wins in 2011. The new point system rewards victories; wins will determine the last two spots in the Chase for the Championship.
We're only six races into the season, and already great stories have surfaced: a rookie winning Daytona, Jeff Gordon's return to Victory Lane, and Harvick's back-to-back wins. But Jimmie Johnson is still the one to beat. From the short track to the place where everything is big: next stop Texas.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.