Monday, September 28, 2009

Martinsville memories

Martinsville Speedway Sets The Stage
For Stock Car Racing In Virginia

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Only two years after World War II ended, entrepreneur H. Clay Earles decided to construct a unique 0.526-mile dirt track from the Virginia red clay near Martinsville.

NOTE: TUMS is the sponsor of the TUMS Fast Relief 500, the sixth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, at Martinsville Speedway on October 25.

Earles, who was involved in the track's operation for five decades, originally planned to spend $10,000 on the facility, but that mushroomed to $60,000 before the first race.

At that time, there was only seven to 10 acres for parking, accommodations for about 1,400 cars or approximately 4,000 people. Also, only 750 of the proposed 5,000 seats were completed. Still, on Sept. 7, 1947, despite the fact there were no fences, Martinsville Speedway waved the green flag on its first race – Modified Stock cars. Even thought Earles placed the paying crowd at 6,013, there were still some 3,000 fans who watched the event without buying a ticket.

Red Byron, who would eventually win the inaugural NASCAR Street Stock [Sprint Cup] championship in 1949, survived the track's first race, conducted three months before NASCAR was formed, and emerged the victor, collecting $500 of the $2,000 purse.

Earles always believed in taking care of the fans and the competitors. He viewed the fans as his customers and he considered them his greatest asset. Earles once noted that you “sell the customer a memory as much as a race.” If it's a good memory, the person will return.

It’s a philosophy still practiced today by Earles' grandson, Clay Campbell, the track's president. The paper clip-shaped track is now the shortest on NASCAR's Sprint Cup circuit and the only facility still on the series schedule that was a charter member of NASCAR.