Ever since 1949, when Red Byron won the first race at Martinsville Speedway for the division now known as Nextel Cup, there have been lots of stories from races at the paper-clip-shaped track known almost as much for its famous hot dogs covered in slaw, chili and onions as its racing.
The track itself is a pretty good story. It’s basically an old-time race track in a relatively small market that has grown with the sport and kept its race dates while other old South tracks have lost them to new facilities in markets elsewhere.
Richard Petty leads all drivers with 15 Martinsville victories, while Jeff Gordon leads active drivers with seven. Ricky Craven is one of 23 drivers who have one Martinsville victory. His victory came in the Old Dominion 500 in 2001.
Craven, a popular but currently unemployed driver, several times has recounted his first return trip to Martinsville after his victory, his first in the Cup division.
He decided to drive to the track, which would allow him to relax en route and soak up some of the mountain scenery.
He stopped for a break at an old-time “filling station,” the kind where old men sit out front and solve the world’s problems.
On this day, the subject shifted to Martinsville Speedway and the exploits of drivers there.
Craven listened intently as the old-timers talked about victories by drivers from bygone eras – names like Richard Petty, Curtis Turner, Jim Paschal and Junior Johnson.
Sensing the fellows either didn’t recognize him or weren’t up on recent events, Craven asked a question, something on the order of “Do you guys know who won the last race at Martinsville?”
One quickly replied in the affirmative.
“Yeah, you did,” he said.