MARTINSVILLE, VA :: When speaking to Late Model Stock Car drivers, Martinsville Speedway is the dream. It’s unparallelled. The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Chili Bowl and Snowball Derby all rolled into one for those whom compete in these cars.
Since its debut event in 1985, this has become the ultimate.
“It’s our Daytona 500,” two-time winner Tommy Lemons said on Saturday. “They have their showcase event in February and we have ours in October. This is a special because the best of the best show up and there are 70 cars here. I don’t think words do it justice.
“It’s like the Indianapolis 500 in its heyday sending cars home. It’s a big deal.”
Late Model Stock Cars are the weapon of choice for short track drivers in the Carolinas and Virginias. And unlike a Super Late Model, Stocks are perimeter rail machines designed to mimic Sprint Cup cars. These are the machines Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin championed on their way to superstardom.
They’re a bitch to drive and represent the pinnacle of short track racing in the region.
“This is the main event here,” JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry said. “These are the best teams in the country and these are challenging cars on the toughest track. Sure, there are other big races but those tracks run weekly so there’s a notebook. This race levels the playing field and everyone is even.”
In other words, Martinsville inspires greatness.
This is the one-time a year that every track champion, state champion and even national champions come together to decide a undisputed champion for Late Model Stock Car racing. The 200-lap main event pays $25,000 to win which is second only to the historic grandfather clock that comes with it.
“This is a marquee event,” CARS Tour championship leader Deac McCaskill said. “Just look at the names that won it. The money is great. The clock is special but really, you just want to be on that list of winners. That means everything to us – more than championships even.”
The 72 drivers in town are looking to join a list of winners that include Barry Beggarly, Mark Martin, Mike Skinner, Phillip Morris and Lee Pulliam. It’s a win worth fighting over. It’s one worth protesting over. It’s one worth pushing the car to the absolute point of no return over.
The final laps resemble a demolition derby more than a professionally organized motorsports event. It’s one half the byproduct of the raw nature of those participating and one half an indication of what this race means to those who survive to the end.
They will take these machines three-wide, will jump restarts and push-and-shove until they are firewall deep into a back bumper.
“I’ve seen Tommy Lemons win this race from 10th with 10 laps to go,” Berry said. “I’ve seen it so dark that guys were trying to jump the restart. We’ve seen wrecking from second, third and fourth. Guys do everything they can to win this race.”
And they do it because this is their everything.