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Campbell: Local track is unique in NASCAR

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell likes to think the track benefits from a combination of rich history and individuality.

The speedway has been part of NASCAR since its inception. That’s partly because its unique “paper clip” shape makes racing here a little different, Campbell said.

He ought to know. Campbell has been going to the track his grandfather started since he was a young boy, and he has been its president since 1988. He has seen NASCAR evolve, from various generations of cars to the advent of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Still, it all comes down to placing cars on a track and finding out who’s fastest, he said. Especially at a small track such as Martinsville, competition becomes tighter and provides better bang for the fan’s racing buck.

“Speed here is not what it is at a super speedway, but speed does not make a show; it’s the competition,” Campbell said. “That’s what people like when they come to see a race here.”

NASCAR in many ways has become the land of the giants — large tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Michigan, Indianapolis and others, where the emphasis is on how much of a breakneck pace can be set and how long drivers can keep the pedal down.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing from a fan’s perspective, Campbell said.

“We’ve got so many tracks that are almost the same now ... I think when they get to a track like this, it’s a welcome change,” he said of Martinsville’s half-mile, which is the smallest track in the Sprint Cup Series.

“We’re the only short track in the Chase (for the Sprint Cup),” he said. “The type of racing you see here, you don’t see anywhere else. Fans love that.”

When the track opened in 1947, NASCAR had not yet been founded, and stock car racing was confined to hardscrabble roads and the beaches of Daytona, Fla. Since then, NASCAR has grown to multi-billion-dollar proportions.

During NASCAR’s expansion during the past 20 years, the question has been raised of whether Martinsville would keep its spots on the Sprint Cup Series, Campbell said. However, he doesn’t see its position changing.

Martinsville doesn’t have the seating capacity of a Bristol or Indianapolis. Still, during the Chase, both of those tracks are in the rearview mirror while Martinsville is firmly on the calendar.

“I think years ago, being a short track was probably a detriment, but right now it’s a positive,” Campbell said. In fact, “I feel confident that if they could put another race here, they’d do that. That’s how important this type of racing and this facility is to NASCAR.”

The ability to see everything from every seat helps, he said. That, and a whole lot of noise.

“Somebody made the comment that if you came here and had kidney stones, it would probably bust them up” because of the volume from the cars, Campbell said. “The feel, the sound, the excitement. You don’t get that everywhere.”

In the ever-evolving world of NASCAR, where the height of the ground effects and spoilers, tire tread and engine specifications constantly are debated, Campbell expects a lot of change.

“Racing-wise, there’s always room for improvement,” he said, which is why NASCAR is “always tweaking the product.”

However, the man who grew up with NASCAR knows where Martinsville Speedway fits in the grand scheme, and he is confident the track will continue to please both new and existing fans.

“When you have more eyeballs on what you do, you’d better do it right,” he said.

 

 
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